When you meet Krista Weatherford, you can’t help but feel welcomed into her circle of friends. As the Director of Programming and Community Engagement at historic estate and park, Maymont, she certainly knows how to use her southern charm, creativity, and professionalism to oversee a multitude of activities for people visiting the park. I met Krista in my first year of working for the Alliance. The environmental education field here in Virginia sometimes feels like one big family and we had crossed paths several times before she invited me in as a partner on a NOAA B-WET grant for Maymont. Three years later, I am still humbled by the way Krista can connect an audience to the natural world.

Just this month, she was able to schedule The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action‘s author, Ned Tillman, to participate in a live Zoom call with teachers on the B-WET grant. Krista planned this special event because not only is she an advocate for environmental education, she understands how to empower a community of teachers. I had the pleasure of interviewing Krista for this month’s Year of the Woman blog post. Please enjoy getting to know more about Krista with the Q & A below.

1. Tell me a little bit about how you got where you are today.

I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. My mother was very passionate about beautiful places, so we traveled throughout Texas and much of the lower 48 states — learning about history and beautiful sites. Many of our travels included zoos, aquariums, and nature centers where my love of wildlife developed. At that time, cable television also had popular and prominent programming through Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. I attended a performing arts high school and thought I would be a performer. On a weekend family trip, we discovered Fossil Rim Wildlife Center that has a drive through and feeding interaction with the various African herbivores. They also offered an audio cassette tape with narration as you drove through multiple paddocks within the beautiful rolling hills. I fell in love and that became my goal of being involved with wildlife conservation and education. As an undergraduate, I had a wonderful college advisor that really encouraged me as a black, female biology major to participate in a black bear population study he was leading using live trapping and tagging methods. We would trap and tag/radio collar females during the summer and then use radio telemetry to track the denning females in winter to record data about their offspring. I loved the field work, collecting data, seeing first hand interactions within an ecosystem, and learning about the “players” within it. After receiving my B.S. in Conservation Biology with an emphasis in wildlife at Brigham Young University, I applied for and was accepted as an intern working with black rhinos at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center – the place that inspired my career goals so many years before. I loved Fossil Rim (still do) – even through the hot, sweaty, stinky Texas weather. After my internship, I found my way into environmental education at Georgia Southern University’s Center for Wildlife Education in Statesboro, GA where I was employed as the Education Coordinator. Since my family’s relocation to Virginia in 2009, I have been privileged to work for Virginia State Parks as a park interpreter, and Maymont as the Manager of Environmental Education and now as the Director of Programming and Community Engagement. I have been in environmental education for 20 years and still get excited to find ways to engage people, particularly youth, in discovering nature (with a strong focus on wildlife).

2. A female role model who you looked up to growing up or currently?

I have had several wonderful female role models throughout my life. I appreciate them and the time and support they have given to me. I have had great teachers, counselors, friends, relatives, and mentors who have invested in my development, and encouraged me to chase my passions. I could not be who I am today without their influence and guidance.

3. How do you plan on celebrating the year of the woman?/ Do you have any advice for young female professionals?

Unfortunately in the year of a pandemic, celebrating the year of the woman is interesting, but still rewarding. For someone who loves to travel, I have been celebrating with car trips to the mountains and staying in rural areas. Very beautiful spaces and very relaxing. Good to reconnect with immediate family and explore nature together. This field of natural resources, conservation and environmental stewardship is dominated by white males. While that can seem overwhelming, there are many passionate people who want to see more females and people of color succeed in this field. Find a mentor and jump at every opportunity to network, expand opportunities for yourself and other females interested in making a difference. Be a mentor especially to a women of color. If conservation is truly as important as we teach it is, then it will take men and women of all races to be seen and heard in this environmental movement.

4. Is there anything else you’d like me to include?

I highly recommend reading this book – Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney