From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of ARMN member, Ann Ulmschneider, who graduated in the Spring 2010 training class. Alison Sheahan conducted the interview.
What brought you to ARMN in the first place?
I always had a really strong interest in nature and science. A friend at church, Mary Pike, told me about ARMN and it sounded like a really good thing to do. I immediately became interested in the service projects with children because of my background.
I have a master’s degree in Child Development. When I first earned my degree I became the director of a child care facility in Fairfax and eventually taught parent education classes for Fairfax County Public Schools. This led to my 30-year career with FCPS Family and School Partnerships, an organization that helps schools engage parents, especially families of English Language Learners and other underserved families. I continued to teach children in various volunteer capacities and enjoyed raising our three daughters but once they were no longer young, I missed children and began to look for other opportunities to be with them.
At ARMN, which child-centered activities do you enjoy?
I lead birthday parties at both Long Branch and Gulf Branch Nature Centers. I usually do them with a partner, Mary Ellen Snyder. We work well together as a team and enjoy each other’s company.
I also work at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale, leading groups of school children during the week on planned field trips that align with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL). I do the station on frogs and toads for “Metamorphosis and More,” focused on life cycles. For “Fantastic Flora and Fauna” I lead a walk in the woods looking for examples.
I like that both of these activities involve regular hours and have kept me in contact with groups who need leaders on a regular basis. It’s not hard to make my 40 service hours (needed for annual master naturalist certification)! Also, it helps me to keep learning. Any time I have to lead a group like this, I need to learn ahead of the kids. Understanding the information on a basic level (for instance through the books at the children’s section of a library) has been really helpful to me and less intimidating than learning lots of detail. It’s also pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, so that I recently offered a family program on squirrels for Arlington County’s “SNAG” program. I tried other activities with ARMN over the years like Stream Monitoring and the Bug Lab but I have discovered that I’m not that kind of scientist or naturalist. I’m more of a teacher and I like connecting with the families and children at the nature centers.
What was it about your childhood or other early background that you think fed these interests?
When I was a girl, my best friend and I loved to go roaming in an extensive wooded lot in our neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. In middle grades, I remember going almost every day. We just walked around and went to our “hiding place” (which was probably covered with invasive vines!). I don’t remember particular observations of animals or plants, I just remember loving to be there, surrounded by the trees. To this day, the smell of the woods is imprinted on me, very positively. Then when my husband and I first met we did lots of hiking together and in 1980-82, we began taking classes at the National Arboretum on trees, wildflowers, and ferns. In 2000, I joined the Northern Virginia Bird Club and began to gain knowledge of local birds. I am still a member there along with many other ARMN members.
In summary, what do you like most about ARMN?
It allows me to combine my love of nature and working with kids and families of many cultures, and it lets me keep learning. To me, it’s satisfying just to know information about what we are seeing all around us. In Arlington, we’ve been able to preserve our little swaths of green, and we have this unique mix of people from all over the world who can enjoy it. That’s a great combination and I feel lucky to be a part of it.