Environmental Excellence Awards

The Alumni Environmental Excellence Award and the Community Member Environmental Excellence  Award are presented each year by the Department of Environmental Studies to an alumnus and to an individual in the community who have contributed significantly to sustainability and environmental protection through their work or personal actions.

Environmental Excellence Awards| Awards History | Request for Nominations | Submit a Nomination


Betsey Harris Environmental Award Recipient  2014 Community Member Environmental Excellence Award: Betsey Harris, one of the three original founders of the Monadnock Conservancy and a longtime resident of Dublin, New Hampshire.

Harris and her husband, John, were the first to donate a conservation easement to the Monadnock Conservancy, and donated additional land in 2007 that helped establish a 731-acre greenbelt near the base of Mount Monadnock.  She was a leader and catalyst who helped the Conservancy conserve more than 12,000 acres in its first decade and served on its board of directors for twenty years.




Dan-Flerlage Environmental Award Recipient  2014 Alumni Environmental Excellence Award: Dan Flerlage, MS ’79, a science teacher, youth mentor, and community organizer for more than thirty years at the nationally renowned Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, New York.
To further the Lehman Alternative Community School’s goals of integrating sustainability, Flerlage developed the Youth Farm Project, an eight-acre organic farm run almost entirely by local high-school-aged youth, which provides local, organic produce for school lunches. He helped switch the school district from Styrofoam lunch containers to cardboard, built composting systems in the district, and, with his students, wrote a grant for design of a photovoltaic system for Ithaca High School.






Amber Pairis, PhD '05, winner of the 2013 Alumni Environmental Excellence Award  2013 Alumni Environmental Excellence Award: Amber Pairis, PhD ’05, climate change advisor for the California Department of Fish and Game’s emerging climate change program.

As the climate change advisor for the California Department of Fish and Game’s (CDFG) emerging climate change program, Amber coordinates the department’s activities on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Her work focuses on developing a climate change strategy for fish and wildlife within the CDFG’s management and policy branches and integrating a thought process that actively addresses climate change into all natural resources activities. Amber manages the internal climate change task force, works closely with stakeholders and technical specialists to develop and disseminate climate change information, participates as the CDFG’s representative on several of the California Resource Agency’s climate action team subgroups, and regularly convenes a working stakeholder group to determine the views and priorities of partners.

Before coming to California, Amber worked for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in Washington D.C., where she was the Science and Research liaison coordinating research and policy between the state fish and game departments and federal natural resource agencies on energy and climate change issues. She completed her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Conservation Biology from Antioch University New England Graduate School.

The 2013 Community Member Environmental Excellence Award will go to W. Rhett Lamb, planning director for the City of Keene  2013 Community Member Environmental Excellence Award: W. Rhett Lamb, planning director for the City of Keene. Read Rhett Lamb’s thank you letter.

Rhett Lamb has been the planning director for the City of Keene, New Hampshire, since 1996. He performs a broad array of planning tasks including developing comprehensive plans, drafting zoning ordinances and subdivision/site plan regulations, and reviewing development proposals.  He is also involved in the implementation of management systems and computer mapping to support planning functions and municipal decision making.

Rhett has a master’s degree from Tufts University’s Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, where he specialized in land use and water resource protection.  He served on the New Hampshire Governor’s Climate Change Policy Task Force and has been working on the City of Keene’s Climate Initiative since 1998. ICLEI;Local Governments for Sustainability-USA recently gave a Sustainability Leadership Award in Planning Innovation to Institutionalize Sustainability to Keene for its integration of climate adaptation and climate mitigation into the city’s Community Vision and Comprehensive Plan.

Rhett is on the board of directors of the Hannah Grimes Center and the Monadnock Conservancy. He is co-chair of the New England Municipal Sustainability Network. He helps coach the Keene High School alpine ski team and is long-time member of the New Hampshire Alpine Ski Racing Association.


wessels3•2012 Community Member Environmental Excellence Award : Tom Wessels, long-time core faculty member in the Department of Environmental Studies.

Ecologist Tom Wessels retired in 2012 after teaching at AUNE for thirty-four years. Since 1992, he has been a core faculty member in the Department of Environmental Studies, where he founded  the master’s degree program in conservation biology.

Wessels is also chair of the Center for Whole Communities, a land-based leadership development organization that fosters inclusive communities strongly rooted in place and where all peopleregardless of income, race, or backgroundhave access to, and a healthy relationship with, land.

He is an ecological consultant for the Rain Forest Alliance’s SmartWood green certification program and helped to draft green certification assessment guidelines for forest operations in the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. For more than thirty years, he has conducted landscape level workshops throughout the United States.

A sought-after speaker, Wessels has also written many books: Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape; The Myth of Progress: Toward a Sustainable Future; The Granite Landscape: A Natural History of America’s Mountain Domes, From Acadia to Yosemite; and Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England.

ThelenBrett-250x230•2012 Alumni Excellence Award: Brett Amy Thelen, MS ’07, program director for Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory at the Harris Center for Environmental Education in Hancock, New Hampshire.

Brett Amy Thelen graduated from the Department of Environmental Studies with a concentration in conservation biology in 2007. She was hired as the first science director for the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory (AVEO), a position funded by a Switzer Leadership Grant to Thelen. After the Harris Center for Environmental Education recently absorbed AVEO, the center asked her to serve as AVEO’s science director. There she coordinates place-based, conservation-focused citizen science initiatives.

Thelen also teaches coastal ecology at Franklin Pierce University and serves on the editorial board of Whole Terrain, AUNE’s nationally acclaimed journal of environmental writing.

For her AUNE thesis, Thelen studied mollusk re-establishment at a restored salt marsh on Cape Cod National Seashore, organizing the participation of a group of volunteer citizens.  The research was funded by a Switzer Fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation.

Prior to her graduate work, she conducted ecological field research at Cape Cod National Seashore. She received her bachelor’s degree in literary and cultural studies from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.


2011 Alumni Environmental Excellence  Award: Scott Hecker, MS ’87, executive director of the Goldenrod Foundation.

Scott Hecker completed a master’s degree in resource management at AUNE  in April 1987 and the next month went to work  as a tern warden for the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Plymouth Beach. His affection for this remarkable beach and his passion for protecting threatened terns and plovers have only increased since that day. He is now the executive director of the Plymouth-based Goldenrod Foundation, which advocates protection of barrier beach ecosystems through science-based advocacy and policy initiatives.

Between 1987 and 2002, Scott served as director of the Coastal Waterbird Program for Mass Audubon. The work of his staff and partners contributed to the dramatic rebound of the federally threatened piping plover from 126 pairs in 1987 to 530 pairs in 2002.

From 2003 to 2008, Scott developed the Coastal Bird Conservation Program for the National Audubon Society. As director, he broadened the reach of Audubon’s effective model to include a larger number of threatened coastal birds species and additional states on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Scott is the author of The Piping Plover as an Umbrella Species for the Barrier Beach Ecosystem, published in Saving Biological Diversity by Springer, 2008.
Community Member Environmental Excellence Award: Greg Watson, senior advisor for clean energy technology in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental.

Greg Watson is senior advisor for clean energy technology in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Greg’s exemplary, cutting-edge public service has included serving as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). Since residents of the Dudley Street neighborhood of Roxbury, Massachusetts, won eminent domain power to redevelop abandoned property in their community, DSNI has become a beacon in the community development field.

Greg is the current vice chair of the Bioneers board of directors. He has also been director of educational programs for Second Nature, serving and supporting senior college and university leaders in making healthy, just and sustainable living the foundation of all learning and practice in higher education.

He has been executive director of the New Alchemy Institute, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Eastern regional office and commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture.