Program Overview
Map of Illinois showing counties in blue who are participating in Diversify Master Naturalist.
Counties in blue are participating in the Diversify Master Naturalist program.

The Diversify Master Naturalist program is an initiative designed to make the Master Naturalist volunteer program more inclusive for all residents of Illinois by: 

  • Developing a community of practice around diversity issues and barriers to inclusion for program leaders.
  • 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 it is more accessible and relevant to diverse communities.

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 the final syllabus and schedule. 

The project is a collaboration between the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Department, Illinois Extension, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

The Diversify Master Naturalist project began with one of Dr. Joy O'Keefe's career goals of diversifying her field of wildlife biology. After talking with Illinois Extension staff from around the state and learning of their excitement, she wrote a proposal for the Illinois Extension Collaboration Grant Program with Ross Wantland (Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), Chris Evans (Interim State Master Naturalist Coordinator), Peggy Doty, and Abigail Garofalo (Extension Educators). The proposed project was funded for two years.

The first year of the Diversify Master Naturalist project, 2021, focuses on developing a Community of Practice curriculum for Master Naturalist coordinators. We asked each of the Extension Unit Directors to nominate one Master Naturalist coordinator from their unit to participate in the Community of Practice. With these participants, we are currently learning and discussing systemic 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.  

During this first year, Dr. O'Keefe will be visiting Extension Units to talk with program facilitators and community leaders to discuss how people of color interact with wildlife and nature and to understand how the Master Naturalist program could better serve people from communities of color. From these visits, we will identify a group of 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; this module will build on work done in the Community of Practice and will aim to give Master Naturalists the tools to provide educational programs and naturalist services in communities of color. With input from the advisory board and suggestions from the Community of Practice, we plan to modify the Master Naturalist training materials and modes 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.