NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Project Learning Tree, the environmental education program of the American Forest Foundation, has named Dr. Alan Sowards, professor of elementary education at Stephen F. Austin State University, a 2015 National Outstanding Educator. Sowards is among five educators selected nationwide to receive recognition for his use of environmental education to improve student learning and foster environmental stewardship.

"I appreciate being recognized by my peers for teaching about something that I am very passionate about," Sowards said. "I believe it is important to engage individuals about environmental issues in order for them to gain an appreciation for the environment and to become good stewards."

Sowards teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at SFA to help prepare new teachers for the classroom. He instructs them on how to incorporate environmental education, and he developed the Bugs, Bees, Butterflies and Blossoms program to give SFA students practice teaching science in an outdoor setting with thousands of elementary students, their teachers and parents.

"This award gave me an opportunity to participate with 22 other educators at the World Forestry Center's International Educators Institute in Portland, Oregon, where I learned from people from other countries," Sowards said. "These individuals shared their global perspectives on conservation efforts to preserve their forest habitats and how we are all connected."

The World Forestry Center International Educators Institute is a one-week professional development field course for experienced leaders in education, research, natural resource management and strategic communication who are committed to advancing effective teaching and learning about the world's forests.

"The next generation will be confronted with many environmental, economic and social challenges," said Kathy McGlauflin, senior vice president for education at the American Forest Foundation. "These outstanding educators show how integrating environmental education and PLT across the curriculum prepares students to meet those challenges."

Sowards was honored during the PLT's 29th International Coordinators' Conference in June.