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Environmental Awareness Award honors S.C. Sea Grant Consortium educator

February 05, 2024

S.C. Sea Grant Consortium educator Elizabeth Vernon Bell is the recipient of the 2023 South Carolina Environmental Awareness Award. Bell received the award on February 2, 2024 at a reception organized by the award’s 2023 hosting agency, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

Bell had the distinction of being nominated by not one but two independent parties for her contributions to developing a statewide certification program for environmental educators.

"Ms. Bell is just one individual – but through creative partnerships, networking and training, she’s been able to amplify positive impacts through the thousands of people she has taught and mentored over the years," said SCDNR’s chief of staff, Shannon Bobertz, who presented the award.

Elizabeth "E.V." Bell has worked at South Carolina Sea Grant for over fifteen years, where she serves as a marine education specialist, developing and coordinating marine environmental education programs for the field and the classroom.

Bell’s career began at SCDNR’s Marine Resources Center in Charleston, where she coordinated the creation of the agency’s original boat-based curriculum aboard the Education Vessel, Discovery. She was one of the agency’s first female Coast Guard-certified captains.

At South Carolina Sea Grant, she’s been responsible for the creation of numerous programs and tools designed to connect ocean and coastal research to educators. She developed From Seeds to Shoreline®, the first and only youth salt marsh restoration program in the state.

"Her programs impact not only educators, but students too - the experience E.V. gives students in the salt marshes is one they won't forget," wrote one nominator.

As adjunct faculty at the College of Charleston, Bell has advised on graduate committees to nurture students in the development and execution of their internship or thesis. Bell currently serves on the boards of the Environmental Education Association of SC (EEASC), the Southeastern Coastal and Ocean Observing Regional Association, and the South Carolina Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals.

But above all, it has been Bell’s role in the development of SC’s professional certification program for environmental educators—the PEEC Program—that nominators thought she was most deserving of this award. One said that this program only exists because of the vision, passion, and dedication of E.V. Bell.

Efforts to develop the PEEC Program began in 2013 when the SC Sea Grant Consortium disseminated a state-wide survey and hosted focus groups to gauge the interest and need among educators for this type of professional training. Since that time, the Consortium, in partnership with 14 educators representing organizations across the state, developed the PEEC Program.

This is a pioneering effort in the field of environmental education for South Carolina. Less than 25% of the United States have a certification program like this. The inaugural class started in Fall 2018, and a fourth cohort is now working on certification. Bell’s passion for the environment, her commitment to bringing awareness to South Carolina citizens and especially teachers, and her diligence in finding external sources of funding to supplement Sea Grant funding has led to the success and continuation of the efforts to build an environmental educators certification program for the state of South Carolina.

By creating the Palmetto Environmental Education Certification Program, Bell created a vehicle for ensuring South Carolina’s environmental educators have access to the best professional and leadership development opportunities available.

The S.C. Environmental Awareness Award was established by the legislature in 1992 to recognize outstanding contributions toward the conservation of South Carolina’s environment. This award is jointly hosted by members of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, and the S.C. Forestry Commission. The committee considers several factors when reviewing nominations, including excellence in innovation, leadership, and accomplishments that influence positive changes affecting the state’s natural air, land, water and coastal resources.