Teaching Traveling: Love monarch butterflies and dream of an all-expenses-paid teacher travel grant to Mexico to study the beautiful insects?
Your dream can come true, because this fully-funded opportunity actually exists!
Read on to get the scoop on this educational scholarship from Court Whelan, the Director of Conservation Travel at Natural Habitat Adventures.
Court, tell us a bit about Natural Habitat Adventures and your role there to give background about this opportunity.
Court: Hello! Natural Habitat Adventures is a conservation travel company that plans and guides trips around the world to showcase amazing destinations, landscapes, and wildlife in remote locations.
We hold ourselves to the highest standard environmentally and feel that we are one of the world’s most sustainable travel companies.
Considering we are travel partners with the World Wildlife Fund, we contribute substantially to conservation both directly through WWF’s research, outreach, and advocacy, but also indirectly through education and adding value to the ecosystems we travel to.
When we show local communities the value of nature and wildlife, particularly through tourism dollars and local revenue, local communities become better stakeholders and protectors of their own natural resources.
I head up our Sustainability, Philanthropy, and Conservation Travel programs, along with guide a number of our trips, and work closely with WWF in many of our destinations to continually raise the bar on conservation.
As you can imagine, it’s a very multi-pronged approach!
TT: Fascinating. Why did Nat Hab decide to launch a travel scholarship grant program for teachers?
C: I often explain Nat Hab’s company philosophy by saying that we’re actually a conservation organization that is doing conservation via travel.
Being so conservation-minded, we’re always on the lookout for ideas on how to spread awareness, and increase understanding of some of our world’s most precious natural areas, animals, and in the case of the monarch migration, rare phenomena.
Thus, when we had the idea to teach the teachers about monarch butterfly education, everyone immediately got on board!
When I was personally guiding one of our monarch trips a few years back, I had two teachers who received a grant from their school for continued education to join our monarch trip, and I thought, “We have to do this as a company.”
Since this hits all the key points for conservation, our entire company was on board from the get-go!
See details and the application for the monarch butterfly teacher travel grant here! Read on to hear more background about the opportunity, along with a tip for the types of applications we’re seeking…
TT: Nice! Why did you choose the Mexico as the destination for this monarch butterfly scholarship?
C: Having researched the monarch butterfly for nearly 15 years now, and it being a key part of my dissertation back in grad school, I’m very aware of how integral the monarch butterfly is in education across the U.S.
In fact, having teachers in my family, I also know that many primary education schools across the country use the monarch butterfly as their “study organism” for teaching elementary biology and ecology.
Considering that its migration is one of the most sensational and mystifying aspects of its biology, it’s only fitting to outfit our country’s best teachers with the experiential knowledge to convey that education (and inspiration!) onto future generations.
TT: Despite having been a teacher for 15 years, I never put together what you’re pointing out — but yes, butterflies do have a special place in education!
Now, what do you hope teachers will bring back to their classrooms after this trip?
C: Of course being on an educational journey like this with Expedition Leaders who have witnessed, studied, or have been observing this incredible phenomenon for decades sharing knowledge, we hope that teachers are able to bring back lessons, informal lectures, and discussions.
However, I feel like inspiration is another key thing they’ll bring back with them.
In a world where bad news makes the headlines so often, especially in the world of conservation, I hope that this can show our teachers, who will then show the world, that there is so much to fight for in terms of conserving our natural world, and so much beauty in the world left to explore.
When my guests first set their eyes on millions of monarchs soaring through the air, it often brings them to tears. It is just so very meaningful, symbolic, and breathtaking.
While we can’t get all 300 million plus people in the U.S. on a trip to experience the same thing, I feel that teachers, having a disproportionately large impact on sharing information and inspiring the next generation, are perfect candidates for seeing the migration first hand and sharing it with the world.
TT: Beautifully put! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
C: I guide all over the world, from Antarctica to Zambia, and everything in between. I often have guests that travel nearly as much, too. They’ll have just gotten back from a 3 week safari in Botswana, or seeing the northern lights in the Arctic.
Then I’ll be next to these very same folks, with all their worldly travel experiences, and as we’re watching the butterflies line the fir trees and cloud the skies, they’ll turn to me and say “Court, THIS is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Each time I hear that, it sends goosebumps up my arms, as I know how special this moment is for them. I know it will be with them forever, and they’ll shout from the mountaintops how amazing the monarch migration really is.
TT: So powerful! Tell us — how have your travels impacted you in your career, and as a person?
C: Massively. Travel is my career, and the monarch butterfly migration is really what got me into travel in such a big way. It was one of my earliest “ah hah” moments, knowing that I wanted to save the world via conservation travel.
While travel is certainly fun, it also continually inspires me to do better and be a better person when it comes to sustainability, conservation, and my own ethics.
Of course, the more you travel, the more creative ideas you get on how other countries operate, how conservation, research, and teaching works in other locales (oftentimes remote), and how local communities can get involved in helping to protect their own wild areas.
TT: So true. What advice do you have for teachers who want to apply for your monarch butterfly travel scholarship?
C: It’s our goal to help save the world via travel, and you are all an integral part of this now! Of course we want to attract influential, passionate teachers, but we also want people that can help tell the story of the monarch migration to a wide audience beyond the trip itself.
This audience certainly includes their classroom, but we also want to ensure that your stories, photos, and perhaps even videos will show the world why the monarch migration is so inspirational.
This means that the more we see your passion, drive, and ability to spread influence via the application, the better!
TT: Wonderful advice, and thanks again for offering this grant! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
Photos by Court Whelan, Astrid Frisch and Fernando Romo.