Stories from the Field

NatureBridge Educator Spotlight: Lawrence Garber

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NatureBridge educator Lawrence

Raised in Portage, Michigan, Lawrence has had a love for the outdoors as long as he can remember. His family frequently sailed on the pristine waters of northern Michigan and explored natural spaces near his family home.

For Lawrence, there was never any question that nature was a beautiful, precious place for him to explore.

“I totally attribute my passion for the outdoors and being outside to my upbringing,” Lawrence said. “One of my favorite places on earth is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They’re these beautiful sand dunes that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan.”

Lawrence’s love of nature quickly turned into a career path. In 2012, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Spanish. During his undergraduate career, he had the opportunity to study abroad in South America, which sparked an interest in learning more about other cultures.

After graduation, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted to teach, and I knew that I wanted to learn about a new place.
Lawrence Garber, NatureBridge educator

Months later, after being accepted into the Peace Corps, Lawrence arrived to a new country that he’d call home for the next 14 months—Sierra Leone in West Africa. 

“I totally, 100% head over heels, fell in love with Sierra Leone and the people there,” he said. “They were the most hospitable humans I could’ve possibly imagined.”

Lawrence on his Peace Corp mission
Lawrence in Sierra Leone

Over a span of three years, Lawrence was involved in various Peace Corps services and taught English in Sierra Leone and Namibia, ranging from middle school to a college education level.

Through a Peace Corps job posting, Lawrence found NatureBridge and became an environmental science educator at Yosemite National Park in 2016.

Lawrence’s interest in having a better understanding of other communities and life experiences has continued to be a priority long after teaching abroad. In fact, it ties into one of the most important lessons he’s carried since his time in Africa.

“My biggest takeaway from working with the Peace Corps is the importance of developing trust in relationships, especially cross-culturally,” he said. “It’s about doing as much as you can to listen and learn about the person, group, or community before you make decisions or try to influence change.”

Lawrence now serves as a part of NatureBridge’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Team, which focuses on finding ways to better engage with our diverse staff members and students through training and development. 

“The DE&I role has inspired me to develop a solid understanding of history in order to make more informed decisions as an educator.”

Lawrence has recently embarked on a civil rights education journey to learn more about racial disparities in America, and in turn, be better equipped to reach students from underrepresented communities.

In my position as a white man, I’d like to use my privilege to be as loud and effective of an ally as I can be.
Lawrence Garder, NatureBridge educator

Lawrence’s efforts to recognize the societal advantages he’s benefited from and use them to improve the lives of others are what make him a valuable educator. Moreover, his desire to connect, understand, and build relationships with others has allowed him to get a better glimpse of how he has helped to impact some of his students.

Such is the case for one high school senior who was in the field with Lawrence on a NatureBridge Yosemite trip last year through Wildlink, a NatureBridge program in partnership with the National Park Service that connects underserved kids to outdoor programs. 

“One student in particular, Joseph, I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve been able to see the effect of the trip because I’ve kept in contact with him,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence and students atop Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park
Joseph (seated middle in black hat) atop Mount Hoffman in Yosemite National Park, September 2017

From Stockton, California, Joseph had never left his hometown, let alone explore a national park. He now plans to attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona to study environmental science thanks to the impact the NatureBridge program had on him.

“During the first campfire we had, he had never experienced the stars like that before,” Lawrence said. “He was totally and deeply changed.”

“He’s a really awesome kid who, without that opportunity, wouldn’t have felt that connection to the natural world.”

Positive experiences like those with students like Joseph fuel Lawrence to keep going, but he maintains there’s a lot more to do to open up natural spaces for all.

“Historically, [our public lands] were created with the white man in mind, through the dispossession of indigenous land,” Lawrence explained. “We created this ‘wilderness experience’ for European men.”

If we truly believe that our national parks are for everyone, we have to take steps to open up that access. We must build bridges to share spaces with those who don’t have the same generational access that I’ve had.

To learn more about our WildLink partnership and how we are working to create a more accessible outdoor education space, visit our website.

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