HARLINGEN — You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the educator out of the teacher.
Pam Cornett retired from teaching math and science in Cincinnati, first becoming a Winter Texan in 1999 and then a permanent Texan by 2006, when she and her husband moved to San Benito. Her husband passed away in 2009.
“I’m not a birder, OK? I’m not a botanist,” says the Texas Master Naturalist.
“I’m from the Midwest and everything down here is so completely different, and it was just curiosity, wanting to find out as much as I could about everything I could,” Cornett says.
She found out, all right. It only took her a few thousand hours of volunteering to do it.
Cornett is a Texas Master Naturalist with the Rio Grande Valley Chapter, and is the latest of that group to be honored as a 4,000-hours volunteer award recipient.
One can only become a Texas Master Naturalist after going through a rigorous training and testing period in one of the state’s 30 or so chapters. As of now, there are about 10,000 master naturalists who have been certified, and they provide more than 400,000 volunteer hours each year to conservation or nature-related organizations.
“Like I said, I’m not a birder, and there are thousands of birds here, and more than thousands of plants,” she says. “So I just concentrated a little bit on sea turtles, because there are just eight species, and that was a good place for me to start.”
Cornett says she has been involved with Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island since the beginning of her volunteer days, working as a lifeguard, giving turtle talks and some rescue work.
“Now primarily I work in the gift shop and try to stay up with what’s happening with the turtles so I can answer questions when people here ask questions,” Cornett says.
She also worked for the Coastal Studies Lab on the Island, working with school groups and using her organizational skills to whip a huge shell collection into a comprehensible display and also worked on catalogs and organizing the library.
Cornett says she graduated from the Texas Master Naturalist program in the Class of ‘09.
She believes her work in conservation, particularly the educational aspect, has been a natural progression given her many years of teaching.
She also has volunteered at the Resaca de la Palma State Park.
“Now I’m working at the zoo,” she says, referring of course to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. “I took the docent training there, and then I worked in the water habitat building, where they have an aquarium.
“Primarily I was there with the huge touch-tank for stingrays that people can touch,” she says. “I was sort of a touch-tank police person, so to say. “The sting rays couldn’t hurt them, but I didn’t want people to hurt the sting rays,” she says.
Since then, she once again finds herself back in the library.
“They opened a new education building, or discovery center, at the zoo, and I’ve been working the last couple of years in their library, organizing their library,” she says.
Her working career, she says, “has sort of rolled over into my ‘relaxing’ career.”