Scott Sowell of Darnell Cookman Middle/High School named as 2017 Educator of the Year

2017 Educator of the Year
Scott Sowell, Ph.D

Each year, a school, group of students, program or teacher stands out through our work in schools. This year, Dr. Scott Sowell, the AP Environmental Science and Senior Capstone Research Teacher at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, School of the Medical Arts was that person.

Scott has been teaching for 21 years working with elementary, secondary, and college level students, with a focus on increasing science literacy, maximizing students’ understanding of the nature of science, as well as researching issues of equity within science education. He was named Duval County Teacher of the Year in 2012 and has since been involved in developing local teacher leaders and maximizing their impact on public education here in Jacksonville.

Each year, Scott encourages is AP Environmental Science students to compete in the Envirothon, a field-oriented, problem-solving, natural resource education program where high school students conduct hands-on investigations about environmental issues. I always describe it to people like a math league competition for the environment. Scott’s teams took first place in 2016 and placed 1st in 3 of the 5 categories in 2017. Scott was also a keynote speaker at ‘March for Science’ in Jacksonville where he advocated for the role that science education plays in the development of a scientifically literate citizenry.

This past September, Scott invited Riverkeeper into his classroom to test out new equipment focusing on eutrophication and algae blooms in the St. Johns River. Through multiple sessions, we worked with students to understand how nutrients enter the river, how to test for them, and what the ecological consequences can be from too many nutrients in our waterways.

Scott truly cares about his students’ education and molding a generation of citizens that are well-informed and care about the world around them. He is an inspiration to what a science teacher is capable of doing with the encouragement from his Principal, support of his family, and the love of teaching.

2017 Volunteer of the Year
Steve Cobb

The Volunteer of the Year is rarely a person who has impacted our organization for only one year – and this year’s recipient is no exception. Steve Cobb, a Riverkeeper member since 2010, has been a dedicated leader of the St. Johns Riverkeeper River Patrol Steering Committee since 2014, but his leadership in 2017 has stood out, and is the reason we are recognizing Steve.

Steve Cobb, inventor of the River Patrol Geocache Trail, has continuously worked to develop new ideas and initiatives that introduce folks to the St. Johns River, the River Patrol, and St. Johns Riverkeeper. In 2017, Steve Cobb has served as one of the primary Captains of the Kingfisher, working to decorate and “bling” the boat for the many boat parades we are joining this season. Upon purchase of our new Kingfisher, Steve took leadership to ensure the vessel is safe, legal and equipped with the proper instruments to be ready for water adventures. Before completion of this important purchase, Steve helped ensure Riverkeeper presence on the water by captaining his own boat at cleanups, powerboat races, and other local water events. 

Outside of being a great Captain and river steward, Steve utilized his time at CSX, Steve procured a CSX Grant called Dollars 4 Doers. Behind the scenes, he has served as food coordinator at our annual Low Country Boil, chopping potatoes and corn for everyone to enjoy and timing delivery of the steamy entrée for 200+ guests. Steve created a Cleanup Scavenger hunt, being unleashed on Sunday, December 17 at our monthly McCoys Creek Cleanup, to make cleanups fun and interactive learning experiences.

Steve is a wonderful asset to our organization and the River Patrol family. It has been a pleasure to work with him over the years and now that he’s recently retired, we are excited to utilize his newly found “freetime”.

2017 Advocate
Robert Storm Burks

Rob Storm Burks is our 2017 Advocate of the Year for his generous dedication of time and expertise.

After years of field work while at St. Johns River Water Management District, Rob fully understands the threats to our mighty river and is committed to being part of the solution. Rob has served our members and our community in many capacities that have assisted in many of our advocacy issues in 2017.

Rob Storm provided expert technical guidance in our efforts to protect the St. Johns from the deep dredge and future water withdrawals. He also provided training to our team and volunteers to identify and to respond to harmful algal blooms and led Science Cafes to do the same for Clay County communities. In addition, he developed scientifically defendable protocols for our sampling program, which not only provided important data, but resulted in more sampling and more information sharing by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He worked directly with a Boy Scout Camp located on the banks of algal-plagued Doctors Lake to ensure that the camp had appropriate steps in place to keep their scouts safe from toxins.

In addition to this direct work, Rob also utilized his contacts with state agencies in an effort to improve communications with the public and to explore solutions. Rob shared his passion for Northeast Florida’s ecology with organized hikes through threatened areas along the St. Johns identifying flora and fauna while pointing out signs of distress. His photography captured the beauty of the St. Johns and was featured in the Fall Edition of Arbus magazine. His photos also held polluters accountable by documenting violations following Hurricane Irma. During a post-storm flyover, Rob’s keen eye spotted heavy discharge from the Georgia Pacific pipeline. His photograph lead to a shut-down of the paper-mill until the problem was corrected.

Rob was a featured scientist in Troubled Waters, our most recent documentary, and participated in multiple panels following local screenings. In early 2017, Rob represented Northeast Florida in the Washington, DC March for Science and Climate March.

The work that Robert Storm Burks has done to protect the St. Johns River is why we are honoring him with the 2017 St. Johns Riverkeeper Advocate award.

Special thank you to Paul Garfinkel for the fantastic images used in this years' volunteer awards, and Ryan Buckley at Gallery Framery for framing.