Pat Heaney, a Senior Educator at The Watershed Institute, will be honored Nov. 7 at the 13th Annual Women & Wildlife awards from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
She has spent the past 30 years as a steward of the environment and educator for hundreds of children about New Jersey’s wildlife. Pat is one of four honorees at the Duke Farms event in Hillsborough that celebrates women who help protect New Jersey’s endangered and threatened wildlife.
The Watershed’s Education Director, Jeff Hoagland, said the award, “recognizes the impact of Pat’s work in the environmental education community – not only on students, but on wildlife and other living things as well.”
While Pat is passionate about teaching children about the environment, she was hesitant about some aspects of nature as a child growing up in Spring Lake, NJ.
“I was fearful and afraid of things in the wild – slugs, worms, and insects – as a child,” she said. “But I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and just had to get over that.”
Pat received her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Ramapo College of New Jersey in 1982 and received her master’s degree in geography from Rutgers University in 1992.
Pat worked for more than 25 years at Kateri Environmental Center and Day Camp in Wickatunk, NJ, engaging with about 4,000 children each year. For 12 years, she ran an extended school year program for special needs children. During her time at Kateri, which was run by a social services agency, she also encountered many urban teens, including some who were on probation and stepped off the bus trying looking tough and closed off.
“Especially kids from urban environments, where they have to put on a façade of toughness, I enjoyed seeing them shed that hardness. They would hold a frog, light up and you could see the child come out of them,” she said.
For decades, Pat has been a Girl Scouts volunteer, ran Women’s Outdoor Survival Weekends and has served on many boards. She has been the board president of the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education from 2015-2017 and is currently the board’s co-president. She also has served on the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium’s stakeholder advisory board since 2016.
At the Watershed, Pat has continued teaching and explaining the wonders of nature for more than a year.
“I’ve always wanted to be with kids and love being outdoors, so this career is a good marriage of the two,” she said. “It’s always been about sharing information with people. If you have the knowledge, then you need to spread the good stuff and share with other people.”