Richland County teacher earns statewide honor for conservation education

January 25, 2024

Kirstin Bullington, a Next Energy engineering instructor at Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2), is the state’s Conservation Teacher of the Year (Secondary) for 2023.

The S.C. Association of Conservation Districts (SCACD) recognized Bullington on Tuesday during the state’s Conservation Partnership Conference in Myrtle Beach. She was nominated for the award by local environmental educator Jane Hiller through the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RSWCD), one of 46 member districts of the SCACD.

Photo: At left, Kirstin Bullington, an instructor at Richland Two Institute of Innovation, receives the 2023 Conservation Teacher of the Year award (Secondary) from Jeff Wilson, president of the S.C. Association of Conservation Districts.

Bullington teaches clean energy engineering through project-based learning at R2i2. In 2022, her students won an electric school bus worth $300,000 for the institute by writing about how an electric vehicle could help the school district cut costs, improve student health, and reduce its carbon footprint for transportation. In 2023, a modular solar power system her students invented to help power a photocopier for an off-grid school in Senegal received a U.S. patent.

Bullington and her students also have received grant funding to support environmental efforts such as container gardening, battery recycling, and energy efficiency.

“Students do their best work when they know their solutions will actually be applied to real-world problems,” Bullington said. “To that end, I give (them) autonomy in choosing the problems their class addresses each semester – and frequently, those problems center around climate change and environmental concerns.”

In addition to empowering her students to tackle the most challenging environmental issues, Bullington is committed to helping other teachers follow her lead. She has co-authored articles and lesson plans to help teachers facilitate sustainability exploration for students. Along with presenting at local and national educator conferences, she serves on several national advisory boards focused on invention and sustainable development.

The recognition by SCACD is the latest in a string of professional accolades for Bullington, including S.C. STEM Educator of the Year (2022), S.C. Outstanding Biology Teacher (2013), and national board certification.

RSWCD nominees have received SCACD awards every year since 2013 except for 2020, when no awards were presented because of COVID-19.

“I’m proud to live in a county where there are so many outstanding educators promoting conservation and helping students become environmental stewards,” RSWCD chairman Kenny Mullis said. “We are thankful for the important work Ms. Bullington and her students are doing to make our community more sustainable and more resilient.”

RSWCD promotes the wise use and care of natural resources for long-term sustainability, with a focus on soil and water. Richland County supports RSWCD’s work with staff and other resources.

To learn more about the programs of the RSWCD, visit