The promise of adventure is one of the main reasons conservation educators love their work. Most teachers know that lasting and meaningful learning often comes from firsthand experience. To Drew Stephens and the crew of Service at Sea, a nonprofit, ship-based GIS education program, adventure-based education is the catalyst for generating awareness; excitement; and, ultimately, sustained interest in global conservation issues.
Stephens, founder and director of Service at Sea, knows that many conservation groups around the world could be more effective if they only had the right GIS tools and knowledge. So last year, with funding from Chevron and ESRI, Stephens set out on a six-week journey to equip conservationist groups throughout Africa with GIS technology and training. Although Stephens knew these organizations could benefit from more comprehensive GIS training, what he found exceeded his expectations. After Stephens arrived, word about his GIS training quickly spread via members of the Society for Conservation GIS Web site. Before long, other local organizations began collaborating with these groups to enroll in the training that Stephens delivered, producing an unexpected networking opportunity for people from different organizations. In all, Stephens ended up helping 20 conservation organizations in five African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda. Moreover, the pilot project laid important groundwork for Stephens' more ambitious Service at Sea venture.