New director plans to expand, enhance Woodcock Nature Center

Following a national search and rigorous selection process, New York resident Dr. Michael Rubbo has been named Woodcock Nature Center’s new executive director.
Rubbo’s first day as director was April 21. He replaced Ridgefield resident Karen Ogden, who served as the nature center’s interim executive director since September after Henryk Teraszkiewicz left his 15-year position as executive director.

Rubbo said it was “very exciting” when Woodcock Board of Directors President Hiroko Muraki Gottlieb called to tell him he was chosen for the position.

Before Woodcock, Rubbo was the director of conservation science at Teatown Lake Reservation, an environmental education organization in Ossining, N.Y., for almost 10 years.

“It’s a big step for me,” said Rubbo, who oversaw the management of Teatown’s 875-acre preserve and directed its scientific research program.

“I’ve always been more about directing and education programs, and to move into an executive director role is a big step and one I’m really excited about and ready to take on.”

As Woodcock’s executive director, Rubbo will be responsible for overseeing strategic planning, programming, education, community outreach, grant writing and fundraising, as well as oversight of the nature center’s facilities, activities and staff.

Expansion and enhancement

After meeting Woodcock’s board of directors and learning about its vision for the nature center’s future, Rubbo said, he plans to help expand Woodcock’s educational programs, build its name, increase its visibility, and enhance the impact of its programs as its new executive director.

“Woodcock’s got a really strong history and tradition, especially in education — mainly with little kids,” he said, “but there’s a lot of interest in kind of expanding the educational programs to older kids, and that’s where my background is — teaching at the high school and college level.”

At Teatown, Rubbo created the Teatown Environmental Science Academy, an intensive summer program through which high school students conduct independent environmental research.

“The program was very successful and a way to really engage high school students, which is tricky because they’re so busy with extracurricular activities and that kind of thing,” he said.

“That’s one of the things I’m hoping to bring here, with my experience working with high school students, to help expand some of Woodcock’s programs.”

Rubbo said he likes to teach students “the practical aspects” of science and is big on “building a sense of community” among students as they “work together to protect nature.”

The Woodcock board also expressed an interest in “doing more community outreach,” said Rubbo, which is something he also has experience in and enjoys.

Rubbo directed Teatown’s Environmental Leaders Learning Alliance, a program that provides training and support to more than 100 members from more than 30 municipalities “so that they can help their communities make more informed land use decisions and protect natural resources in their communities,” said Rubbo.

“We did a lot of outreach and working with local communities on conservation issues,” he said, “and I’m excited about potentially bringing that to Fairfield County and interacting with the conservation commissions that are already here and learning about what they’re already doing and if there’s any way I can help out.”

‘Affinity’ for nature

Rubbo, who “grew up a typical suburban kid” in Watertown, Conn., said he’s always had an interest in nature.

“I didn’t grow up in the middle of the woods but I always had an affinity for [nature], and as I went through school, I really liked science,” he said.

“When it came time to go to college, I thought it would be nice to blend something outdoorsy with science, and that got me into environmental studies.”

Rubbo received his bachelor of science degree from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry before earning a master’s degree in biology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and a Ph.D. in biology from the Pennsylvania State University.

Although he will still reside in New York with his wife and three children, Rubbo said, he intends to “really get involved with the local communities here.”

“At Teatown, I did the same thing,” he said. “I had to get out and get involved in the local communities and build that recognition and trust, and I’m looking forward to getting that going in Wilton and Ridgefield.”

About Woodcock

Woodcock Nature Center, at 56 Deer Run Road, is a nonprofit source of nature and environmental education situated on 149 acres of state-protected land on the border of Wilton and Ridgefield.

The nature center has a pond, wetlands and three miles of publicly accessible woodland trails and is home to a variety of local and exotic creatures like snakes, frogs and lizards, as well as four non-releasable birds.

Click here to learn more about Woodcock Nature Center.