Ecofriendly educator eyes new adventures

Tye Chandler :
Posted December 13, 2018

For a dozen years, Tessa Chenoa Ownbey helped fuel Fossil Rim Wildlife Center’s efforts to enlighten young people across Texas and beyond on how amazing the planet and all its life forms can be.

Hired in 2006 as homeschool coordinator and promoted to director of education in 2011, Ownbey retired on Dec. 13 of this year.

On the education staff since 2006 and director of the department since 2011, Tessa Chenoa Ownbey will now head into retirement and stay on the Fossil Rim team as a volunteer specializing in natural resources and native plants and wildlife.

There are numerous events and activities familiar to Fossil Rim fans that Ownbey was involved with from the beginning. She established the Homeschool Ezine back in 2006, and the parents of Fossil Rim homeschool students continue to receive these online magazines today.

She created “The Lorax” educational program in 2011, and it continues to be a part of the curriculum at Fossil Rim and on the road during outreach programs.

Ownbey joined with Fossil Rim Marketing Director Warren Lewis and former Development Director Susan Foster in 2013 to form a partnership with a Wish with Wings – an organization focusing on “granting magical wishes for little Texans with life-threatening conditions”. Each year in October or November, Fossil Rim hosts a major event wherein families from a Wish with Wings and Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth have a fabulously fun Saturday.

In 2014, Ownbey, Lewis and Assistant Director of Education James Morgan formed a partnership with Cook Children’s Medical Center.

In 2015, she created the “Shrike Force” – a network of private citizens working to locate and monitor Loggerhead Shrikes (birds) across their native range.

She worked to improve various facilities at Wolf Ridge Nature Camp, the EcoCenter, the Activities Center and more in 2015-16.

Alongside Support Services Co-manager Louis Pienaar and former Conservation Education Intern Caitlin Pyle, Ownbey helped form the recycling and waste conversion department in 2016. That laid the groundwork for Pyle to join the staff and the trio revived the natural resources department at Fossil Rim in 2017.

In 2017, Shrike Force – aka the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group – was integrated into Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) and the bird is now a target species for the organization. Ownbey spoke on behalf of Shrike Force that year at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, at the C2S2 annual meeting, and at the Texas Master Naturalist annual meeting.

In 2018, she began working on an archery range at Fossil Rim.

“I am proud of all we have accomplished at Fossil Rim in the past 12 years, but the thing I am always proudest of is my (education) team,” Ownbey said. “I will miss them, and I look forward to watching them from a distance. I expect great things from them, and all of Fossil Rim.”

For Morgan, Ownbey has always been part of the equation as he worked his way up the education department ladder.

“I have had the opportunity to work with Tessa since I started as a conservation education intern back in 2009,” he said. “When I started under Tessa’s leadership, there were roughly 10 people in the department. But, just a few weeks into my full-time status here, the department was down to just the two of us. We had to work together closely to make sure that all of the education duties were taken care of, whether that be summer camps, overnight camps, day camps, homeschool events, family programs, or any other educational activity.”

Morgan said they stayed very busy trying to maintain the momentum the program was building.

“Tessa taught me about organization, time management, how to be a leader, and even that – in some instances – failure isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “She showed me that failures can be turned into learning opportunities that promote positive outcomes down the road.”

He never questioned what the Fossil Rim Education Department meant to her.

“She has been an encouraging director who always fought for her team and provided direction and advice when needed,” Morgan said. “I – and the rest of our team – will definitely miss her, and we hope she has a wonderful time during her retirement and plenty of time spent with kids and grandkids! Thank you, Tessa, for everything.”

Executive Director Kelley Snodgrass appreciates the advancements Ownbey helped her department make through the years.

“As an educator, one who inspires and in one of the noblest professions, Tessa has connected many children, young adults, and adults to the natural world that we are all a part of during her time here,” Snodgrass said. “Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is thankful for her dedicated service to this organization, the many people she was able to reach for our mission in conservation, and we are happy that continued collaboration will be possible with her transitioning to a volunteer specializing in natural resources and native plants and wildlife.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

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