Someone to Know: Nikki Dahlin
Around the office, naturalist Nikki Dahlin is known as the bug lady. She shares her appreciation for nature’s smallest creatures with others through her work developing programs and curriculum for the District. Her love for all things bugs is contagious to all who sit down and talk with her. Dahlin has had a large impact on young kids and the community by sharing her knowledge of insects.
Tell us about your responsibilities as a naturalist with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
I develop educational programs to highlight the importance of nature and bugs. Most of my programs are for young students in schools and community members. I also do a lot of appearances at events as well as outreach. It is my job to help spread awareness about how vital bugs are to the environment and how much good they can do. It is always my goal to develop these programs in a way that makes it fun and memorable to learn about bugs.
What is your favorite part about working with the Forest Preserve District?
I never get bored! I am very passionate about bugs and the fact that I get to work with them every day is amazing. I am always learning something new, which makes it exciting to come to work every day. Most kids do not understand the importance of bugs, and I love having the opportunity to develop new and fun programming concepts for them. By making the concepts fun, kids absorb a lot more and get excited to develop an understanding about the diversity of bugs.
What experience do you bring to your position with the District?
My experience is pretty diverse. I started off as a veterinarian technician. I have a college degree in biology and also did some master’s work in education at Northern Illinois University. I also hold a nature and interpretation certificate from a two-year program at Morton Arboretum. I then went on to work at the Morton Arboretum. I have worked at Brookfield Zoo as well, which is where I really developed my passion for bugs. I have experience in education from being the education director at the Hinsdale Humane Society.
What is an interesting fact about you that most people do not know?
I surely did not start off as a bug person. My mom always had a bug phobia and was spraying them away. Now she babysits the bugs that I raise at home! While working at Brookfield Zoo, I had a large jar of bugs drop out in front of me, and that is when I started to get hooked on them. I also enjoy taking photos of bugs and sharing them with my friends.
What is your favorite season in the preserves and why?
Spring is my favorite season in the preserves. The bugs start to come out and the flowers start to bloom.
What lasting effects do you think your efforts will have on the District?
I have written a large amount of bug program curriculum that I am passionate about. I have also developed some really great programs for the District. I developed the pollinator program to spread awareness about the importance of pollinators to our preserves. One of my favorite programs, though, is the loan box program in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Through the program, we send out boxes of bugs to educators to teach students about the bug population. So far we have had more than 7,000 participants. I think these efforts will have a positive impact on the District and will continue to keep kids interested in the world of bugs.
What inspires you about nature? Why do you like to share that with others?
I am inspired by all the underappreciated species in nature. So many people overlook creatures such as snails, slugs, fungus and more. I like to share this inspiration with others because overlooked bugs and creatures do so many important things for our ecosystem. It is a life-changing thing to learn about the importance of the creatures that I am so passionate about. I encourage others to stop and appreciate the little guys and to understand them more.