VSU STEAM Center Professional Earns Georgia Environmental Award



Jessica Pippin, Administrative Coordinator with the VSU STEAM Center awarded the 2021 Georgia Project Learning Tree Outstanding Facilitator of the Year Award.

Georgia Project Learning Tree has named a Valdosta State University professional its 2021 Outstanding Facilitator of the Year. Jessica Pippin of Valdosta currently serves as Administrative Coordinator at the University’s STEAM Center for Applied Creativity and Innovation.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a national, award-winning environmental education program designed for all educators working with students in Pre-K through grade 12. The organization was founded in 1976 and has been recognized as a leading environmental education program. Through hands-on, interdisciplinary activities, PLT provides students with opportunities to investigate environmental issues and encourages them to make informed, responsible decisions. In Georgia, PLT has been coordinated by the Georgia Forestry Commission and the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources since 1986.

“Jessica has been an outstanding leader for PLT and has represented its mission and vision with every activity she’s taken on,” said Georgia Forestry Commission Education Coordinator and Georgia Project Learning Tree Co-coordinator Chelsea York. “In just three short years she has influenced countless facilitators and educators who are inspiring an upcoming generation of children taking environmental literacy and stewardship into the world.”

Nominations for the annual Georgia PLT Outstanding Facilitator of the Year Award are made by peers and reviewed by a PLT state steering committee comprised of 16 members who represent the forestry and education communities. Anonymous votes determine the top nominee. Pippin was recognized for leading 16 professional development events and training more than 320 educators in 2019 and 2020. In response to the COVID pandemic, she worked with PLT’s state coordinator and the state steering committee to adapt and develop the fully virtual professional development model for Georgia. Praised for her innovation and enthusiasm, she hosted numerous
virtual trainings, spearheaded certification for early childhood educators in the Coastal Plains Head Start group, which led to establishment of another professional development project for Head Start educators statewide. Pippin developed PLT activity kits for certified PLT educators, serves as programming chair for the Georgia PLT steering committee and participated in the last three PLT national conferences.

Pippin was formally honored for her achievements at the annual conferences of the Georgia Environmental Education Alliance Conference and the Georgia Forestry Association.


Meet Sandi Parrish, GA PLT’s 2020 Chair

Sandi Parrish, GA PLT State Steering Committee Chair, 2020

Sandi Parrish was born in Germany to a German mother and a U.S. Army dad. While her early years were filled with travel, she’s proud to call herself a Southern girl, who loves the food, culture and tree-filled countryside. Mother of two adult sons, Sandi inherited an adult daughter from her late husband, whose family has given Sandy four grandchildren. They call her “Oma,” (grandmother in German). She treasures her time with them and giving back to her community and to Georgia. She likes camping and being outdoors as much as she can.

Sandi is a teacher at Pine Grove Elementary School in Lowndes County where she was a student in the fourth and fifth grades. She was ecstatic to be offered a teaching job there and has now served for 27 years. She has taught many grades and currently is the virtual ELA/Science teacher. Sandi was introduced to PLT in 2005 when Barbara Boler of the Langdale Company came to a school meeting to invite teachers to a workshop that would be held at the campus farmhouse. Sandi attended the workshop, and by the end of the day had already noted corresponding lessons in the PLT activity guide that she could use the following school year. The next summer she attended the Georgia Teacher Conservation Workshop and volunteered to work with Georgia PLT. She and a teacher friend, Missy Eason, had a dream to turn the campus farmhouse into a field trip destination for Lowndes County students and a place to hold PLT workshops and STEAM projects.

Sandi received the honor of Georgia PLT’s Outstanding Educator of the Year in 2007. She actively encourages teachers in her school to attend PLT workshops, and many in her school are PLT certified. She was invited serve on the Georgia PLT State Steering Committee as an educator advisor. This year, Sandi serves as the 2020 Chair of the Committee. During her time as Chair, Sandi has led the committee’s change from quarterly in-person meetings to quarterly Zoom meetings, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meetings have been successfully condensed to half the in-person time.

Sandi enjoys serving on the State Steering Committee to help put PLT in every hand. As she meets with DNR/State Park employees, tree farmers, educators and parents, she enthusiastically shares the PLT story. Sandi understands the PLT vision and enjoys spreading its mission throughout Georgia.


Nominations Open for 2020 GA PLT Outstanding Educator of the Year

Each year Georgia Project Learning Tree (PLT) recognizes an educator in the field who uses the PLT curriculum with students, teachers, and their communities. PLT has formally recognized the efforts of outstanding educators for their commitment to environmental education, their exemplary use of PLT, and their exceptional teaching skills. Their diverse experiences illustrate how PLT can be used effectively with all age groups from pre-schoolers through university students, across all subjects, indoors and outdoors.

In 2019, Georgia PLT recognized Gregory Vaughn as the Educator of the Year. Gregory is a 4th-grade teacher at JL Lomax Elementary School and was first trained in PLT at the 2016 Georgia Teacher Conservation Workshop. According to Tony Burgman, Assistant Principle of JL Lomax Elementary School, “He is one of the most dedicated teachers I have seen in my 20 years of education. His perseverance and focus to change the lives of his scholars one lesson at a time is second to none. He not only pushes himself, but he is always seeking out the best in each child he teaches.” Georgia PLT is honored to have had the opportunity to recognize Gregory for his exemplary service to his students and the implementation of PLT. 

Melanie Biersmith was recognized as the 2019 Outstanding Facilitator of the Year. Melanie has been facilitating workshops since 2014. She is actively engaged in providing annual PLT training to Georgia 4-H environmental education staff as well as serving on the Georgia PLT State Steering Committee and the Georgia Teacher Conservation Workshop committee. Melanie serves as the Associate State 4-H Leader. Georgia PLT is only successful due to the service and dedication of our wonderful facilitators.

Do you know someone who is an exemplary educator that uses PLT with their students to encourage engaging, hands-on learning experiences? Nominate him/her for GA PLTs Outstanding Educator of the Year Award.

You can download the form and email it to Chelsea York at Or complete the online nomination form.


Plant Man

After collecting leaves outside, T (third grader) began creating pictures with leaf rubbings. He expanded on the lesson, creating a Plant Man, who saves the universe by keeping plants alive, using his powers of sunshine, water, and soil. This child, who has struggled academically, was using vocabulary words correctly such as “tsunami,” “extinction,” and “humanity.” He was engaged in the hands-on experience in ways in which I had not previously seen. I was very impressed with his knowledge, and I was thankful for the supplies that Project Learning Tree provided so that I had the opportunity to see that. 

Story Submitted by Boys & Girls Club Valdosta


GA PLT Outstanding Educator Nominations Now Being Accepted

Pictured from left to right: Chelsea York, GA PLT Coordinator, Leslie Olig, Euchee Creek Elementary (Outstanding Educator & Organization), Kelly Jo Scott, Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village (Outstanding Facilitator), Barbara Boler, 2018 GA PLT Chair

Each year Georgia PLT recognizes an educator in the field who uses the PLT curriculum with students, teachers, and their communities. PLT has formally recognized the efforts of outstanding educators for their commitment to environmental education, their exemplary use of PLT, and their exceptional teaching skills. Their diverse experiences illustrate how PLT can be used effectively with all age groups from pre-schoolers through university students, across all subjects, indoors and outdoors.

Do you know someone who is an exemplary PLT educator? Don’t miss the opportunity to nominate him/her for GA PLT’s Outstanding Educator Award.

Download and complete the “2019 Outstanding Educator Nomination Form.” Once you have completed the form please email to:
Chelsea York,

Nominations Deadline: April 19th, 2019


J.L. Lomax Scholars are Full STEAM Ahead with Project Learning Tree

Do you know the importance of STEAM in education? STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, and according to the Georgia Department of Education, STEAM isn’t just an acronym. The website tells us that, “STEAM education is a transformative approach to traditional teaching and learning that fosters creativity and innovative thinking in all students.”

Project Learning Tree incorporates the components of STEAM into each of their activities. The fourth grade scholars at J. L. Lomax have completed many Project Learning Tree activities involving STEAM in their classrooms. These scholars were able to extend their learning through the use of Project Learning Tree. Due to the success in learning and the level of student engagement, the teachers at J. L. Lomax took their scholars on a field trip to the STEAM Center at Valdosta State University to participate in a fun-filled day of Project Learning Tree activities. 

Teachers at J.L. Lomax know that STEAM education is important for their scholars’ future, this made the choice of going to the STEAM Center a great learning opportunity. During this special trip, students experienced six different, hands-on immersive, mixed content lessons. These lessons came from the Project Learning Tree curriculum, where the goal is to help students “experience nature and learn about trees and forests.”

Would you believe that crayons, makeup, sunscreen, and even chewing gum, comes from trees? Students learned many items, such as the ones just listed, include an ingredient that comes from trees. Crayons, makeup, and chewing gum have sap products in them, while sunscreen and makeup both use cellulose from trees. Another more obvious thing that comes from trees is paper, and students on this trip got the opportunity to make it! Students had to strain pulp, press the water out of it, roll it flat, and then dry it, similar to what would happen in a real-life paper mill.

Students also learned about topics such as camouflage as a survival strategy. In the activity they pretended to be birds and searched for colored worms and bugs. They became water molecules and traveled through the water cycle, creating colorful bead bracelets to depict their travels. They turned into forest rangers and tried to save the forest from fires, in an energetic tag-related game. Then they even got to tour the STEAM center where they learned about the diversity of artists and their artwork.

Students will take the fun and knowledge gained on this trip, and remember the experience forever. And, as they STEAM through the rest of the school year, they will be able to apply the education concepts in the science, technology, art, and math classrooms.