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Anna Sanford's Environmental Journey to the Classroom

Anna Sanford
Anna Sanford presents a research poster during her undergraduate days at UNC Pembroke.

Alumna Anna Sanford now teaches in the public school system in Hamlet, North Carolina. Having earned three degrees from UNC Pembroke, Anna has strong ties to the University, and the University has helped shape her career path. She earned a B.S. degree in Physical Education (1991), a B.S. degree in Environmental Science (2014), and a M.A.T. in Science Education (grades 9-12) (2017) before entering the public school system. Anna describes her educational journey in the text below.

I am a native of Richmond County, North Carolina. I come from a family of educators with my mother, sister, husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law all teaching in public schools in North and South Carolina. I have cousins who are retired professors of education at Middle Tennessee State University. You could say that education runs in the family! I attended Richmond County Schools until the 11th grade when I had the opportunity to attend a school in Leesburg, Virginia (Westmoreland Davis Equestrian Institute), that was a training ground for Olympic equestrians. Before leaving for Virginia, I had to complete high school. The only option was to take the GED, so I guess you could say I was a high school drop-out. I remember my mother telling me that the only way she would let me pursue my equestrian dream was to promise I would return and get a college degree. I did just that three times over! Between my husband (James), myself, and my son (Ethan Sanford) we have six degrees all together, each one from UNCP. My son is currently at Cornell University, pursuing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular, and Cell Biology (BMCB).

I loved every minute of UNCP classes and learned so much from such wonderful professors who know their students by name and are willing to help whenever needed. I was fortunate to work with Dr. Lee Phillips on a Carolina Bay project, and Dr. Patricia Sellers on a limnology project in my own backyard. These research projects were invaluable to me in so many ways. The research process that I learned from Drs. Phillips and Sellers served me well when I was ready to embark on graduate level research. I served as a field lab technician for the Biology Department for two years, which was another experience that taught me so much about field lab techniques. I was able to go out with Dr. Jernigan’s ornithology classes and Dr. Roe’s field lab classes and assist with bird identification, set-up of equipment, maintenance of equipment, and assistant for all field trips. It never seemed like a job because I enjoyed myself so much!

At the present time, I am a ninth-grade earth and environmental science teacher at Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy in Hamlet, NC. I am finishing up year two, so I am still quite the rookie. My final course for my Master’s degree was a project that aimed to change environmental behaviors of high school students by teaching in an outdoor setting and exposing them to nature. As it turned out, the students loved going outside and exploring the natural environment around the school almost as much as I did. This project allowed me to use some of the techniques I learned from Drs. Jernigan and Roe. I found that the students were very engaged when we were outside, and it carried over into the classroom.

I plan on staying in education for the long haul, but I would enjoy working with older students.  At UNCP you can earn a Master’s degree and earn 18 additional hours in a concentration of your choice so you can be qualified to teach at community colleges or even UNCP.  Through its rigorous graduate courses that stand up to any university around, UNCP has prepared me to teach any level that may come along!

Web manager's note: Anna Sanford's poster, "Nature Deficit Disorder: Changing Environmental Behaviors of High School Students Through an Ecology Unit Taught in an Outdoor Setting," won second place at the UNCP Annual Graduate Research Symposium, which was held on 14 April 2017.