Photos: Melissa Boyle-Acuti (L), Kerry Wixted (R)
If anyone can open the public’s eyes to the wonders of a wasp or the sexiness of a spider, it’s Kerry Wixted. An education and outreach specialist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Service, Wixted runs several programs aimed at increasing awareness and appreciation of the state’s native wildlife, even its most feared and misunderstood species. On any given day, she can be found creating, sharing, using, or guiding others in the use of engaging educational tools and materials to teach people about the diverse wildlife, plants, and nature of Maryland. Whether her tool of choice is an instructional guide for creating a schoolyard habitat or a shrew skull she extracted from owl pellet, Wixted happily immerses herself in every teachable moment.
One of Wixted’s main responsibilities is leading Maryland’s participation in Project WILD, a national conservation and environmental education program run by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. For that program, she puts together and conducts training statewide to help K-12 educators bring materials about wildlife and conservation into the classroom. Under Wixted’s leadership, Maryland’s Project WILD has been so effective that she was selected to travel to Japan last winter to present it to Japanese educators. She also manages Wild Acres, a program that encourages Maryland citizens to create backyard habitats and produces the quarterly publication HabitChat. Wixted expands the state’s network of stewards by facilitating and teaching Master Naturalist classes and serving as an instructor for Becoming an Outdoors Woman, a program specifically designed for women who want to learn outdoor skills. She also coordinates education materials, training and testing for the wildlife section of the Maryland Envirothon, an environmental science competition for high school students.
Wixted’s work in expanding Marylanders’ understanding of the state’s wildlife is not limited to the workday. In her free time, she can often be found volunteering to band owls, bust myths about Maryland’s most misunderstood critters at a guest lecture, or nurture people’s interest in the nature within their Baltimore City neighborhoods as part of the Maryland Community Naturalist Network.
With a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Management, an M.S. in Biology, and the first two years of her career spent doing rare species inventory and analyses, Wixted could have easily gone the route of research, resource manager, or even restoration practitioner, but she chose outreach because it enabled her to combine her interests in science and education.
“I joke that I’m a science translator,” she said. “I take information from our biologists, remove some of the science jargon, and re-frame it in a way that resonates with different people so that they can learn more about our natural resources and wildlife.”
“Kerry is a difference-maker,” said Biohabitats environmental scientist, Jeff Reagan. “In her own way, often behind the scenes and with very little fanfare or notoriety, she impacts everyone she comes into contact with.”