At the Savannah River Ecology Lab, sharing knowledge is part of the DNA. This has been true ever since SREL’s founding in 1951, when Eugene Odum first began documenting ecological impacts of the Savannah River Site (on whose campus SREL is located) and sharing that research with the local community and beyond.

Today, SREL hosts about 40 educational events each year, but this is only a fraction of the center’s outreach. SREL staff also visit some 300 K-12 classrooms and make time to speak at outside events and talk with local organizations and advisory boards. In all, SREL outreach touched nearly 70,000 people in 2019, according to Pacifico “P.J.” Perea, public relations and outreach program manager. During its busiest season, SREL staff participate in six or seven events per day—and that number is growing.

“You name it: If it involves animals or training or safety, we’ll do it,” Perea says.

On Nov. 20, the SREL outreach team hosted one of its “Ecologist for a Day” events for a class of 4th graders from Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School in nearby Aiken, S.C. After a brief presentation in SREL’s conference center, located a few miles away from its main facility, the children marched into the surrounding woods, following SREL outreach staffers Sean Poppy and Amanda Hurst, to get a firsthand view of area plants and wildlife.

After the woods walk, the class returned to the conference center for lunch and to meet some of SREL’s animals up close. Included in the menagerie were frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes and alligators, along with an owl, possum and even SREL’s resident coyote, Scooter. Just before re-boarding their bus, the students were given a chance to pose for photos holding a snake or juvenile alligator.

After that, it was back to school after a day of wildlife encounters this group of youngsters won’t soon forget.