Smith-Walters one of Project Learning Tree’s...

Smith-Walters one of Project Learning Tree’s top educators

Recently recognized as one of the top five National Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educators, MTSU’s Dr. Cindi Smith-Walters said she was “honored to be nominated and amazed to be selected.”

MTSU's Cindi Smith-Walters, second from right, accepts a plaque as one of Project Learning Tree's 2012 Outstanding Educators. Joining the presentation are, from left, Frank Gallagher, American Forest Foundation Board of Trustees member; Tom Martin, AFF president and CEO; and Kathy McGlauflin, senior vice president of education at AFF. (photo submitted)

The award was presented May 17 at Project Learning Tree’s 26th International Coordinators’ Conference in Deadwood, S.D.

“I knew the kind of talented and dedicated professionals in public and private education who are involved in Project Learning Tree, and that pool of candidates is a deep one,” Smith-Walters, a Murfreesboro resident, said.

“To be selected by the National PLT Committee—which is made up of educators, natural-resource professionals and environmental specialists—as one of the very best in the nation is a high honor indeed.”

Smith-Walters is a biology professor and co-director of MTSU’s Center for Environmental Education.

“She has been a dedicated leader in environmental education in the state since 1988, personally training thousands of educators to use PLT to improve student learning and promote stewardship,” the PLT organization said of Smith-Walters in a news release.

“She helped make PLT and environmental education an important component of Tennessee’s overall education curriculum while working at the Tennessee Department of Education. Since coming to MTSU in 1993, she has won numerous University faculty awards. She has served on multiple state and national committees and helps school principals, superintendents, curriculum supervisors and teachers throughout the state implement PLT and other environmental-education curricula.”

The National Project Learning Tree organization selects its Outstanding Educators for their commitment to environmental education, their exemplary use of PLT and their exceptional teaching skills, said the group’s Vanessa Bullwinkle.

Bullwinkle added that each year, PLT gives more than 30,000 educators the tools and on-the-ground training they need to incorporate environmental education and service learning into their curriculum.

The activities use trees and forests to help educators strengthen core-subjects teaching, take their students outdoors to learn, and grow stewardship in the next generation, she added.

Joining Smith-Walters as national honorees were Lu Boren, a middle-school teacher at St. Columba School in Durango, Colo.; Brooke Mohr, an elementary teacher at Medart Elementary School in Crawfordville, Fla.; Usha Rajdev, an associate professor at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.; and Kathy Rusert, a science and reading teacher with Acorn Schools in Mena, Ark.

In addition to attending the PLT International Coordinators’ Conference, all five are invited to participate in the World Forestry Center’s International Educators’ Institute July 8-14 in Portland, Ore. Smith-Walters said she has not decided if she will attend.

— Randy Weiler (