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New Claytor Nature Center Director Appointed – Lynchburg University

The University of Lynchburg’s Claytor Nature Center has a new director. Jennifer Wills, who holds degrees in biology, law and natural resources, will start on June 1. She replaces the interim director, Dr. Laura Henry-Stone.

Claytor encompasses 491 acres of forests, streams, and fields in Bedford County approximately 25 miles from the Lynchburg campus. The grounds and facilities, including the Belk Observatory and Cloverlea Farm, are used for student and faculty research, as well as community education and recreation.

Jennifer Wills

“I am thrilled to welcome Jennifer to the Hornet family,” said Vice President Allison Jablonski. “His expertise is exactly what we need as we explore the many possibilities of Claytor. I am also immensely grateful to Dr. Henry-Stone for his incredible work steering the ship in the meantime.

Dr. Mike Coco, associate dean of science and professor of mathematics, led the search committee that selected Wills.

“Jennifer brings an impressive education and relevant work experience to this role,” Coco said. “With her background in environmental law, her work in the not-for-profit sector, and her expertise in management and leadership, Jennifer is well-positioned to help the Center achieve its mission of environmental education and stewardship.

“The next chapter in Claytor’s story will be characterized by strategic vision, enthusiastic leadership and a passion for the relevance of nature in everyone’s life.”

Coco said he was also grateful to Henry-Stone, a professor of environmental science and sustainability and the university’s director of sustainability, for serving as interim director of Claytor last year.

“In this role, she went way beyond my expectations,” Coco wrote in a campus-wide email breaking the news.

“Laura has worked hard in all areas of the Center, from helping to spread mulch, reviewing budgets, negotiating with government agencies, to making strategic decisions about staffing structure. and programming.

“I applaud his dedication to this challenge and his immediate impact in this short-term role.”

Wills envisions the Claytor Nature Center as a “top nature destination for students and the general public” and said what excites her most about this work is “the impact it can have on students and the public. .

Claytor Nature Center
Claytor Nature Center at Lynchburg University in Bedford County

“The power of nature is often underestimated. Through research opportunities and programs, visitors will gain a better understanding and appreciation of nature, which can have positive ripple effects.

“I imagine people of all ages and walks of life visiting Claytor, taking a break from their screens and the hustle and bustle of everyday life to relax and recharge in nature, experience something new through programming or hear special guests discuss their areas of expertise.”

His short-term goals are simple.

“I want to learn as much as I can while getting things done,” Wills said. “A big part of that will be listening to stakeholders about their interests in Claytor. Over the course of several months, I want strategic planning to be underway.

“And over the course of a year – or two – I want Claytor to be known throughout the region, so when I ask if anyone has heard of the Claytor Nature Center, the answer is ‘Yes and we have it. intend to visit it.

Claytor should also be a “key part of the student experience,” she added.

“Whether it’s team building and leadership development, organizing social events, taking care of their well-being or participating in research, I hope every student will have the opportunity to visit Claytor several times during his college career.”

Milkweed research at the Claytor Nature Center
Paul Gehl ’21 (left) and Adrian Tardy ’22 are conducting milkweed research at the Claytor Nature Center in 2021.

Wills holds an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Louisville, a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law, and a master’s degree in natural resources, with a leadership specialization for Global Sustainability, from Virginia Tech.

She spent 16 years as an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, taught at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability at Virginia Tech, and formed a professional leadership coaching and consulting firm based on the nature.

Most recently, she served as chair of the board of directors at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah in Lynchburg, Virginia, and program director at the Central Virginia Land Conservancy.

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