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Knoxville — Most of Aileen Beeler’s eighth-grade students know little about fossil fuels, global warming and recycling.

Aileen Beeler
Aileen Beeler
Living in mostly rural Union County, they see beautiful forests and lakes – not environmental problems.

After studying ecology and conservation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this summer, Beeler hopes to be able to teach her students about how they are affected by environmental problems and what they can do to change the future.

Beeler, a teacher at Horace Maynard Middle School, is the first recipient of the Marian E. Oates Teacher Enrichment Award. UT alumna Marian Oates endowed the award through the College of Arts and Sciences.

The award goes to an outstanding middle school science teacher, who then spends the summer studying with a UT Knoxville faculty member.

Beeler was excited to get the award and have the opportunity to learn more about the environment. She is taking two graduate level courses to increase her content knowledge.

“Textbooks are outdated very quickly, especially on global warming, ecology and conservation. There are always new things to tell the kids about,” she said. “They don’t read newspapers. They don’t watch TV news. If they hear anything new, it comes from teachers. If I don’t know it, I can’t share it with them.”

Special consideration for the award goes to those who teach earth and environmental sciences and conservation, areas Oates has championed throughout her life. Oates lives on Bluff Mountain in Sevier County.

“Now and in the future, the study and practice of environmental sciences is going to become more and more important,” Oates said. “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.”

Based on her interests, Beeler was assigned to study under Susan Riechert, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Riechert is director of Biology in a Box, an outreach program that provides teachers a box of hands-on materials dealing with topics such as fossils and tree rings.

“As a specialist, I can provide K-12 teachers such as Aileen an in-depth understanding of the biological concepts that underlie the curriculum content they teach, and I can help them line up materials and exercises that allow them to explore these concepts with their students,” Riechert said. “In exchange, Aileen is giving me a wealth of new ideas. After all, education at its best is a shared experience.”

Beeler has been a teacher in Union County since 2000. She earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science at UT. Beeler has three children; two will be enrolled at UT this fall.


Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,