Heidi Ballard Leading at the Intersection of Science, Education and Social Justice
Coming from a long line of teachers, Heidi Ballard was sure of
one thing when she entered college: she was not going to become a
teacher. Five years later, she found herself teaching high school
“My mother always warned me not to become a teacher; you work too
hard and the pay is too low,” said Ballard. But after earning a
BA in biology and an MA in science education, Ballard earned a
teaching credential at Stanford University.
“During college, I went with a friend to the Earth Island
Institute and saw all these posters on the damage tuna fishing
does to dolphins, and I became absolutely passionate about
conservation issues,” said Ballard. “I went back to school
looking for every environmental class I could take.”
The more she studied, the more she realized how much
environmental issues reach beyond science to include issues of
culture, society and economics.
“I went home thinking I was really going to shock my mother with
the news that I was going to pursue environmental sciences in
some way,” said Ballard. “My mom just laughed and reminded me
that I read Ranger Rick and World magazine every night as a kid.
She wasn’t surprised at all,” said Ballard.
In her senior year of college, Ballard studied at Oxford while
working on her MA in science education.
“I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher.” But a talent in
curriculum development led a mentor, Mary Budd Rowe, to suggest
she earn a credential. Ballard eventually wound up teaching at a
high school in Palo Alto for nearly five years.
“It was fantastic,” said Ballard. But after traveling to Costa
Rica for a summer-intensive course in conservation biology and
working on another MA in botany, Ballard caught the research bug
and decided to pursue a PhD.
“It was hard to leave my high school students, but friends
convinced me that I could still have an impact on young people as
a college teacher,” said Ballard.
At UC Berkeley, where Ballard earned a PhD in Environmental
Science, Policy and Management in the College of Natural
Resources, she really found her calling.
“I got really interested in the management aspects of my field,”
said Ballard. “That is where the intersection of environmental
science and people come together. For instance, any time you
decide to leave a piece of land undeveloped, you are managing
that land. It’s all about choices. There are a huge set of
environmental issues that can be looked at in this way.”
At Berkeley, Ballard began to construct her focus on
participatory research. Through a series of projects–including
working with scientists and local citizens on a collaborative
monitoring program to track oak regeneration in Walnut Creek,
California, and working with forestry workers in Washington to
research the sustainability of harvesting salal, a common plant
used in floral arrangements–Ballard combined her knowledge
environmental science and her passion for conservation into a
potent approach to social justice in environmental research and
“I have a lot of interest in environmental justice and in making
science something that non-scientists understand, trust, and can
use themselves” said Ballard.
“My approach to address the problems that scientists are facing
and the problems that society is facing, with the public
skeptical about science and decisions based on science, is to
look at the pieces and put them together in novel ways. I want to
know how this contributes to our better understanding
environmental systems and social environmental systems and how to
manage them so that we can behave in a sustainable way as
individuals and as a society.”
Ballard, now an assistant professor of environmental science
education, brings this interdisciplinary approach to her work as
an education researcher and faculty member in the School of
Education. Always the trailblazer, Ballard points out how unusual
her position is with only a few others like her in higher
“The School had a lot of foresight about linking education with
environmental science in a single position,” said Ballard. “I got
In addition to teaching pre-service science teachers, MA and PhD
students in education and undergraduates, Ballard is a member of
the Environmental Justice Project at UC Davis, an
interdisciplinary group of faculty from the humanities, sciences
and social sciences committed to applied research on current
environmental justice issues in Northern California and the
Recently she has been working with pollinator biologists and
conservationists on projects that train volunteers and landowners
to identify and monitor native and European honey bees and their
habitat, and with the Center for Land-Based Learning on
developing science classroom writing prompts and evaluating the
impacts of their restoration activities on student learning.
Heidi Ballard is the Founder and Faculty Director of the Center
for Community and Citizen Science. You can find more information
about her past and current projects, and sign up for occasional
updates at the Center’s website.