Story | 04 Sep, 2019

Mihaela Antofie wins Commission on Education and Communication Excellence Award in Europe

For the Region West Europe the members of the Jury of the brand new award faced a tough decision. Why? Because excellent work is done in very different fields, making it almost impossible to compare. So the jury decided to award three winners, this way showcasing the power of communication to protect our planet.

Mihaela is one of the proud winners. In this article she tells us what drives her and how she overcame challenges.

CEC Regional Vice-Chair Europe, Peter Paul van Kempen: ‘What motivated you to start a career in this field?’

Mihaela Antofie: In February 2009 I left the public administration for higher education. This gave me the chance to help change the classical education system so that our students can focus on nature conservation and protection. I’ve seen gaps and opportunities in our education system, and by joining IUCN CEC I could stimulate education and communication for the conservation of nature.

What are you most proud of?

The ELENA project stole my heart. We bring living animals in the lessons of European schools, developing both experiential learning with living animals and entrepreneurial skills. The Bavarian Academy for Nature Conservation and Landscape Management (ANL), runs the project at the European level in a team with Hungary, Georgia and Romania. I was able to develop a communication system in Sibiu county. With the support of the county Inspectorate we created a network of 15 gymnasium schools and high schools, 21 teachers as trainers (i.e. Biology, Ecology, English, Mathematics and Physics) and more than 200 trained teachers. We implemented activities with living animals (i.e. wolfs, dogs, ants and reptiles). The ant module was developed in close cooperation with ANL (Fig. 1).

With the support of specialists in dogs training from the Sibiu Dog Training Centre it was possible to add value to the German module (Fig. 2). The Reptile module was created by our team with the support of the biologist Tibor Sos from Milvus Group. They provided scientific expertise, photos and innovative educational materials. Over 2500 pupils were involved in this new education system up to 2016. The saga continues as the ant farm activity is now compulsory in national curricula, that’s great! IUCN CEC’s #NatureForAll campaign was appreciated by my students and makes me feel proud of being involved in the commission.

What was a major obstacle / challenge you faced?

I took the lead to moderate the International Conference ‘Făgăraș Mountains: an inventory towards a new national park’ (Romania, 2018). This was a major challenge because the audience ranged from pro to contra. The conference focussed on the inventory of the scientific literature related to the fauna, flora, geology and ecology of the Mountain (Fig. 3). This event was organized by Romanian Academy, Institute of Biology from Bucharest, Foundation Carpathia Conservation and University Lucian Blaga of Sibiu.

How did you overcome it?

Appropriate balancing of pro and contra during the conference by making clear messages at the right time. I always kept the main scope of the Conference in mind during the moderation of 21 public presentations for full 10 hours. It proved to be the best approach. Participants and organizers ranked it as one of the best organized events.

Which golden tip do you have for new comers who want to follow your path?

Always take the lead in challenging environments and get involved in projects which are in direct contact with real life! Experiencing different working environments also can support you to develop the best communication skills you need. Remember that we must never forget that nature is our home! Inside and outside our bodies. As species, all of us share the same basic biochemical compounds forming genetic information, proteins, sugars or lipids. Most of these compounds are unique and sun light sensitive due to an amazing property: chirality. Life is an amazing fragile gift! Due to science we can understand its secrets better. We need to encourage science and make awareness for the need of a knowledge base society in all public fora.

Read more stories about the CEC Excellence Award winners!