The Buzz

What is a "Tennessee Naturalist?" Could it be me??

Every year, you probably see the Tennessee Naturalist Program on our list of classes and wonder what exactly that means. Maybe you notice that it is a 40-hour curriculum/40-hour volunteer course, but skim right on past...because what is a Tennessee Naturalist anyway, and why would you want to become one?

The personal benefit of the program for many of our students is a often a life-long goal of pursuing a deeper understanding of Tennessee’s rich ecology. Many of the retired participants tell me about how they really wanted to study more of this in college but followed a different career path. The program is modeled after the Master Gardener Program, and acquiring the title of "certified TN Naturalist" has it’s draw for those with a passion for nature. But the program also benefits environmental organizations like Memphis Botanic Garden, Lichterman Nature Center, and others, by nurturing well-educated, dedicated individuals who then share their time and expertise through a variety of educational programs and volunteer events.

TN Naturalists become ambassadors for nature, spreading their knowledge and passion to others in the community.


So, what do the classes cover? I assure you that the topics are interesting, and the instructors are phenomenal!  Dr. Michael Collins, Rhodes College, and Martha Waldron, Memphis TN Ornithological Society, teach about birding. Mary Schmitd, who runs the Backyard Wildlife Center at Lichterman, educates us on mammals. Chris O’Bryan, MBG's certified arborist, and Dr. Mercker, UT Extension-Jackson, lead sessions on our Tennesseee trees and forests.

One of the first skills a naturalist should acquire is observation; learning to “see” and make appropriate conclusions based on what they see around them.

The act of recording or journaling focuses our view, gives us background information to share when interpreting for another group or individual, and allows us to accumulate scientific information that can be important to various data collection channels, otherwise known as "citizen science."

Our data can then be added to public and scientific records to give greater significance to the small changes in our environment that we stop and notice.

The training program is really a jumping-off point for anyone interested in nature and ecology. Classes give introductory information that clearly defines terminology with real-life examples and in-the-field learning. For each class, we spend 2 hours outdoors to make connections with classroom discussion. This outdoor time is always a highlight! Once an individual has completed the course, they can remain involved through specifically-designated volunteer opportunities at Shelby Farms, Lichterman, the Garden, etc. For some, this experience motivates them to pursue additional education opportunities and in-depth training, continuing their personal growth in the area of nature and ecology.

Our next Tennessee Naturalist Program begins Monday, January 23rd. Class will meet weekly, every Monday at 9:30 a.m., through March 27th. If you have a special place in your soul for plants, trees, and wildlife, this is an excellent opportunity to turn that into an area of expertise and fulfill your passion. Call to sign up, or just to ask more questions. My number is 901-636-4119, or you can email me at

Posted by Charity Siebert at 2:32 PM


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