MDC congratulates Mike Szydlowski of Columbia on receiving Master Conservationist award

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Conservation Commission and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) congratulate Mike Szydlowski of Columbia on being the latest recipient of the MDC Master Conservationist award. Szydlowski is a resource professional and the K-12 Science Coordinator for the Columbia Public Schools District.

The Commission bestowed the Master Conservationist award to Szydlowski on Oct. 21 in conjunction with a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the preparation for construction of the unique Boone County Nature School.

Szydlowski was and continues to be instrumental in the development of the Boone County Nature School in partnership with MDC. This ground-breaking conservation effort is a future magnet school for fifth graders throughout Boone County. It will feature indoor and outdoor classroom space and laboratory space designed to connect students with nature through hands-on learning. An opening date is still being determined.

When completed, the 111-acre campus located on the Waters-Russell Unit of the MDC Three Creeks Conservation Area will feature a sustainably designed nature school building, an outdoor pavilion, a unique council house structure, restored native habitats and native crops, a fishing pond, and access to trails that lead to a landscape of streams, caves, and sinkholes on Three Creeks. Each year, nearly 11,000 students will attend the Nature School for 5-10-day periods for specialized conservation-related learning. Learn more at

“Mike embodies and lives the conservation mission in everything he does, especially lighting that spark in kids to learn about and be active in conservation,” said MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley. “He’s also been pivotal, along with Columbia Public Schools, in our collaboration on the new Boone County Nature School where fifth graders in Boone County will get to be out in nature and learn about our natural resources through the lens of the environment, culture, and economics. We are incredibly thankful for Mike’s passion and proactive approach to connecting the next generation of conservationists to nature and getting them excited about science.” 

Szydlowski was nominated for the Master Conservationist award by Missouri River Relief for his extensive and ongoing commitment to conservation. Missouri River Relief is a nonprofit dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River.

According to his nomination form, “He [Szydlowski] works with 100 secondary science teachers and 400 elementary science teachers in developing engaging science curriculum, assessments, professional development, and opportunities that are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.”

The Next Generation Science Standards is a multi-state effort to create new education standards that are "rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education." Learn more at

Missouri River Relief added, “Mike has been the driving force behind many robust conservation-related programs, spreading a love of conservation-education-related activities throughout the schools in Columbia and across the state.”

One of the conservation-related programs Szydlowski helped coordinate is the Missouri River Days field trip with Missouri River Relief to help fourth graders develop a better understanding of the Missouri River.

Some of Szydlowski’s other efforts include organizing and leading efforts to have more than 1,000 second graders participate in field-trip activities on bird banding, owl-pellet dissection and bird adaption. He also helps students across the school district learn about and maintain beehives at various schools to show the importance of bees in the ecosystem.

Szydlowski also organizes field trips for hundreds of students to learn about conservation at Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tremont, Tennessee and the Teton Science Schools in Jackson, Wyoming.

He has also secured grant monies to replace trash cans throughout the school district with a three-tier waste system in school cafeterias to reduce waste and promote recycling. Students will have a hands-on role in the new program. Szydlowski also secured grant monies to install aeroponic tower gardens -- based on technology used by NASA -- in every elementary school in the district to implement hands-on learning.

Szydlowski has been a driving force in having Fairview Elementary School in Columbia become the first place-based public school in Missouri. The place-based education will help students examine subjects using the environment, culture, and commerce through community service and being outside in nature as much as possible.

He also organized and participated in numerous efforts to remove invasive bush honeysuckle from locations around Columbia and across the state.

In addition to his other conservation efforts, Szydlowski writes a weekly science article for kids for the Columbia Daily Tribune newspaper.

Szydlowski is the 65th recipient of the Master Conservationist Award, which was first presented in 1942. The award honors living or deceased citizen conservationists, former MDC commissioners, and employees of conservation-related agencies, universities, or organizations who have made substantial and lasting contributions to the state’s fisheries, forestry, or wildlife resources, including conservation law enforcement and conservation education-related activities. Learn more at