Program Overview
Map of Illinois showing participation in DMN
Blue counties are Units participating in the Diversify Master Naturalist Program.

The Diversify Master Naturalist program is a collaboration between University of Illinois Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Department, Illinois Extension, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The program is designed to make the Master Naturalist program more inclusive for all residents of Illinois through:

  • Developing a community of practice around diversity issues and barriers to inclusion for leaders of the Master Naturalist program.
  • Engaging with leaders in communities of color in the areas served by the program to understand how the program can better serve those communities and invite some of those leaders to serve as members of an advisory board to the program. Building these relationships should allow us to develop more culturally responsive and intentional recruitment strategies for the program.
  • Develop a continuing education module to provide trained Master Naturalists with a foundational knowledge of diversity issues in natural resource conservation, tools for working with diverse communities, and resources for growth.
  • Modify the Master Naturalist Manual, a central piece of the training program, so that it is more accessible and relevant to diverse communities in Illinois.

These objectives support the Extension mission, helping make the Master Naturalist program more accessible to a wider array of people, while also attracting more diverse participants to solve natural resource conservation problems. We are running the community of practice as a pilot program in 2021 and look forward to sharing our final syllabus and schedule. 

This began with one of Dr. Joy O'Keefe's career goals of diversifying her field of wildlife biology. After talking with the Illinois Extension director and learning of their excitement, she wrote a grant to the Illinois Extension Collaboration Grant Program with Ross Wantland (DEI specialist at UIUC), Chris Evans (interim State Master Naturalist Coordinator), Peggy Doty, and Abigail Garofalo (Extension Educators). The grant aligned with the Illinois Extension Strategic Plan (??) and was funded for a two-year program. 

The first year of the grant, 2021, focuses on developing the Community of Practice curriculum around Master Naturalist Educators. We asked each of the Extension Unit Directors to nominate one Master Naturalist educator from their unit to participate in the community of practice. With these 25 participants, we are currently learning and discussing system racism, barriers to participation in environmental conservation by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and understanding how diverse groups interact with natural resources and conservation practices. At the end of this Community of Practice, we hope to identify structural and curriculum suggestions for the Master Naturalist program to implement in the upcoming years. 

In addition to the Community of Practice, Dr. O'Keefe will be visiting each Extension Unit to talk with program facilitators and community leaders to identify human-wildlife interactions for people of color including potential conflicts and beneficial species. From these visits, we will establish a group of around 10 community leaders to participate in a DEI Advisory Board for the Master Naturalist Program in 2022. 

In 2022 and beyond, the goals are to develop a continuing education module for Certified Master Naturalists on DEI to continue to pass the information along to Master Naturalists. Along with the advisory board's input and suggestions from the Community of Practice, we plan to modify the training module and mode of delivery to be more inclusive and relevant. While these suggestions may take some time to implement, at the end of the grant's timeline there will be suggestions laid out for Extension staff to act on with future program changes.