students on a camping adventure

Faculty members in Stephen F. Austin State University's Department of Education Studies received Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Community Outdoor Outreach Program grant funding to support their East Texas Adventurers program, an environmental education-focused camping initiative in collaboration with Nacogdoches’ McMichael Middle School.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Faculty members in Stephen F. Austin State University’s Department of Education Studies were awarded funding through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Community Outdoor Outreach Program to support their East Texas Adventurers program, an environmental education-focused camping initiative.

The funding will support the creation of four camping trips that invite students from Nacogdoches’ McMichael Middle School to interact with and learn from nature.

Associate professor Dr. Sarah Straub and assistant professor Dr. Melissa Hulings were awarded the $98,491 COOP grant, which provides funding to tax-exempt organizations for programming that engages under-served populations in TPWD mission-oriented outdoor recreation, conservation and environmental education activities. Additionally, Dr. Summer Koltonski, assistant professor of education studies, has joined the program to support programming for students with special needs.

"I am thrilled to once again collaborate with McMichael Middle School for the East Texas Adventurers program," Straub said. "Working alongside returning teachers and administrators is so exciting because we can bring in the lessons we learned from our first go-around to make the experience so much better for our students. I can't wait to continue the exploration, discovery and connections through our adventures!"

The James I. Perkins College of Education faculty members will partner with nearby state parks, including Mission Tejas, Caddo Lake and Tyler, to organize overnight camping trips that will foster a deeper connection to nature and engage in academic topics in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

“Each of the four camping adventures will focus on a different topic that directly relates to student learning in the classroom through a variety of activities,” Hulings said. “I am most excited about seeing students connect with the outdoors and see how their learning in the classroom can be applied to their lives. I hope that children participating in this project will gain an appreciation for the outdoors and develop a greater connection to their local environments and parks.”

Recruitment for adventure counselors will commence this spring. Individuals interested in outdoor overnight adventures are encouraged to email Straub at for further details.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to integrate outdoor experiences into our collaboration, thanks to our invaluable partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,” Straub said. “By combining our efforts, we aim not only to enrich the academic journey of the students but also instill in them a profound appreciation for nature and the world around them.”

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website.