Growing a Career in Garden Education
Elena Steger, a recent UC Santa Cruz graduate and intern at Life Lab, is on a journey to pursue her calling.
In high school, “environmental studies” was the “one class that didn’t feel like work” she recalls. She continued following her interests and eventually majored in this field during her undergraduate studies. “However, I’ve learned that connecting with the natural world around us is not just a major or a subject in school. It is a way of living.”
Life Lab played a crucial role in providing her some purpose and direction as an undergraduate student. She learned about the organization from another student, who first opened up the idea of working with kids in the garden as a career. “I didn’t think something that perfect existed” and she immediately applied for an internship position at Life Lab. Elena remembers the uplifting sensation of stepping foot for the first time onto the bountiful Santa Cruz garden and being welcomed by a community of like-minded individuals. She started leading a variety of field trips during the school year, and then continued on to lead the aftercare camp programs in the summer. During this time, she’s also contributed to reflections around “culturally responsive gardens and decolonizing nature education.”
In September, Elena will be moving back to Oakland, California. Energized by her experience at Life Lab, she wants to leverage her experience as a garden educator, either within a public school or within a nonprofit specializing in outdoor education or community gardening/outreach. She has supported a large range of children, and particularly enjoys working with preschoolers. During her experience at Life Life, she said she always got a kick “watching the faces that kids make when tasting a fruit or vegetable for the first time. I get to witness that initial curiosity, which turns into bravery, risk taking, an unending second of consideration, and then either a smile and thumbs up, or some chewed up produce on the ground. It never fails to make it all feel so worth it!”