Middle School Teacher Wins Award in Name of UT Alumna Marian Oates

by Whitney Holmes

April Meyers

April Meyers

Marian E. Oates’ love for nature began at 10 years old, when the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumna was inspired by an aunt to start a leaf collection. Her passion and dedication to stewardship and conservation of natural resources only grew stronger with age.

In 2007, two years before passing away, Oates established the Marian E. Oates Teacher Enrichment Award for the College of Arts and Sciences, to be given to an outstanding East Tennessee middle school science teacher.

April Meyers, an 8th grade science teacher at Norris Middle School in Anderson County, is this year’s winner. The award gives Meyers a scholarship for professional development, which she is using to collaborate with UT Knoxville faculty researchers on active environmental research this summer.

Oates believed that by enabling teachers to achieve their own scientific discoveries their excitement would translate to the classroom and thus make students more excited about environmental science. She hoped her gift would produce more young environmentalists to protect the natural world.

Meyers is conducting research all summer long with Michael McKinney, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of the environmental studies program, who is designing a pilot composting program for the university. Meyers is studying how to promote composting at UT Knoxville and Norris Middle School. She will then pass along her new knowledge to her students this fall.

“It seems like an easy enough task to gather food scraps and other organic materials to make compost but there are many facets to composting that include logistics, funding, labor and scientific data collection,” Meyers said. “I can’t wait to introduce my students to all that can be learned from composting waste.”
Meyers plans to use the program to teach about biodiversity, conservation and data analysis. She will appoint students to work with the kitchen staff and sort waste materials into compost buckets.

April Meyers

Meyers and a student perform monitoring pocedures on a compost of food waste.

She says the scholarship will allow students to conduct real-world, applicable research that will teach them more about the world they live in and how to care for it, which is exactly what Oates wanted.
“Now and in the future, the study and practice of environmental sciences is going to become more and more important,” Oates said when announcing the gift. “Through this award I hope to enable middle school teachers to enrich their knowledge, which will, in turn, equip them to boost their students’ interest in taking care of the natural world.”

For more than 20 years, Oates lived on Bluff Mountain in Sevier County and aggressively campaigned to restore the area’s ecosystem. When she passed away, she donated her 510-acre backyard as a permanent easement to the Foothills Land Conservatory, ensuring the east end of the Chilhowee Mountains would remain untouched.

Oates earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1959 and her master’s degree in mathematics in 1963 — both from UT Knoxville. Consequentially, she served on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Her gift is part of the university’s $1 billion fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Tennessee. The most ambitious effort in the university’s history, the campaign places UT among the ranks of the nation’s largest public and private institutions that have sought this level of private support.

Marian Oates

Marian Oates in her 510-acre backyard atop Bluff Mountain

The campaign secures private gifts through contributions, pledges and planned giving to advance the university’s strategic goals that include improving student access and success, research and economic development, outreach and globalization. More than 98 percent of all gifts are designated for a specific purpose or program, such as scholarships or endowed professorships, and help provide the vital resources to advance key initiatives.