Jennifer Totora is the newest member of Stroud Water Research Center’s education team. As the department’s new education specialist, she will write curriculum and lesson plans; teach classes for schools, Scouts, and camps; and work on new programming relating to Stroud Center research and restoration.
Totora brings more than 15 years of combined environmental education and field work experience. A self-proclaimed “STEMinist,” she has a passion for sharing the wonders of the natural world with kids of all ages and a specific interest in inspiring underserved girls to become the next leaders in science and engineering.
I have always worked around the water, so it’s no surprise that I ended up at the Stroud Center, with its focus on fresh water,” she says.
Her drive to enter the science field was sparked by spending her summers on Barnegat Bay at her grandparent’s home, fishing, crabbing, and boating with her grandfather; she also grew up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and was free to explore the forests, finding hidden treasures, getting lost, and coming home covered in mud. The freedom to explore and discover nature as a child allowed her appreciation for nature to grow, and as an adult, it made her want to conserve and protect it.
Some of Totora’s past positions have included environmental education work on a farm located in the Pine Barrens, and also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered beach nesting birds, study fiddler crabs in Delaware Bay marshes, research how climate change effects harmful algal blooms, and teach shark conservation. In her most recent position, she taught traditional wooden boatbuilding and underwater robotics to underserved youth and created an entirely new science curriculum from scratch for the Independence Seaport Museum.
I think I learned as much about what I’m capable of as the students did. If I can learn how to build boats and underwater robots and teach that to students, I can teach almost anything! And it definitely helps that I have a quirky sense of humor and embrace adventure when teaching,” she says.
In her free time, Totora enjoys being a new member of the Schuylkill Dragons dragon boat team and spending time with her daughter, Julia, her husband, Chris, and her dog, Bandit. They often camp, hike, and kayak, and they also like to stop at offbeat roadside attractions, where Totora says, with a laugh, “I totally embarrass my daughter by making her pose for pictures with the world’s largest something or other.”