AEE Awards 

About The AEE Awards

people in a circle putting hands togetherThe Association for Experiential Education honors members each year at the International Conference. We continue this tradition to celebrate the outstanding professional accomplishments of individuals and organizations whose passion for experiential education is exemplified through their efforts and their ability to inspire others. 

We hope that recipients of awards feel embraced by a community with shared values and a belief in the power of experiential education. May these awards launch recipients to new, higher levels of purposeful engagement with community organizations and inspire others to dream and to act.

How It Works

Submitting an Award Nomination: You can view the list of awards below. During the nomination period, each award will have a link that will bring you to a form in which we collect information about you, the nominator, as well as information about the nominee. Please fill in as much as you are able. If you would like to submit a nomination via video you can do that with the form also. If you would prefer a Zoom conversation or phone call please contact to set up a time with a representative from the Awards Committee.

two people posing with award

The form also asks for a Support File(s) demonstrating the criteria you indicated. This could be a letter, video, story or article from a different person or source other than yourself. 

Award Nomination Reviews: After submission of the form, the Awards Committee may reach out to you for further information. We hope to contact the nominee also, so they can provide additional information in support of the criteria. This could include a resume, CV, artifacts, sample of work, marketing materials, curriculum, etc. The nominee will not be told who nominated them for this award.

two people posing with awardOnce the Awards Committee has collected any supporting materials and confirmed eligibility, the nomination is reviewed by a group of impartial AEE member Reviewers. Reviewers are not part of the AEE staff or Board of Directors. Reviewers compare the information provided against the criteria for the award and complete a rubric for each nominee. The Reviewers will make their selections and send their selection back to the committee.

Award Recipients: When the selection is received by the Committee it will tally up the selections and identify the recipients. Recipients are notified by the Awards Committee. Awards are given out during the Annual International Conference. Recipients do not have to be in-person to receive an award. 

See Other Award FAQs


Betty van der Smissen Distinguished Researcher Award

Organizational Member of the Year Award

Servant Leader Award

Karl Rohnke Creativity Award

Michael Stratton Practitioner's Award

*NEW* The Nina Roberts Social Justice Award - We are honoring Dr. Nina Roberts with the establishment of the Dr. Nina Roberts Social Justice Advocate Award. The Social Justice Task Force envisioned an award that would celebrate an AEE member who's work in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging reflected Nina's dedication to making AEE and the outdoors more inclusive. The award will be given for the first time at the international conference in 2023.

Betty van der Smissen Distinguished Researcher Award

Research in experiential education holds a significant and growing level of importance in both the academic and applied contexts. This award provides a declaration of the value of that enterprise and recognizes the role that long-term and productive research efforts provide the multiple fields in which experiential education principles are utilized. Additionally, it recognizes the person or people producing this exemplary research and their efforts to make it visible to a wide audience.

The award was established in 2010 originating within AEE's volunteer committee, the Council on Research and Evaluation (CORE). 

In August of 2022, AEE's Board of Directors voted to add Betty van der Smissen's name to the Distinguished Researcher Award. For over 50 years Dr. van der Smissen conducted research in the outdoor fields of camping, adventure, environmental and conservation education, and recreation. She was one of the earliest and most prolific researchers in the professional outdoor fields.Additionally, AEE has reestablished the Betty van der Smissen Grant Fund. The purpose of this fund is to support new research or innovative projects that will advance the field of Adventure Education. Application information will be available in January 2023.

2022 Recipient: NINA ROBERTS

Nina roberts headshotNina’s research was highly regarded in the areas of race/ethnicity, culture, and natural resources. She was also nationally known for her work pertaining to urban youth, women, and girls outdoors, including the connection to developing healthy lifestyles. Nina was widely acknowledged for her commitment to her social and environmental justice work, including her advocacy for breaking down barriers — especially relating to diversity, park access, and recreation opportunities on public lands. Roberts was a prolific researcher and author of numerous publications in areas including outdoor programming and leadership, youth development, and race/culture and gender issues. She conducted youth development research with a variety of organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and East Bay Regional Parks. Roberts also served on numerous boards, including Yosemite Institute, GirlVentures, UC Berkeley’s Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity, and the Lawrence Hall of Science. Nina was a force of nature full of passion, enthusiasm, and energy. We lost a friend, mentor, colleague, and fierce advocate for social justice. She leaves behind an enduring and inspirational legacy. We will miss her greatly.


  • Has completed a minimum of ten years of research not including graduate work.

  • Has shown exemplary research productivity and visibility in the fields that use experiential education.
  • Has a diversity of publication and presentation outlets particularly those that are refereed.
  • Has numerous research contributions of significant importance.
  • Exhibited continuity of research involvement.
  • Has citations and author impact factor (e.g., H index) commensurate with their field of research and at least comparable to other researchers with 10 years of research.
  • Has had creative and innovative impacts to research within the experiential education community.
  • Has received awards, keynotes, grants, etc. that speak to a research presence.
  • Exemplifies high ethical standards.
  • Is actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE.
  • Is a current member of AEE.

Award Winner Receives: One year individual membership in AEE, plaque/award  

Past Recipients:

2021 - Will Dobud
2020 - No award given
2019 - Tonia Gray
2018 - Jayson Seaman
2017 - Christine Norton and Jim Sibthorp
2016 - Anita Tucker
2015 - Denise Mitten
2014 - no award given
2013 - Alan Ewert
2012 - H. "Lee" Gillis
2011 - Mike Gass
2010 - Keith Russell
Organizational Member of the Year Award

This award is presented to an organization that maintains innovative and outstanding programming at continuously high standards and demonstrates consistent commitment to and support for the work of AEE.

The award was established in 1997 when many of AEE's awards first originated. 


the children are our future logoThe Children Are Our Future incorporates, supports and promotes leaders working on diverse and grass roots intergenerational projects benefiting communities around the country and internationally. CAOF is committed to engaging people of different cultures, economic status, ethnicity, ages, and genders to work together to support youth and the adults in their lives with a shared vision. Together we utilize our resources, gifts and talents by collaborating to engage with children, youth, and adults who are inspired and enabled to create positive change within themselves, their families and communities. We do this with a powerful community of youth, connected project directors, volunteers, and community leaders by providing transformational leadership and experiential community based programs which utilize: art, music, dance, sports, health, wellness, fitness, recreation, environmental education, cultural exchange and service learning.

* Our vision and logo were inspired as part of a vision in ceremony with indigenous leaders and elders. The circular rainbow representing unity and multicultural diversity, the children holding hands on top were originally separated in the four directions on Mother Earth and then come together in unity with the trees representing the message that “All Life is Sacred” and to remember that we need to take care of each other and our Mother Earth. The song “The Greatest Love of All” inspired the name of the organization. Our first project included an 8,000-mile solo cross-country bicycle trip from Boston, MA to San Francisco, CA by our founder (Terry Williams) that connected people and communities of over 26 states including Hawaii.


  • Maintained innovative and outstanding programming at continuously high standards for at least five years.

  • Demonstrated consistent commitment to and support for the work of AEE.

  • Exemplifies high ethical standards.

  • Is actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE.

  • Is a current member of AEE.

Award Winner Receives: One year individual membership in AEE, plaque/award  

Past Recipients:

2021 - Project Venture/National Indian Youth Leadership Project
2020 - No award given
2019 - Deer Hill Expeditions
2018 - Minnesota State University, Mankato
2017 - Enviros
2016 - Thompson Island Outward Bound
2015 - Brevard College
2014 - Camp Mary Orton
2013 - The Mosaic Project
2012 - Prescott College
2011 - High 5 Adventure Learning Center
2009 - College of DuPage
2008 - Santa Fe Mountain Center
2007 - Sterling College
2006 - Georgia College and State University,Outdoor Education Academic Program
2005 - Omni Youth Service
2004 - Project Use
2003 - The University of New Hampshire's Outdoor Education Program
2002 - The Challenge Course Advisory
2001 - Learning Unlimited Corporation
2000 - Washington State University 4-H Bonney Lake Challenge
1998 - Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp
1997 - Project Adventure
Servant Leader Award

This award recognizes individuals for their active, excellent servant leadership to the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and its members.

Servant leadership is a timeless concept and has been around for centuries. The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead." And “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."

The award originated in 1997.

2022 Recipient: BOB STREMBA

Bob stremba headshotBob was a longtime AEE Member and huge contributor to Experiential Education through his work, volunteerism and kind gentle spirit. He was always teaching and showing us what servant leadership truly looks like. He will be greatly missed. Bob earned a doctorate in Counselor Education (Ed.D.) at Indiana University. He combined this training with his love and respect for nature beautifully. Bob taught Outward Bound courses, thus providing a safe space in nature for people to grow. With this same goal in mind, he developed an outdoor student orientation at Western Carolina University in North Carolina and at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where he was also Counseling Center Director for 17 years. Bob truly immersed himself in the organizations he believed in. For years he was the Association for Experiential Education's Lead Accreditation Reviewer for outdoor and adventure ed programs as well as for therapeutic wilderness programs. He was Board President of the Mountain Spirit Institute in New Zealand. Bob provided countless hours of volunteer service to his profession.


  • Has demonstrated active, excellent servant leadership to AEE at a regional or international level for at least five years.

  • Focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the AEE communities to which they belong.

  • Demonstrates a passionate commitment to furthering experiential education principles.

  • Exemplifies high ethical standards.

  • Is actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE.

  • Is a current member of AEE.

Award Winner Receives: One year individual membership in AEE, plaque/award  

Past Recipients:

2021 - Federico A. Borroel
2020 - No award given
2019 - Brian Croft
2018 - Joe Austin
2017 - Maurie Lung
2016 - Elizabeth Speelman
2015 - John Regentin
2014 - Christine Norton
2013 - Andrew Bobilya
2012 - Anita Tucker
2011 - Terry Nail-Williams
2010 - Joel Cryer, Aleta Meyer, Deb Sugerman
2009 - Steve Pace, Scott Robertshaw
2008 - Jude Hirsch, Sandy Newes, Dennis Call
2007 - Bobbi Beale, MB Buckner
2006 - Brenda Porter, Jeanine Stocks
2005 - Scott Banderoff, Katrina Guerkink, Marianne Scippa
2004 - Al Rock, Jennifer Payne, Christian Itin
2003 - Mark Rowland, Sam Tower
2002 - Charles "Reb" Gregg
2001 - Anna Kay Vorsteg, Mark Guidry
2000 - Sylvia Dresser, Margaret Lechner, Zeke Zeliff
1999 - Rob Rubendall
1998 - Michael Terrien, Chris Lupton, Tex Texeira
1997 - Rick Curtis, Bill Proudman, Nina Roberts
Karl Rohnke Creativity Award

This award is presented to an individual whose outstanding commitment to experiential education principles are evidenced through the design, creation and/or production of experiential education resources.

The award originated in 1997 and was named after Karl Rohnke. Karl was an innovative teacher and program developer. His creative and experiential facilitation style laid the foundations for adventure program development for individual and team growth in schools, colleges, corporations, camps, therapy, and elder education. Play, challenge, fun, and laughter were tools he used to enhance learning experiences whether in indoor and in outdoor settings.

2022 Recipient: JEN STANCHFIELD

Jen stanchfield headshotJen Stanchfield inspires experiential educators worldwide with her engaging, informative, and practical workshops and publications in which she adeptly incorporates the art of experiential teaching, facilitation and neuroscience research. Jen works with schools, colleges, mental health, and community organizations across the globe. She helps practitioners increase meaningful engagement and reflection, build community, develop social and emotional skills, and fine-tune their facilitation and teaching. Jen has significantly contributed to the field by offering tools and techniques that make reflection an accessible, active, and engaging part of experiential learning. She is the author of Tips and Tools for The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation and Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner: Experiential, Brain-Based Activities and Strategies to Engage, Motivate, Build Community and Create Lasting Lessons. In addition, she is the creator and regular contributor to the Inspired Educator Blog at

Jen’s creativity and depth of knowledge come from three decades of diverse experience as an experiential educator. Jen has worked as a teacher, and a clinician in mental health treatment centers, in experiential youth development programs from youth gardening to adventure education, and in professional development, adult learning, and organizational team building. She earned her B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation and Outdoor Education at UNH and her M.S. in Experiential Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and continues to pursue studies in educational neuroscience. Along with her publications and workshops, she has created a collection of engagement and reflection tools used by experiential educators across the globe— and inspired many to create their own tools and techniques to promote experiential learning.


  • Has designed, created, and/or produced one or more of the following experiential education resources and/or events: video, book, workshop/seminar, newsletter, artwork, article, play, electronic-media resource, program, product or educational materials.

  • Utilizes play, challenge, fun, and laughter in their work.
  • Demonstrates an outstanding commitment to experiential education principles.
  • Lives and works with a passion for experiential education.
  • Exemplifies high ethical standards.
  • Is actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE.
  • Is a current member of AEE.

Award Winner Receives: One year individual membership in AEE, plaque/award  

Past Recipients:

2021 - Shoshanna Sumka
2020 - No award given
2019 - Seth Hawkins
2018 - Jude Hirsch
2017 - Michelle Cummings
2016 - Amy Climer
2015 - Gary Stauffer
2014 - Madhu Sudan
2013 - no award given
2012 - Marilyn Levin
2011 - Maurie Lung
2010 - Kim Wasserburger
2009 - Brent Bell
2008 - Chris Cavert
2007 - TA Loeffler
2006 - Clifford Knapp
2005 - Tom Smith
2004 - no award given
2003 - Thomas A. Shearer
2002 - no award given
2001 - Rufus Collinson
2000 - Sam Sikes
1999 - Jim Cain
1998 - Mobile Team Challenge
1997 - Sandy Carlson
Michael Stratton Practitioner's Award

This award honors an experiential practitioner who has exhibited consistently high levels of performance in working directly with students, participants, clients, etc. This person's work demonstrates that a practitioner can bring about significant change and impact in the lives of people in their program.

The award was established in 1986. In 1989, the name of the award was changed to the Michael Stratton Practitioner Award in honor of the first recipient. Mike Stratton was involved with Outward Bound since its initial course in the mid-sixties in Colorado. He later worked at the Carroll School in Massachusetts where he created a special program for children with dyslexia. Mike’s accomplishments, high energy and perseverance are a great model for practitioners everywhere.

2022 Recipient: RICK CURTIS

Rick curtis headshotRick Curtis began his journey in experiential education as an undergraduate at Princeton University serving as a trip leader in Princeton's Outdoor Action Program. He returned to Princeton in 1981 and has served as the Director of the program for the past forty years. He has utilized small group experiences in the outdoors for outdoor education, personal growth, and leadership development for tens of thousands of students. During that time, he expanded the Princeton's outdoor orientation program to be one of the largest in the country. Being based at a university, Rick has always tried to share information across our field to help everyone's program be better. Along with others in AEE he helped create the Outdoor Orientation Symposium (OOPS) bringing together outdoor orientation directors and leaders to build better programs. His book The Backpacker’s Field Manual, is used as a textbook by many programs, and his web site——has been an online resource since 2001. An internationally known expert on outdoor education and risk management, he developed the Risk Assessment and Safety Management model (RASM) and has presented at conferences for over thirty years. As database designer and software architect, he has applied his skills to address numerous issues for the outdoor education industry including developing IncidentAnalytix, a cloud-based incident tracking and analytic system with the goal of promoting an industry-wide standard for collecting incident data.


  • Demonstrates that a practitioner can bring about significant change and impact in the lives of people in their program.

  • Exemplifies consistently high levels of performance as a practitioner of experiential education.

  • Possesses a solid knowledge of quality standards and exhibits this knowledge throughout their practicing career.
  • Works on program directly with clients, students, participants, etc. on a frequent basis.
  • Is ideally a full-time experiential educator.
  • Lives and works with a passion for experiential education.
  • Is a practitioner more than a theorist.
  • Exemplifies high ethical standards.
  • Is actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE.
  • Is a current member of AEE.

Award Winner Receives: $250 from the Permanently Restricted Award Fund, one year individual membership in AEE, plaque/award  

Past Recipients: 

2021 - Sarah Gough
2020 - No award given
2019 - Bobbi Beale
2018 - Maria Jose (Mache) Trevino
2017 - Jeff Wilson
2016 - Chih-Mou Hsieh
2015 - Kim Sacksteder
2014 - Tony Alvarez
2013- Ken Kalisch
2012 - Sandy Kohn
2011 - Rick Medrick
2010 - Pam McPhee
2009 - David W. Lovejoy
2008 - Gary Stauffer
2007 - Denise Mitten
2006 - Bob Henderson
2005 - Jim Schoel
2004 - no award given
2003 - Marty Knuth
2002 - Thomas Leahy
2001 - Jean Berube
2000 - H. "Lee" Gillis
1999 - Richard Rutschman
1998 - Karen Warren
1997 - Laurie Frank
1996 - Dan Creely & Angel Russek
1995 - JoAnna Woo Allen
1994 - Craig Dobkin
1993 - Betsy Caldwell Dalgliesh
1992 - Deborah Eads
1991 - Sanford Tollette
1990 - Karl Rohnke
1989 - Reno Taini
1988 - Ava Heinrichsdorff
1987 - Keith King
1986 - Michael Stratton

Award FAQs

Can I submit a nomination if I don’t have all the information? Yes! There is very little required information on the form but, the more you can submit the more helpful it is for the Awards Committee to evaluate the nominee. Talk to your nominee directly and/or get another person (who has the missing information) to submit a nomination with you.

What if I nominate someone who does not qualify? Yes, you may nominate them. If a support file or the nominee are unable to establish they meet the criteria, they will be removed from consideration for the award.

What happens if there is not a qualified nominee for an award? If there are no qualified nominees for an award, the award will not be given out for that year.

How long will my nomination stay in consideration? A nominee will be considered for an award for the year submitted and 2 subsequent years (a total of 3 years) provided that all criteria are still being met. 

Can I nominate myself? No.

Who is the Awards Committee? The Awards Committee is made up of dedicated volunteers who commit to being part of the year-long process. Qualifications include being an AEE member, high ethical standards, being actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE, attendance at one or more Annual International Conferences, and the ability to communicate and follow through with assigned tasks.

How do I become an Awards reviewer? If you would like to be an Awards Reviewer please learn more by clicking here and contact Reviewers commit to spending an average of 2-3 hours a week during late June through early August. Qualifications include being an AEE member, high ethical standards, being actively involved with and committed to the values and mission of AEE, attendance at one or more Annual International Conferences, and the ability to communicate and follow through with assigned tasks. 

If I have other questions, who can I contact? Please email