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27 Aug 2021

Meet the BGEN committee

Ben Liu

Creative Producer, Learning and Participation
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Ben works within the Programming Team at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, a team that each year delivers nature-based programs to more than 30,000 students. Originally trained as a secondary teacher Ben has experience as a classroom Geography, Environmental Science and Outdoor Education teacher as well as more recently as an environmental educator across formal and informal settings both locally and internationally.

With an interest in research, Ben has been exploring the alignment of education and organisation mission, in particular exploring the parallels and conflicts that arise from this so that informal education organisations can better understand the contribution education makes to achieving organisation missions.

Michael Connor

Coordinator Education
Wollongong Botanic Garden

Michael has worked in education at WBG for quite a few years. He coordinates a small team of educators, often consisting only of himself, but at times ably assisted by a part time sustainability educator, casual staff and volunteers. This has led to innovative ways of providing education programs to a wide range of audiences from early childhood through Primary & High school and including Tertiary level and students and visitors from overseas. Michael and the team also run regular community talks and tours based on heritage and backyard sustainability. Holiday programs are also a regular feature of his work in the Garden. Drama is used in one way or another with all these groups of students and visitors with characters such as Captain Compost, Roger the Plant Explorer, Courtney Puckey and lately Sir Joseph Banks and Brother Brenden (a medieval herbalist). Michael is also proud of his very first selfie-which you see before you.

Paul Swift

Education & Partnerships Specialist
Auckland Botanic Gardens

Paul has worked in a variety of interpretation, education, and exhibition roles over the last 25 years. Having begun his professional career in the museum sector he worked in both regional and national museums including the role of Lifelong Learning Officer within the national Science Museum Group. He then spent 5 years working as an educational software producer and web editor before moving to New Zealand in 2008 to take up a role at Auckland Museum. Initially in the Education team he became the museum’s first Online Learning Producer before moving to the Musuem of Transport and Technology Musuem as Exhibition & Education Manager. Moving to Auckland Council in 2014 as a Senior Advisor within the Sustainable Schools team, based at Auckland Botanic Gardens, he was then appointed as Education & Partnerships Specialist in early 2021. He is committed to supporting people to understand the world around them and feels that connections with the natural environment are essential to well-being and happiness.

Holly Kershaw

Manager, Education and Engagement
Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust

Holly leads the Education and Community programs team at the Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney, delivering programs to students, families and community on science, sustainability, conservation, and nature play. She started working in informal education with Fizzics Education, running science incursions to over 250,000 students a year, and working with government, schools, and cultural institutions to design and deliver high impact education programs and science engagement events, before managing public and student engagement in the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. Holly has a keen interest in how to deliver effective and impactful engagement to diverse audiences and has a few side projects and experiments in action at any one time, including The Science Tent at Splendour in the Grass music festival which places researchers on a stage in the middle of Australia’s biggest music festival for a weekend.

Charlotte Vaughan

Education and Learning Manager
Kings park and Botanic Garden, Perth

Charlotte has worked in education at Kings Park and Botanic Garden for over 10 years. She coordinates the schools education program, community learning programs and visitor services within Rio Tinto Naturescape Kings Park. The Education and Learning team are focussed on connecting children to nature though authentic nature-based experiences, and creating learning opportunities in the areas of E-STEM, cultural Heritage and Wellbeing. Charlotte has a diverse background in park management and visitor services having worked previously as a Ranger in the UK in both countryside and urban parklands.

Mak Djukic

Education Coordinator
Botanic Gardens of South Australia

Mak has worked in public education as a high school teacher for just under a decade before taking on a ‘tree-change’ in the role of Education Coordinator at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia. He delivers environmental education experiences for school groups, designs and delivers teacher professional development, with a touch of event management. He is passionate about educating children in considering elements of sustainability, and including plants and nature in their lives, as well as innovating on pedagogy in the form of formative learning, digital integration and intellectual stretch.

Ngaire Gilligan

Botanic Gardens Engagement Network committee member

Our thanks to:

Julia Watson
Former BGEN convenor

Education and Partnerships co-ordinator
Auckland Botanic Gardens (New Zealand)

Skills: community engagement, project management, interpretation, partnerships, education design, new media, public speaking, volunteer management.

Julia’s role encompasses a multitude of projects that engage people with plants! From interpretation projects, educational workshops, community collaborations, social media and educational displays to school holiday programmes and partnerships it’s a diverse role. Julia has worked at the Auckland Botanic Gardens for nearly three years and has a background in adult education, volunteer management and horticulture. Julia also oversees the volunteer programme at the Auckland Botanic Gardens which consists of over 110 enthusiastic volunteers. People and plants are at the centre of Julia’s role.

Sharon Willoughby
Former BGEN convenor

Skills:  Interpretation Master Planning, Signage, Education, Volunteer ManangementSharon Willoughby, former BGEN convenor, has moved to her dream job as Head of Interpretation at Kew Gardens.

While no longer part of BGEN Austrlia/New Zealand, several posts on this blog have been written by Sharon, so here is some info about Sharon:Sharon worked for the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria from 1999.

From 2003 she Managed Public Programs (Education, Visitor Services and Programs) at Cranbourne Gardens developing the visitor experience in the award-winning Australian Garden and Cranbourne bushland through placemaking, interpretation planning and the development of a team dedicated to socially inclusive partnerships.  Sharon has a background in ecological science and is currently working on a PhD in Environmental History. Her working life has involved supporting children and families to connect with the natural world firstly through the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales, and then through Australian botanic gardens.

Sharon is now the head of interpretation at Kew Gardens.

Aaron Harrison
Former BGEN secretary

Education Coordinator
Botanic Gardens of South Australia

Skills: Teaching, volunteer management, event management, public speaking, resource and program development, developing partnerships, professional development.

A career spanning almost 20 years in education, health and well-being, Aaron is now in his third year in the public programs team at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia.

Aaron started off at the gardens in the role of Kitchen Garden Program Coordinator, and was responsible for setting up the new Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden Learning Program. This program has since gone from strength to strength and each year around 5,000 4-6 year old children engage in such a fun, hands on learning experience in this wonderful environment.

More recently, Aaron has commenced in the role of Education Coordinator, which he views as his “dream job”! Outdoors, active and working with students anywhere from 4 to 18 years of age – every day is different as is every season in the garden. There are a wide variety of curriculum linked educational trails available to South Australia schools and on any day Aaron could be leading students on a Wetlands experience, Rainforest, a journey to discover Plant Adaptations, Foods from around the world or Ancient Egypt – what’s not to like in this role!

An annual event on the calendar is also World Environment Day, which see the gardens host approximately 3,000 primary aged school children and 30 + presenters celebrating our World and the importance of looking after the environment the we exist within.

When not at work, Aaron enjoys spending time with his 2 kids, Mitchell and Lily, staying active and tending to his home veggie patch!

Stephen Speer
Former BGEN committee member

Visitor Experience Manager
Australian National Botanic Gardens (Canberra)

Stephen has an interest in all things plants and engaging people with the importance of plants and science. His interest of plants and science were born from growing up on dairy and sheep farms, and 26 years working with Australia’s premier research organisation CSIRO. At CSIRO Stephen was part of the development team that establish CSIRO Discovery, an interactive exhibition showcasing CSIRO research. He also developed the first school programs at CSIRO Discovery and encouraged scientists to leave their labs and tell their stories to students and adults. For past nine years Stephen has led a small team responsible for delivering school and public programs, visitor experiences, interpretation, social media and marketing of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. One of his current projects is to better understand what motivates people to visit the Gardens (or not visit the Gardens) so that appropriate programs and experiences can be delivered – hopefully increasing both engagement with the Gardens and visitor satisfaction.

Vicki-Lee Bower
Former BGEN committee member

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