NACOGDOCHES, Texas — When the COVID-19 pandemic moved many college students to online learning, teacher candidates at Stephen F. Austin State University were among them.

Those in SFA’s Community Responsiveness and Engaged Advocacy in Teacher Education program, or C.R.E.A.T.E., saw their usual face-to-face community engagement projects canceled, but they soon found service-learning opportunities through a new partnership formed between C.R.E.A.T.E. and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville.

“Community engagement and service are hallmark experiences of the C.R.E.A.T.E. program, and I did not want students to miss out on this type of authentic learning just because most would not be residing in Nacogdoches during the fall 2020 semester,” said Dr. Lauren Burrow, associate professor of education studies and cofounder of C.R.E.A.T.E.

Dr. Shelby Gull Laird, former assistant professor of forestry at SFA and head of the Whiteville branch of the museum, saw a way to help provide online service-learning projects for SFA teacher candidates and connected Burrow with Brian Wuertz, community engagement educator at the museum.

“I knew this partnership could help SFA teacher candidates develop their teaching and activity creation skills even though they’re working online,” Laird said.

To help the four student teams design family-friendly activities for museum visitors, Wuertz guided them in applying the knowledge and skills they gained through Burrow’s writing methods course and the science education course taught by Dr. Tonya Jeffery, assistant professor of education studies.

“The teacher candidates synthesized our needs with their teacher training to create resources that will engage guests in exploration and inquiry in underutilized outdoor spaces at our museum,” Wuertz said. “In addition to generating curiosity about science and nature, these resources will help promote literacy skills.”

The resources, including activities and books, will become property of the museum.

The teacher candidates said they will apply what they’ve learned during this opportunity in their own communities.

“We learned a lot about community partnerships and how we can work with different organizations in our school districts to design experiences for children that will complement what they’ll learn in the classroom,” said Destinee Davis, an elementary education senior from Tyler. “This experience has been a real eye-opener for me.”

Davis said this lesson prompted her to focus on details like copyrights as well as the big picture of how students from a different state would respond to the material she created for use outside a classroom setting.

“There aren’t many education seniors who can say they’ve collaborated with a museum before,” Davis said. “This project is something I can be proud of, and when it's time for those future job interviews, I will definitely make sure to mention my experience collaborating with an out-of-state museum to help with student learning.”

For more information on C.R.E.A.T.E., email Burrow at or Dr. Heather Olson Beal, professor of education studies and cofounder of C.R.E.A.T.E, at For more information on the museum, visit