Academy FAQs

Before starting, read the 2024 Earth to Sky Academy announcement.

Regional Leaders are asked to host an Earth to Sky (ETS) course within two years of attending the Academy. What is an Earth to Sky course?

Earth to Sky courses provide training and support for interpreters and informal educators to develop stronger climate change communication skills. ETS courses provide a foundation of climate science with an emphasis on the connection between global and local processes. ETS courses are usually focused on the climate story of one region. Our training methodology has been developed and refined over almost 20 years with input from NASA, NPS, and USFWS trainers as well as intensive evaluation. The signature elements of an ETS course include, in part:

  • Balanced focus given to both interpretive and scientific aspects of impactful climate change communication
  • A collegial learning environment with lively exchange of expertise among participants, presenters, and coaches
  • Modeling examples of successful climate interpretation and education products and programs
  • Dedicated time for participants to work on their authentic task; participants leave with a plan for incorporating course content in their work
  • Thoughtful use of evaluations to shape the course
  • Extended engagement with participants before, during, and after the course for solidifying learning, as well as nurturing a community of practice

You’ll learn much more during the ETS Academy, and make plans for how to use this methodology while customizing it to the unique needs of your regional audience.

What's the difference between an Earth to Sky course and the Earth to Sky Academy?

An Earth to Sky course is a training.  It provides professional development to interpreters, informal educators, and others. 

The Earth to Sky Academy is a train-the-trainer, but due to its intensive nature, we like to call it a train-the-leader. During the Academy, new regional teams will learn the Earth to Sky professional development methodology as well as some climate science and communication content, to prepare them to develop their own Earth to Sky courses. Working within the tested Earth to Sky methodology and with ongoing support from the national team, the regional teams will have the freedom to design course content that uniquely meets the needs of their own region and their own audience.

How many participants should attend an Earth to Sky course?

ETS courses generally have 18–30 participants.

How long is an Earth to Sky course?

Duration of a face-to-face course varies from two to five days. We recommend that Regional Courses be planned as three-day events. It is difficult, if not impossible, to bring together the signature elements of an ETS course during a one-day event. Extended models (such as meeting for a few hours per week for 10 weeks) can also be successful.

Should an Earth to Sky course be face-to-face or virtual?

Both face-to-face and virtual models can be successful for ETS courses. We see excellent outcomes with face-to-face events, but virtual events provide valuable opportunities to overcome barriers to participation. Either way, we recommend including pre- and post-course engagement, which is usually most convenient to host virtually.

Where can we see examples of Earth to Sky courses?

While no recording can capture the experience of attending an ETS course (which features discussion, coaching, and a great deal of interpersonal collaboration), the course websites include many useful materials such as agendas, presentation recordings, and the task that participants are charged with working on during the course.  A free login is required to access the course websites. Recent examples include:

Should Regional Leaders plan to host more than one Earth to Sky course?

ETS Regional Leaders are expected to commit to offering one ETS course and to nurture a community of practice for a reasonable period of time. We hope that Regional Leaders will find that hosting an ETS course aligns well with their personal goals and their organizations’ objectives, and that it is productive to offer regular ETS courses to their audience to serve a flourishing regional community of practice. The national team is excited to offer continuing support to the Regional Leaders for many years to come.

Can Regional Leaders charge admission to Earth to Sky courses?

ETS does not profit from our courses, and we ask Regional Leaders to offer their courses tuition-free. There may be extenuating circumstances which justify a course fee. For example, Regional Leaders may be able to negotiate a great lodging deal which necessitates paying up front and collecting payment from participants. Or, Regional Leaders may work with a partner to host the course, and that partner may need to levy a charge to cover their operating expenses. We encourage Regional Leaders to work with their organizations and partners and with us to explore all options for preventing participant expenses.

How many teams will be selected for the Academy?

We plan to select five teams in 2024, the same number that were selected in 2022. For the first time, a returning team may be selected, to renew their training because of significant turnover within the team.

How is Earth to Sky prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at the Earth to Sky Academy?

ETS recognizes that the work of interpretation and informal education is rife with barriers to access. The voices telling stories of climate change, and the communities with access to high-quality environmental education, are skewed by a history of disenfranchisement and inequitable access to resources. 

As a partnership, we seek to prioritize resources and support for Regional Teams both representing and serving underserved audiences. This may include Regional Leaders or community members who are doing place-based climate change communication work with job titles other than “interpreter” or “informal educator.” 

At the Academy, future Regional Leaders are immersed in a collegial environment wherein presenters, participants, and course leaders work together to share expertise and accommodate learners of all types. This sharing of diverse perspectives elevates the entire ETS community of leaders and helps us improve our collective ability to reach more diverse audiences. We have already learned a great deal about how to become more inclusive from the first cohort of Regional Leaders.

We recognize that knowledges beyond the Western tradition are crucial for understanding and developing lasting solutions to the climate crisis. When selecting presenters and coaches for their ETS courses, we encourage Regional Leaders to include knowledge-holders from communities beyond the scientific establishment. This may include holders of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, faith-based communities, historians, artists, and others. To support Regional Leaders in this work, during and after the Academy, ETS will offer guidance from climate communicators and other knowledge-holders who are experienced in working with various diverse groups. 

We are continuing to explore more avenues to increase the diversity of the ETS program and community, as well as the accessibility of all of our offerings. We invite and welcome feedback from you on our efforts.

The course announcement says that travel support to the Academy may be available on a needs basis. What does that mean?

We plan to offer needs-based travel funding for Academy participants. The Earth to Sky partnership succeeds because of the contributions made by all of the agencies and organizations that help ETS grow. We encourage incoming Regional Leaders with organizational support to make attending the Academy a funded work trip because their organization’s goals align with Earth to Sky’s. When a team receives a letter of acceptance from ETS, they will be asked if the individual members expect to need full or partial travel support. The needs-based support will include transportation, lodging, and meals & incidentals. Unfortunately, we have no way to offer support to Department of Interior employees; we ask them to include this travel in their FY25 budgets, planning to arrive in Greenbelt, MD on November 17 and depart on November 23, 2024.

What are the benefits of participation in the Earth to Sky Academy? What are Regional Leaders asked to commit to? What kind of support will they get from the national team?

Benefits of participation by Regional Leaders include:

  • Professional growth as a leader in interpretation
  • Development of a community of climate science communicators/interpreters in your region
  • Increased confidence and understanding of climate science and effective communication
  • Increased confidence and skill in effective professional development methodology
  • Access to and updates on NASA science, scientists, outreach specialists, and resources
  • Guidebook with detailed tools, templates, checklists, and timelines for an ETS course
  • Leave course with a plan and supporting resources to host an ETS Regional Course
  • Participate in Regional Leaders network who support one another in course planning and community engagement
  • Ongoing mentoring and infrastructure support from ETS Leadership
  • Letter of appreciation to supervisor
  • Certificate of completion

The commitment by regional leaders is that they are expected to:

  • Conduct a regional climate science and communication course using ETS methodology within two years of graduation.
  • Build, nurture, and sustain a regional community of practice
  • Participate in the ETS Regional Leaders Network to further the mission of ETS.

The time commitment for this work is estimated below.

Meanwhile, the ETS national leadership team is responsible for developing and leading the Academy and for supporting Regional Leaders in their ETS Regional Course development. After the Academy, ETS Leadership will:

  • Provide seed funding to help Regional Leaders host ETS courses: approximately $9000 per course for the team's first two courses. Funds can only be accepted by a non-federal entity.
  • Continue to mentor Regional Leaders and assist them with project management.
  • Cover their own travel expenses to attend and support Regional Courses.
  • Assist with recruitment and mentoring of Regional Course coaches.
  • Provide infrastructure (course website, webinar infrastructure, evaluation tools, etc).
  • Assist in identifying and recruiting NASA science presenters based upon Regional Course objectives and content needs.
  • Provide standardized evaluation support and analyze results for Regional Courses.
  • Facilitate opportunities for Regional Leaders to continue to learn and collaborate with one another via the ETS Regional Leaders Network.

What is the time commitment for Regional Leaders?

After completing the Academy, the ongoing time commitment will vary based on the size of your team, how much intersection there is between your work as a Regional Leader and your regular work, and other factors. At the Academy, you will receive materials to help you develop an ETS course and nurture your community of practice, including suggested division of labor, planning timelines, sample agendas, letters for partners, and much more. We have developed this model assuming that most Regional Leaders are professionals whose organizational objectives are aligned with our ETS objectives, so this work would be part of their work day, though some Regional Leaders are volunteers or retirees. The model also assumes that Regional Leaders would be able to allocate a relatively small percentage of their work time to their Regional Leader work over a year or more. Broadly speaking, the time commitment will range from roughly two hours per week in the quiet times up to half-time and greater commitment in the 3–4 weeks immediately before and during the course. Regional Leaders adjust this model according to their resources and needs.

Following their course, Regional Leaders spend approximately 1–2 hours a week devoted to nurturing their community of practice and meeting with fellow Regional Leaders. Responsibilities to the community of practice may include regular newsletters to the community; providing them with useful content; developing and running webinars; and making individual inquiries and connections. 

ETS offers monthly 45-minute webinars exclusively for the community of practice of Regional Leaders. Regional Leaders are expected to attend these webinars for six months after completing the Academy. The webinars are part of the post-engagement of the Academy to solidify learning, support Regional Leaders in their efforts in developing and running courses, and provide additional professional development opportunities. We encourage Regional Leaders to attend and contribute to these webinars continuing into the future, as our national team works to meet the changing needs of the Regional Leaders.

How big a “region” should Regional Teams select?

The geographic area each team serves is defined by the team itself, and can be as broad or as narrow as makes sense for you. For instance, a region could comprise one or multiple states, or be defined by a geographical feature (a watershed, desert, coastal area, etc.).

Questions to ask yourself when defining your region:

  • Is your region already being served by an existing ETS Regional Team?
  • Is the region broad enough to allow participation from interpreters and informal educators at a variety of different agencies, organizations, and interpretive sites?
  • Are there significant geographical barriers to regional leaders and course participants gathering in person? (If so, how will you work around that?)
  • Are there specific climate impacts and issues that tie your region together?
  • Considering the resources and networks available to your team, could you reasonably sustain a community of practice across the size region you have in mind?

There’s already a network of interpreters and informal educators working on climate communication in our area. Can we apply to attend the Academy?

Absolutely! Earth to Sky regions are intended to launch new or support existing communities of practice of climate change informal educators and interpreters.

How should we select our target audience?

ETS serves place-based interpreters and place-based informal educators—people that work in parks, refuges, sites of historical and cultural significance, and other public lands to provide place-based education and interpretation for the public. Though some of the resources and professional development we provide are also useful for classroom teachers and other communicators, applicants that provide thoughtful plans for serving place-based interpreters and informal educators will receive selection preference. In your region, the people doing this kind of work might have different titles or roles in society, which is why we would like you to define your target audience based on what makes sense in your region. To increase inclusion, we encourage you to consider including early-career communicators (e.g. interns, volunteers, seasonal employees, etc.) among your target audience when formulating your plans.

What is the best way to assemble a strong Regional Team?

Your team must be made up of individuals from multiple organizations/agencies. Preference will be given to teams that include an alum of a previous ETS course or mini-course. We recommend assembling a variety of experience within your team, including experienced trainers, well-networked community leaders, representatives of your target audience, and subject matter experts representing key knowledge areas for climate change in your region. Consider including representatives of federal agencies, state and local agencies, tribes, nonprofits, and universities. This may mean building a team that does not have previous experience working together, and developing your norms of collaboration together.

Your core team of 3–5 individuals will attend the Academy and become Regional Leaders, but a broader team of partners may be needed to ensure success. Enlist those individuals’ help early on and ask for their input in formulating your plans.

How can I find other potential Regional Leaders in my area? How can I identify alumni of previous ETS courses?

The community directory (login required) on the ETS website is your best resource for identifying ETS community members in your area who may be interested in joining your team. Search by city or state, or use the “Member Map” page to see members’ locations as given at registration. Bear in mind that community members may have moved both to and from your region—This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more help finding current members nearby.

Most community member profiles on the ETS site list any previous ETS courses an individual has participated in. However, these are not always 100% accurate; be sure to check with individuals to confirm, or reach out to us for connections to ETS course alumni in your area.

What are your plans for COVID-19 contingencies and safety?

See the Academy website for the latest information about COVID-19 and the Academy.

What are some sources of funding available to Earth to Sky Regional Leaders?

Each Regional Team will be offered seed funding from the national team for their first two ETS courses. This will be approximately $9000 per course and will take the form of a purchase order to a non-federal individual or organization, issued after the regional course is complete.

In addition, we recommend that Regional Leaders also seek funding from national, state, and local sources such as:

  • Their state’s university-based NASA Space Grant Consortium. We will be glad to write a letter of introduction to your local consortium director. Note that Space Grants will typically expect you to identify non-federal matching funds, but that could be in-kind rather than cash, such as a calculation of the value of the staff time contributed by Regional Leaders to the ETS project. It also helps to frame your request with alignment to NASA goals and, of course, to the issues that are unique to your state.
  • The organizations represented by your team and partners
  • Cooperating associations of national parks in your region, and similar organizations
  • NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program
  • EPA’s Environmental Education Grants
  • Local chapters of large nonprofits
  • State and local environmental literacy and climate-related grants

What costs should Regional Leaders plan for in hosting an Earth to Sky course and sustaining a community of practice?

Each team’s budget will depend on a variety of factors. With the help of partner contributions, it’s possible to host an ETS course inexpensively. 

What Earth to Sky can provide at no cost to you:

  • Travel or compensation for a few speakers/coaches per course
  • Possible labor compensation for the time NASA civil servant presenters take to prepare and/or present at your course
  • Photography of your course for use in documenting and advertising your community of practice
  • Videorecording of your presentations
  • Free advertising– ETS brings a wealth of network connections with national reach through which we can advertise your course. These include federal agency and nonprofit organization newsletters, internal listservs, and our own listserv of over 900 climate communicators. 
  • NASA tote bags, handouts, stickers, etc.
  • Virtual platform (WebEx) suitable for offering webinars.
  • Website for advertising and archiving your course materials, presentations and participant information, and to share activities of your community of practice
  • The national ETS mailing list for sharing your community activities

We recommend that Regional Leaders consider the factors below when planning their budget or seeking in-kind support:

  • Meeting space for your course: We encourage working with partners or home organizations to arrange free venue space.
  • Snacks and beverages during breaks  
  • Additional presenters and coaches’ travel expenses, including meals – we have found that presenters can often cover travel expenses, but some may need assistance 
  • Travel and meals for participants on a needs basis  – Asking participants and their home organizations to invest in some expenses can help deepen their commitment to participating in your course. However, providing support may remove barriers to participation and make your course more inclusive.
  • Labor compensation for the time speakers (other than NASA civil servants) take to prepare to present at your course. This will often not be needed, but can be very helpful.
  • Course materials (such as folders or binders, handouts, flash drives, flipcharts and markers, materials for demonstrations), printing costs, and giveaways (eg., relevant book)  typically cost up to $2500 per course.
  • Audio-visual support: There may be a set-up fee associated with your venue’s projector and microphone, or a fee to have a staff person available for troubleshooting.  
  • Transportation for your field trip. A charter bus for a full day will generally cost $1000-$1700.
  • Advertising – you may wish to consider some targeted advertisements that may have a modest cost.
  • If hosting your course virtually, consider budgeting for a virtual course platform (our WebEx platform may not be feature-rich enough for a full course) and a collaboration platform, to share profiles, documents, creativity, and chat.