Lori Jean Kinsey, MS '84Environmental Education
The Consummate Outdoor Educator
For the past twenty-five years, Lori Jean Kinsey has taught so many children about the natural world, and inspired so many environmental stewards that L.L. Bean named her an Outdoor Hero in 2008. Arriving at the Tin Mountain Center twenty-five years ago with the ink still wet on her Antioch University New England diploma, Lori Jean became the sole teacher/naturalist, working out of a cabin in Jackson, New Hampshire. Today, the center’s beautiful and sustainable facilities in nearby Albany serve as the headquarters for a multi-faceted outdoor education program.
Under Lori Jean’s direction, Tin Mountain’s camps, public school programs, adult and children’s programs have delighted more than 30,000 students of all ages. And Lori Jean can’t get enough. She grew up in a rural town in eastern Pennsylvania, “always camping and fooling around in the woods,” she says. After earning her bachelor’s degree at Penn State, and hanging around Shaver’s Creek, the school’s renowned education center, she knew she had found her passion and she followed it straight to Antioch University New England.
Science + Outdoors + Kids = Dream Job for Kinsey
“Environmental Ed, especially the way it’s taught at Antioch – hands-on, in the field – combined all of my interests: science, the outdoors, and working with children,” Kinsey says. She encourages others who share her interests to go to Antioch. “From what I’ve seen of the interns who come to us from there, it remains a great institution, cutting edge and on top of everything that’s happening in the field. Plus, they share my philosophy – direct experience with nature.”
Even though Lori Jean supervises a heavy schedule of summer day camps in five separate locations, serving 300 kids, she still makes time for teaching. “It’s my favorite part of my job. It really keeps me going. It’s a wonderful way to connect people with nature and a great way for me to learn through the years. I’m always picking up some new fact or identifying a new plant or animal,” she says. Her job has changed and grown, too, making her feel like she’s changed jobs a number of times. And she never thought about doing anything else because she enjoys her work and likes where she lives.
“Family friendly,” she calls her workplace. Her son Donovan, 13, helps out around the center, as does Larissa, 18, who would like to become an environmental lawyer. At least that’s what her mother says. But she wouldn’t be the first former Tin Mountain camper to carry a love of nature and the outdoors into a career. “Many kids come back reporting that they’re practicing environmental law or studying forestry. One camper, who became a junior counselor, then a counselor, now teaches science at a local middle school and serves on our board of directors,” Lori Jean says.
Summer brings Lori Jean in touch with a real variety of campers and guests, who come from all over the world because they’re visiting friends or relatives nearby. She likes that she can bring kids in touch with other kids from the other side of the world, or the other side of New Hampshire, from urban areas, hardscrabble villages, and sprawling suburbs.
“I do get a charge out of introducing nature to kids who are new to it. There’s always an initial ‘eewwww!’ reaction, but that turns into ‘oooh, it’s gross but it’s interesting.'” She only regrets that families and children have lost interest in camps that are two weeks long. “That a little sad,” she says. “The kind of learning that happens over two weeks is definitely different than what happens over one week. You’re just getting into it and it’s over.”
Tireless in pursuit of learning, she muses with the idea of returning to Antioch University New England for a PhD in environmental studies a few years down the road. “I’d like to study the effectiveness of environmental education, why it works and how it works.” She already knows it does work, she’s dedicated her life to it, and she believes passionately in it. “We need to have enthusiastic and interesting people out there doing this work. People need to understand natural communities around them in order to make changes to protect those communities. I feel that education at a young age sets the tone for being an environmentally literate adult.” Spoken like a true believer, a seasoned practitioner, a real hero.