Category Archives: Education and Outreach

Sound Waters University 2020 Sets Records

A collective sigh of relief, exhaustion, and satisfaction of a job well done was heard the evening of February 1 as Sound Water Stewards (SWS) volunteers finished putting away tables and chairs, removed signage,  set classrooms back in order, cleaned up, and walked out the door of South Whidbey High School, concluding the 26th Annual Sound Waters University (SWU). This was the final act of a nine-month process of creative planning and team work of dedicated SWS volunteers, class and keynote presenters, and incredible community support.  An analogy of gestation and a labor of love is unavoidable!

SWU is the largest and most longstanding education and outreach activity of SWS. During its 26-year history, this event has been hosted at various locations on Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley. It has outgrown previous venues and has been hosted at South Whidbey High School the past six years, thanks to an agreement with the South Whidbey School District and support from Island County and many other local business sponsors. 

Residents of Island County and the Puget Sound region attend this one-day university to learn about our natural environment and its inhabitants, our role and impacts, and how we as individuals may take action to care for this place we call home. The day of SWU is initiated with a rousing keynote address, followed by 60 different classes offered throughout the day by local experts who volunteer their time and expertise!

The popularity of SWU has grown over the years and SWU 2020 enjoyed a record participation of nearly 680 registrants, over 50 exhibitors, and countless volunteers who worked behind the scene to make this event another success. With reliance on bring your own coffee cup or water bottle and onsite lunch sold in recyclable or compostable containers, and assistance from WSU Waste Wise, the whole event resulted in 6.6 pounds (3 kg) of trash.   

SWU also is the primary fundraising activity for the SWS organization, supporting its trained volunteers working for a healthy, sustainable Puget Sound environment through education, community outreach, stewardship and citizen science. The net revenue from SWU 2020 was a record breaking $40,000! SWU income helps provide the underpinning of our nonprofit organization’s ability to meet our growing needs and help us meet our mission!

South Whidbey High School has been reserved for Saturday, February 6, 2021. Planning  starts this month, April 2020. Stay tuned for emails informing you about our progress and invitations to join us! We will be reaching out to all SWS members, including new recruits, to join the scores of volunteers who dedicate their time and experience to host SWU. We are a fun group and get excited to have members joining our SWU Steering Committee!

 For more information, please feel free to email Sue Salveson or Anne Baum (find their contact details within the members-only pages or contact a coordinator).

Coordinators Joan and Allie tabling at SWU 2020


From the Executive Director Nan Maysen

Citizen Science and Education & Outreach are the cornerstones of Sound Water Stewards. In our mission, we engage trained volunteers to work in and around Island County for a healthy, sustainable Puget Sound environment through education, community outreach, stewardship, and citizen science. We have the Citizen Science Committee and Leads who work with the Coordinators to provide structure for our citizen science work. And a huge part of our goal to provide education is accomplished through the VET and Sound Waters University, as well as the 4th Wednesdays on Camano and State Park programs on both islands.  Those projects are successful thanks to the teams of terrific volunteers leading them, and the Staff that has been able to develop programs and present when volunteers are not available. While in past years, Outreach has been successfully blended in with education activities and special events, there are many opportunities for SWS to participate in or even lead, if the coordinators had an Education & Outreach Team to draw upon and work with.
So when you hear more about becoming involved in outreach, here are some of the opportunities that Coordinators and SWS volunteers could be accomplished together:
  • expanded participation in State Parks programs at Camano SP and Ft Casey / Ft Ebey;
  • regular engagement with the many visitors to Coupeville Wharf on summer weekends and events;
  • working with our partners, such as MRC to provide interpretation alongside our citizen science teams doing monitoring or other work;
  • participating at special events with our message;
  • renewed participation in the focused efforts like Crabber’s outreach and plastics pollution;

We are lucky to have 3 Coordinators (until Kelly leaves us at the end of August) who have skills and talents and experience in outreach and have already created wonderful tools and props for outreach and ed programs. However, as you know the coordinators have limited time to dedicate to DOING the outreach, and furthermore – I am often reminded that this is a VOLUNTEER DIRECTED organization. But the BEST REASON for expanding our team of Outreach Volunteers is this: ITS FUN!!! 


I would like to share Scott Chase’s remarks in his email to me about the Crabber education program (and his concern about such a reduced involvement in outreach:
“A decade ago, this was a BIG effort for Beach Watchers. Most Camano volunteers would gather at one couple’s house, where we’d assemble hundreds of packets, followed by a potluck and enjoying wine, beer, and each others’ camaraderie.  We made it fun, and it was a great party to encourage folks to show up. We’d have several volunteers at every boat ramp on Camano (and on Whidbey), and on the Fourth a couple of dozen volunteers would march in the parade at Utsalady, a community on north Camano, handing out crab cord and other materials. Attendees would look for us each year, and it was a blast”

I know how very busy all of you are with so many meaningful projects that we have going, but I do hope some will be inspired to work with staff and Board as we re-ignite Outreach and Education.  After all,  Citizen Science and Stewardship make a REAL difference when it helps inform and inspire the “public” – and that is why it is part of Sound Water Stewards’ mission!

From the Board President PaulBen McElwain

I’d like to contribute just a couple of short notes this month for my view from the Board.

First, Getting To The Water’s Edge project teams are moving toward the release of the 2019 revised edition. The Production Team is pulling together the many tasks of completing the book, including writing some final sections and indexing in hopes of getting it to the printer sometime during the Fall.  The Distribution and Marketing team is organizing for the long term work of promotion and distribution. Both teams are excellent examples of volunteer teams coming together to get done something worth doing — what we as a larger organization are all about.

The second note is about the larger picture of our information technology (IT) systems. With the passing of Connie Clark, we have started two project efforts of looking at our IT infrastructure and support. The first is focused on support to our 2020 Sound Waters University (SWU) event and the second on our longer-term computing and web support to the overall organization. Things are looking better than I had hoped for SWU and I am confident that we can continue for this year with our current IT system that Connie left us for SWU 2020.  Time will tell what the second project comes up with to recommend for our future. In the meantime, both efforts will be working in parallel.

Meanwhile, we seem to be doing well at being a successful organization of volunteers, by volunteers, for volunteers — pursuing the mission we hold in common. Keep up the good work, and remember to have fun!

PaulBen McElwain, President of the Board, Sound Water Stewards

From Whidbey Coordinator Allie Hudec

I hope you have all had a wonderful summer so far! I would like to give you all a quick update on the Coupeville Wharf project. First and foremost, I will start by saying that the team who conceptualized, planned and created the wharf display did a wonderful job and it is a beautifully effective draw for visitors. I personally LOVE the wharf and have taken over 100 people there for field trips, Navy tours, historic walks for ELNHR, and Road Scholar trips. I am flattered to be asked to help with its maintenance and growth and I hope to honor the original vision with anything we do. The project itself has to do with funds that we were granted from the Town of Coupeville, they have requested the following items as part of that grant. (I have simplified them here, but I would be happy to send you a copy of the full grant if you would like to see it, just send me an email and I can get it to you.) Here is what we are currently working on:

1. Create a new panel for the back wall with info on Penn Cove Mussels

2. Update the poster for the shore display to draw people to the wharf

3. Create a passport book to help families to explore the area

4. Expand the brochure holder and make it more interactive

5. Have volunteers onsite to interpret during summer weekends and events

 I have met with some of the original trailblazers on this project and they have had some wonderful insights and ideas. I am also beginning to work with a volunteer team to both create content as well as build an interpretive team to be on site at events and busy weekends. If you are interested in being part of this project or any other outreach and education opportunities I would love to hear from you!

Please send me an E-mail at and we will get you plugged in.

Thanks for all you do!