Chesapeake Insider

Katey Nelson


Katey Nelson has been the education manager at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC) since 2011.  In this position, she is responsible for planning and leading “hands-on, feet-wet” environmental education field programs for over 8,000 students a year and directing a ten-week summer camp program.  She is passionate about helping to create the next generation of Chesapeake Bay stewards by supporting CBEC’s mission of “promoting stewardship and sustainability through environmental education and habitat restoration.”  Katey holds a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies and a Master of Arts in Teaching in Biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Did you grow up near the Chesapeake Bay? Was there any place special that your family liked to visit?

Growing up in the suburbs of Montgomery County Maryland, there wasn’t much pristine nature to explore right outside of our house, but nonetheless, my sister and I played outside until the streetlights came on every night.  During summer camp we played in Rock Creek: wandering up the waterway, searching for critters, and making things out of clay. Camp Tuckerman and Locust Grove Nature Center, both in Cabin John Park, are where I fell in love with nature.

You've landed a job that combines two of your passions: the environment and children. Tell us about your journey and career.

With my love of camp and working with kids, my young-self dreamed of working at a summer camp-like job year round, but did not think that it could be a fulltime, year round possibility.  When I participated in an outdoor education program for Montgomery County sixth graders at the Smith Center, with their energetic and enthusiastic staff, I realized that a career in environmental education would more than fulfill these goals.  I started taking as many science courses as I could to learn more about the environment – the best one was Mr. Crites’ AP Environmental Studies class which included a trip to CBF’s Karen Noonan center.  I also spent summers working as a camp counselor at Camp Tuckerman and Locust Grove Nature Center.  I chose St. Mary’s College of Maryland mainly for their beautiful location right on the St. Mary’s River, as well as their strong Biology program. This is still one of my favorite places to visit and just sit by the river to watch the sunset.  At St. Mary’s, I helped run a volunteer education program that organized teams of college students to teach hands-on environmental education lessons to local elementary students.  I went on to complete my Master of Arts in Teaching at St. Mary’s, which included a placement abroad to finish my student teaching.  While teaching in Costa Rica, I worked with a distance learning program where the students at Escuela Colina Azul got to virtually share presentations on migratory birds with students in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland.  Funny to go all the way to Costa Rica to work with students from my home state.  This program was supported by staff at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center.  I stayed in touch with the CBEC staff after finishing my internship and when a position became available at CBEC shortly thereafter, I jumped at the chance and was lucky enough to be hired.  Seven years later, this is still my dream job.  Through our short, but jam-packed school field trips, we get the chance to inspire thousands of future Chesapeake Bay stewards.  With our camp programs, I get to see the same kids over the years grow into passionate and environmentally literate citizens.  I am proud to be part of this wonderful community of stewards of all ages.

What is one of your favorite teachable moments working with children along the Chesapeake's shores? What is the funniest question a child has asked you?

One of my favorite programs at CBEC is taking students into the tidal pool with dip and seine nets to discover all the organisms who call the marsh home and how important this ecosystem is.  Many of the students that visit us and even their parents and teachers, have never been in the Bay, used a seine net, or held a fish.  Learning about the Chesapeake in the classroom is no match for being knee-deep in the water and mud of the marsh with a handful of critters swimming in your net.  I remember one day a group from Baltimore was about to follow me into the marsh.  The students were right behind me, but none of the chaperones were following! They said they had not been told they would be going in the water and were not prepared… They were more nervous than the kids!  One elderly chaperone, one of the student’s grandparents, decided to follow and told the kids, loudly and repeatedly, that even though she was “scared to death” she was not going to sit on the shoreline and give up this experience.  I really appreciated her honesty and sharing with the students who were probably feeling the same anxiety and fear.  I’ve seen many students hold a fish in their hands for the first time, including a non-verbal high school student whose face lit up when I placed a flopping fish in his hands.  People understand more about their environment and care about protecting it if they’ve had a chance to enjoy nature and experience hands-on, engaging environmental education as a child.

Where is your favorite place(s) to visit in the Chesapeake? 

Besides CBEC, one of my favorite places to explore is Adkins Arboretum.  Their winding trails are a great place to go for a peaceful hike and their almost-secret art exhibits tucked into the trees help you appreciate nature from different perspectives.  It is also a great place to see the stars at night, especially during their Candlelit Caroling Celebration around the winter holidays.

Adkins Arboretum

Adkins Arboretum, a 440-acre native garden and preserve, is located on Tuckahoe Creek and includes portions of one of the region's most significant forested wetlands.

Jody Couser

Jody is the senior vice president of communications with the Chesapeake Conservancy. She has a public relations background and served as spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County, MD. 

January 11, 2018

Main image: Katey and a group of grade school kids.
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