HomeIonE EducatorJessie Barnett: Fostering environmentally-focused mentorships

Jessie Barnett: Fostering environmentally-focused mentorships

Meet Jessie Barnett Schimek, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in public health at the University of Minnesota Rochester and a 2020 IonE Educator. In 2016, Dr. Barnett Schimek co-created the EcoliteracySchool with Megan Barnett Schimek and Dr. Kristin Osiecki, also an IonE Educator. The program, which connects local high schoolers with students in UMN Rochester’s Health Sciences program in a collaborative outdoor setting, provides education on natural systems and ecosystem health while building mentorship bonds. Here, Dr. Barnett Schimek shares more about the project and her IonE Educator Fellowship. 

I understand that your project will focus on the intersection of environmentalism and public health. How do you hope to expand this connection through your work with the EcoliteracySchool? 

EcoliteracySchool is a program I founded with UMN Rochester public health professor and IonE Educator Kristin Osiecki and Pine Island High School’s biology and biomedical science teacher, Megan Schimek. It is a mentorship program that connects health science students on the college and high school levels, with a focus on the intersection between environmental issues and human health. We review the program and curriculum each year based on student experiences and are consistently working to strengthen students’ connections with each other and with the environment. Through both classroom instruction and immersive, three-day field experiences, we aim to help students develop their leadership skills and create “durable memories” that will inform their lives and decisions.

What inspired you to apply to become an IonE Education Fellow? What do you hope to gain from this experience? 

I was inspired by previous cohort members such as Dr. Osiecki and the projects they were able to pursue with the support of IonE. So far, I have already made high-impact connections with other IonE Educators and am working to create an immersive online component of EcoliteracySchool.

What does this project mean for the future of sustainability? How will it make an impact? 

We hope that our EcoliteracySchool students, who are on track to become health science professionals or to work in health care, will be agents of change in the health science field. They will recognize the environment’s impact on health and advocate for major sustainable change involving environmental considerations, which will benefit populations and patients. 

Have you encountered any obstacles when incorporating sustainability into your research and work? 

We always want to help students connect with systems-level challenges on the individual level. We find that it is challenging for students to maintain interest and commitment if they don’t have a personal connection, and we strive to facilitate this enduring connection through EcoliteracySchool. In order to fully involve students, and help them understand their individual connection to sustainability, we incorporate art-based approaches to learning consistently throughout the course. From processing textbook content and displaying their experience through drawing and videos, to using photography to synthesize their reading with their hands-on outdoor experiences, students are able to expand their “ecoliteracy” on both a personal and larger world level. 


About the IonE Educator Fellowship: IonE Educators are selected from University of Minnesota tenure-track faculty, instructional staff, and adjunct faculty, who have a special interest in effective pedagogy and curriculum development. During their 15-month fellowship period, Educators pursue individual projects aimed at improving existing courses or developing new courses and educational experiences for UMN college students, K-12 students, and the general public. All projects champion the need for diverse perspectives in solving complex sustainability challenges and are supported through a partnership with the Center for Educational Innovation.

Isa Guitian is an IonE Communications Assistant and a senior working towards her BFA in acting at the U of M. 


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