Seeds of Change

JMU graduate student wins innovation award

University Recreation
Stevie Lee

Written by Natalie Lavery ('19)

Stevie Lee, UREC’s Graduate Assistant for Adventure and TEAM Programs, was awarded with the 2019 Graduate School Award for Innovation. This award acknowledges students who have demonstrated a track record of innovation and creativity in their program of study. The award recipients should have success in introducing new ideas, methods, expressions or products as a result of their degree.

Stevie is a graduate student in the Sport and Recreation Leadership program. She recently crafted, designed, and launched the Appalachian Forest School, an outdoor pre-school and day care.

This type of early childhood education has been popular in European countries since the 1960s but has been slow moving in the United States. During Stevie’s time in the Sports and Recreation Leadership program at JMU, she has immersed herself in the existing literature and has discovered how to make this dream become a reality in the Shenandoah Valley.


The school started as the Little Explorers Club and transitioned to the Appalachian Forest School last summer. The program ran from June to August and for two days a week the students would meet Stevie in Downtown Harrisonburg and they would go on varying adventures everyday. Stevie has hopes of further expanding her school to include more children, staff, and activities in the coming years.

Dr. Julie Wallace Carr, the Senior Associate Director for University Recreation, describes that Stevie has used all of the course content from the fiscal, leadership, and human resources class to help shape her policies, budget, leadership, and management philosophies.

“My biggest disappointment related to this project is that it was not in place when my son was three,” she said. “I hope that someday he can work for Stevie and see the way these children learn through her passion, love of the outdoors, our environment, and experiential learning.”

Stevie started this school because she believes a hands-on connection with the outdoors is essential to development. She has a desire to provide children with the opportunities to grow through these interactions.

“This project is truly an innovative approach to child day care,” Dr. Benjamin Carr, the SRL Graduate Program Director, said. “She was able to combine what she has learned in her graduate studies with a creative, out-of-the-box mindset to address a common need within all communities.”


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Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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