Alumna Awarded EPA Award for Environmental Educators
by Scout Brobst BA ’20
Anne McHugh BA ’10 didn’t begin her undergraduate degree with an interest in a teaching career. In fact, she didn’t begin her undergraduate degree with an interest in science. Today, nearly a decade after earning her bachelor’s degree with honors, McHugh has established herself as one of the nation’s leading K–12 instructors in scientific education as a winner of the EPA’s Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.
This shift took shape early in McHugh’s time as an undergraduate student at Lewis & Clark College. A Tucson, Arizona, native with a desire to attend a small liberal arts college without the oppressive southwestern heat, McHugh assumed she would study history, politics, or environmental science. Her interest moved to biology after a particularly influential introductory class with William Swindells Sr. Professor of Natural Sciences Paulette Bierzychudek.
“The process of doing research in a lab and getting to work hands-on with questions that nobody knew the answers to really transformed the way that I had been taught science in the past,” McHugh says. “That approach to science education is one that really framed how I look at the world and definitely frames how I interact with students.”
In her time on campus, McHugh participated in both the John S. Rogers Science Program, which allows students to conduct independent scientific research with faculty, and the HHMI Research Program at OHSU. By graduation, she felt confident that the academic combination of research and teaching was in her future.
After obtaining her master of science degree in evolutionary biology at the University of Vermont, McHugh returned to Portland and began teaching K–12 science at Franklin High School. While many of us can only recall frog dissections and Punnett squares from our high school science days, McHugh’s research background and expertise has allowed her students to conduct academic research at the university level, studying the role of microbes in cycling nitrogen in aquaponics systems and local arthropods in neighborhood parks. The results of the research on aquaponics systems are shared with NASA, and the archived data on arthropods could be useful for those studying seasonal shifts due to climate change.
“My students are doing biodiversity research, much like the science labs at Lewis & Clark,” McHugh says. “I really want them to see that even if they’re not going into STEM, STEM’s going to be something that is part of their lives as they enter the real world.”
It is this excellence in K–12 teaching that earned McHugh the EPA’s 2019 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. The award recognizes outstanding instructors who employ innovative approaches to environmental education. McHugh is 1 of only 11 selected nationwide for the award this year, and is the only winner from the Pacific Northwest region. Awardees receive a congratulatory letter from a senior official of the EPA and/or White House, and $2,500 toward their professional development in environmental education.
“It’s the first year that my students and I won’t have to figure out our funding for the aquaponics project, so it’s really neat to have that in hand at the start of the school year,” McHugh says. “It was quite an honor to win it.”