Cohort 7 close

Meet Cohort 7

AlexAlexandra Harding grew up in Salem, Oregon. She attended Western Oregon University where she was active in student leadership and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology. During her time at Western, Alex participated in several exciting research opportunities, including helping to produce a street tree inventory of both Monmouth and Independence, Oregon. She also worked as an intern at the local Soil and Water Conservation District learning to write Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Management Plans for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. She enjoyed the opportunity to teach people how to conserve and protect local wildlife and their environment, and was inspired to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Education as a result. Alex is happy to be here at SOU working toward her certificate in non-profit management in addition to the MS in Environmental Education as well as interning with BeeGirl (a local nonprofit focused on honeybee conservation and beekeeping education) and representing SOU as a student board member for the Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. In her free time, Alex enjoys volunteering with other local groups, hiking, swimming, going to the farmers market and spending time with her husband somewhere in the outdoors.

AmandaAmanda Cordes is an Oregon local who grew up in Portland and got her BS in biology at Linfield College. During her undergrad, she researched the genetics of Whitebark pine, ran cross country, and made lots of time to explore plant communities throughout the state. After finishing school, she decided to leave her Oregon roots and make new homes throughout the west. While traveling she lived in Nevada and did plant restoration for the Great Basin Institute. This position got her involved in community education and furthered her passion to teach people in the outdoors. She also worked as a gardener in Southeast Alaska, where she learned a ton about growing her own food. Amanda likes to spend her free time hiking, skiing, and going to concerts. She is always on board when there is an opportunity to explore new lakes or rivers. She is getting her secondary teaching licensure while pursuing her degree at SOU and hopes to take whatever opportunities she can to get kids curious and excited in the outdoors.

BriBri Foster is an Oregon native who studies Spanish and political science at the University of Portland before commissioning into the US Air Force.  She always enjoyed the learning about the environment, outdoor activities like backpacking or kayaking, and working with kids. After leaving active duty, teaching was where she felt led to go next and, given her interests, Environmental Education was extremely appealing. She knew she wanted to get her teaching license from Oregon and SOU was the only University in the state that offered an Environmental Education Masters program.  Thankfully, she got in and is now pursuing the EE masters along with an upper elementary/middle school teaching license and a non-profit business certification. She hopes to either run the education programs at a state or national park or to someday open an upper elementary or middle school that is in an outdoor environment year-round.

BrookeBrooke Mueller was born and raised in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Growing up she spent her days outdoors playing in the woods behind her house and camping with her family. She received a comprehensive major in Ecology and Environmental Biology from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. She took that degree and headed out to the Cape Cod National Sea Shore where she held an internship to conduct plant surveys. From there she went to Western Massachusetts to teach environmental education to elementary school children and do trail work across the state. She then spent the next year living and teaching at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota. With her degree, she hopes to work with motivated young people who are interested in being environmental educators. When not on campus, Brooke can be found baking, biking, hiking, reading, skiing, or crafting.

CarolineCaroline Burdick originally hails from Texas and graduated from the University of Colorado- Boulder in 2009 with a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Women and Gender Studies.  After graduating, she pursued her interest in wildlife research and worked on research projects with spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) in N. California, small mammals and herpetofauna in Tennessee, and gastropods (slugs and snails) in N. Idaho.  She also enjoyed teaching environmental education in N. Carolina and the mountains of Southern California.  After a year and a half working in wilderness therapy in Utah and 5 years out of college, Caroline decided she was ready to return to get her Master’s.  SOU’s MS in Environmental Education program drew her to Oregon because of its dual intensive focus on biology and education, and the amazing scenery of southern Oregon.  She is very excited to work towards attaining her high school Biology endorsement and teaching license.  In her spare time, Caroline loves traveling, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, snowboarding, movie and game nights with friends, and photographing every adventure.

ChaneyChaney Swiney was born in Nashville, Tennessee, where he grew up in between summer vacations with his parents that took him to a long list of National Parks that instilled in him a love and a need for nature. In the summer of 2012, he spent two weeks volunteering at Wild Mountains Trust, an environmental education center in Australia’s Border Ranges, and that showed him that environmental education was the best way to share that love with the rest of the world. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2013 with a degree in Geography because he really likes maps, and then pursued a restless path to Ashland: an internship with National Geographic, a semester of the wrong grad school, a walk across Spain on el Camino de Santiago, and an internship at Great Smoky Mountains NP. Now that he’s in Southern Oregon, he’s ready to explore the abundant natural and scenic wonders of his new home and make the most of his time in the west (he’s already driven between Ashland and Nashville three times, each with a new route). He hopes SOU will prepare him for his dream job: a National Park ranger who leads interpretive hikes and programs, makes maps and interpretive signs, and has time to travel the world as a nature photographer. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll settle for something similar and slightly more reasonable.


Born and raised on the Central Coast of California, Chelsea Behymer found an early connection to her surroundings through surfing, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding. After a field biology class on Santa Cruz Island exposed her to the world of conservation, she never looked back. Chelsea received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from Hawaii Pacific University, where she dove (literally) into coral reef research, which continued to fuel her fascination with the interconnectedness of living things. Taking her knowledge from the field, Chelsea has spent the past (almost) two years working as a Naturalist around the world, educating passengers onboard cruise ships about marine science and natural history. From this work, she has come to realize that it is only through understanding the world around us that others will come to love it and want to preserve it too. Discovering this sense of purpose, Chelsea is thrilled to now be a part of the SOU EE Masters program, where she hopes to develop the skills necessary to create the experiential learning opportunities that foster the conservation-minded actions of current and future generations.

ElenaElena Bianchi grew up in western Michigan. She has always been passionate about protecting and conserving our natural resources. In 2008 she received her bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University. After college she worked in the field of fisheries biology before deciding the best path towards conservation is through education. She is excited and grateful to be pursuing a master’s degree in environmental education as well as a teaching licensure and certificate in non-profit business management. In her free time she enjoys traveling, rock climbing and any kind of outdoor adventure.

JeremyJeremy Clothier grew up in the fair city of Knoxville, Tennessee.  He attended college at Tennessee Tech University and graduated in 2012 with a degree in Environmental Biology. Since then he has traveled up and down the east coast working a variety of different educational, interpretive, and naturalist positions. Jeremy has lead nature kayaking tours in South Carolina, had fourth grade students on tours through a National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, interpreted the wonders of migrating raptors in New Jersey, and handled live raptors while conducting educational shows in Pennsylvania. Now his long and dusty road has finally brought him to the west coast where he hopes to further his understanding of Environmental Education. When not in class you can usually find Jeremy with a pair of binoculars glued to his face looking for birds. He also enjoys kayaking, hiking, playing the trombone, or just taking some time to sit back and watch the world turn

JoeJoe Habecker started with Cohort #7 in the Fall term of 2014 after returning from a season of wildland firefighting with the USFS. He earned his BA in Geography in 2008 from Millersville University in his home state of Pennsylvania. Shortly after, he deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army. Upon his return, Joe was discharged and moved to Chico, California with his wife and worked as a Crew Leader in the California Conservation Corps. He then worked for the National Park Service as a Biological Science Technician on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. When the wind brought his wife and Joe back to the west coast, he knew it was time to pursue his revisited dream of becoming an educator.

NicoleNicole Carbone was born and raised in the Bay Area, but her visits with her grandparents on the Oregon Coast inspired her keen interest in the natural world. After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity, she became a teacher at Walker Creek Ranch, the same outdoor school she’d attended herself 11 years earlier. The experience gave her a sense of passion and purpose, as well as endless inspiration from the students, fellow naturalists, and forest around her. After two years of exploring the Santa Cruz mountains, working as a naturalist, and guiding kayak tours, she moved 340 miles north to Ashland to start the next chapter of her E.E. journey. The move to Oregon has reminded her of the things she loves: exploring with friends, time with family, hiking, camping, the ocean, and the wonders of the forest. After she finishes at SOU, Nicole hopes to share her passion and knowledge through an outdoor program, maybe even creating a residential one of her own! She hopes that her education will guide her as a teacher so she can open children’s eyes to life changing moments in nature that will inspire them to make a difference in the world around them.

PaulPaul Kelley is a low stress, high energy lad who enjoys nothing more than spending time with his friends and family outdoors. He was born and raised in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and successfully spent 23 years in New England without ever skiing or snowboarding once. However, he is a mean sledder. He received his bachelors in Environmental Science from UMaine Orono and it took a couple of research positions in a few different countries to find his passion for education. Outside of class you can find him playing board games, running, reading science fiction, and partaking in any outside activity that requires a few friends sharing some laughs to do. He is super excited to be in Oregon learning how to fuse his love for the outdoors with his interest in education, and is so happy to have a fantastic cohort to share the journey with.

SarahSarah Heath is from Durango CO, where she’s about the only person in the entire city who does not ski or snowboard. She went to school at the University of Wyoming (don’t even talk to her about wolves or greater sage grouse) where she earned a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Management (yes that is all one major) and a minor in Philosophy. The summer before her last semester she tripped and fell into environmental education when she took a job handling raptors in Cody, WY. Her experience there with the birds and the public set her on the path she walks now. Since then, she’s spent time in Churchill, Manitoba collecting data on the local polar bears and even more time on Sanibel Island in Florida watching birds and teaching both students and adults about the local habitats. Sarah is excited to come to Oregon and explore another entirely different ecosystem. In her spare time she enjoys playing video games, writing, walking in the woods, or just hanging out at home on the couch napping. Napping may be her favorite activity (she might have been a black bear in a past life).

StephanieStephanie Danyi has been an environmental educator since the ripe old age of 7, when she was asked by a naturalist to help with a presentation about snakes at the local state park. Ever since then, Stephanie has enjoyed sharing her love of the natural world with others, helping to also deepen their understanding of ecology. Stephanie earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Earlham College in 2003. Since then, in order to become a more effective environmental educator, Stephanie has worked in a variety of natural resource management jobs deepening her own understanding of ecology. After working in habitat restoration, invasive species management, performing vegetation surveys, and raptor monitoring, Stephanie is ready to return full time to sharing her knowledge and passion of the natural world with others. Stephanie also teaches Hatha Yoga and enjoys hiking. You are likely to find her out on a trail with her dog Zeus.



Putting passion to purpose

A wise man once told me that whatever path a person chooses in life should be one that fills them with a sense of purpose. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Graduate school is an endeavor for passionate people. It’s a lot of work, and unless you are into the self-torture thing, you’re likely persevering for a reason.

I think I speak for our entire cohort when I say that we all have an overwhelming amount of passion. The past weekend at Ludlum, it was so inspiring to hear everyone’s story … to get a glimpse of what has motivated each of us and what we are driven to do.


Our passion makes us do crazy things sometimes, like channeling our inner squirrel.

A portion of our cohort is working to obtain a certificate in non-profit management to complement our degree program. Last week, in our Non-profit Theory course, we had the privilege to pick the brains of a panel of four leaders of local non-profit organizations. What stood out to me from the whole discussion was that they all stressed that passion with purpose is only half of being a strong environmental leader and educator.

It also takes the ability to put that passion to purpose.

And that is exactly why we are here at SOU in this program, working ourselves to the point of delirium (yes, it’s only Week 3) in order to gain the skills necessary to do so.


We have found a path and are well on our way toward a destination that is still relatively unknown. But when we get there, we’ll be ready.

among giants

We’ve all arrived

Cohort 7 is a complete group now. Fall term is underway, the red maples on campus are living up to their name, and soon we’ll begin the year-long planning process that ends with next year’s Fall in the Field. Last weekend, to kick things off right, we all traveled up to Grants Pass, down the Redwood Highway into California, and then back up the coast into Oregon and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for some orientation and exploration at the Ludlum House. We had great weather and an even greater time getting to know each other better, establishing how our cohort will tackle the tasks of the coming year, and drinking in the beauty of the Winchuck River, the Oregon Coast, and the breathtaking, majestic, can’t-use-enough-superlative-adjectives-to-describe coast redwoods in northern California’s Jedediah Smith State Park. We can prove it, with this video:

Continue reading


A brief greeting from Cohort 7, and a bit of BioBlitzing

Cohort 7 is still new to the Rogue Valley. In fact, we aren’t even all here yet. Soon, we’ll all be united in Ashland, and soon we’ll all introduce ourselves more formally and completely here. For now, know that we who are here have wasted no time in exploring the wonders of Southern Oregon. As proof, here’s a short video from a BioBlitz some of us participated in at Crater Lake a few weeks ago. We were on the hunt for lepidoptera: butterflies and moths. Check back for more soon! We can’t wait to share what we’re doing.

Lepidoptera from Chaney Swiney on Vimeo.

Stargazing Together by DeviantArt user WolfsMoonrise

Counting the Stars

I don’t know if there is anything more humbling than walking outside on a clear night and spending a good few minutes looking up at the sky. Have you ever tried to count the stars? I have. I think I got to twenty two before I gave up. Okay, I might not be the one you want to be out there counting the stars, but that’s why we let the experts do that!

For those of us who aren’t experts, here are a few tips on how to start building your own astronomer skills!

- Go out stargazing on a clear night as close to a new moon as possible. Light from the moon washes out a lot of the stars that you could see otherwise.

- If possible, choose a place far away from civilization to reduce the light pollution. In an increasing number of cities, it is impossible to see any stars because of the light pollution. To find out more about an interesting effort to decrease light pollution, check out

- Don’t have a telescope? Take binoculars! They help you get a closer look at the stars and see more than you could with the naked eye.

- Don’t forget a star chart! Print a free evening sky map off

- Allow your eyes at least ten minutes to adjust to ‘night vision’ once you get outside. If possible, use a red light to look at your star chart so that your eyes can stay adjusted.

Stargazing Together by DeviantArt user WolfsMoonrise
Stargazing Together by DeviantArt user WolfsMoonrise

Stars and constellations trending in the northern hemisphere right now:

- Orion’s Belt – look for these three distinct stars right in a line, and you can make out Orion shooting his bow and arrow

- Big Dipper – this famous ladle is pretty easy to spot overhead, pointing to the North Star, Polaris

- Jupiter – Just above Orion’s head lies the bright and beautiful planet of Jupiter, which at its closest to Earth is still 390 million miles away!

- Sirius – Technically the brightest star in the sky, this one shines just to the left of Orion, and is part of Canis Major, the Great Dog. (for all you Harry Potter fans out there, you might be surprised how many character names come from stars and constellations!)

- Make-your-own – Who says scientists are the only ones allowed to ‘connect the dots’? Go for it!

Happy stargazing!

Jason 2

Let the fungi do the work!

Spring is on its way! Time to work in the garden! Or for some, the farm. This is a particularly exciting time. I love excuses to play in the dirt. I crave the smell of the Actinomycetes (don’t let the “-mycetes” fool you; these are bacteria, not fungi) at work in the soil. You know that certain smell of exceptional soil? Sure you do! And so the ultimate question comes, “To till? Or not to till?”

As you may or may not know, I am particularly partial to fungi. So I’m going to argue that you should not till, for the sake of the fungi…and so you can be more lazy!

Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi penetrate a plant’s roots and extend into the soil in search of water and nutrients to exchange with the host plant for sugars. Another cool thing about AM fungi: they produce a chemical called glomalin, which is also referred to as “soil glue.” Glomalin, as you might have guessed, is sticky and contributes to holding together soil particles. This helps add texture to soils, which is important for aeration and moisture flow. And it turns out that AM fungi might be key components in agricultural systems that require less fertilizer.

Jason 1

(AM fungi growing from a plant root)

Drs. Mike Lehman, Shannon Osborne, and Wendy Taheri studied arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in agricultural systems and suggested farmers consider partnering with these fungi in their recently published research supported by the USDA titled: “Fall Cover Crops Boost Soil Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Which Can Lead To Reduced Inputs.

Cover crops are plants that cover the dirt (who’d have thought?), reducing the evaporation of moisture from the soil and holding the soil in place, resisting erosion. Cover crops can be used as “green manure” by cutting the plants and letting them fall and compost in place. The cover crops often can be directly planted into the soil, rather than clearing the area first. This all helps provide a stable living environment for soil organisms. As the soil gains an infusion of life over time, the chemistry changes and different sorts of nutrients become available as worms, bacteria, insects, fungi and other life grow and die in the soil.

Jason 2

(an example of cover crops between annual greens)

But this new infusion of nutrients from this influx of life in the soil means nothing to a plant that cannot take in many of these nutrients. There can be a lot of phosphorous in the soil, but it has to be “fixed,” or “available,” in order for plants to uptake it. So it should be pretty clear how beneficial a partnership with fungi can be for some plants. These fungi can take in the phosphorous in the soil that is not available to plants and make it available to the plant. It’s quite an amazing relationship.

So what does this mean for the gardener or farmer? Well it means several important things. First of all, this means that if plants can develop these fungal relationships, they are likely to require less input. This means less fertilizer is needed, whether it be organic or chemical fertilizer. This translates to money saved! Another thing to consider is that too much phosphorous in the soil decreases the active arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Just another reason why it’s better to err on the side of too little, rather than too much.

Second, in order for these systems to develop in the soil, the soil cannot be repeatedly disturbed. This means no tilling, if possible. If the soil is not suitable for planting, rather than tilling, “fork” the land with a broad-fork to open the soil up a bit. Then apply some organic matter, usually in the form of compost. This can then be sheet mulched over and planted. Here is an example of sheet mulch, although they do not have to be this complex:

Jason 3I also have to mention compost teas. Compost teas can be a way of inoculating soils with beneficial fungi and bacteria. Compost teas are made by literally making tea with compost while pumping air through the water in order to promote the life of beneficial aerobic bacteria.

Jason 4

(brewing compost tea with aquarium air pumps and a 5 gallon bucket)

Spores often pass through to the tea from the compost. Spores can also be purchased and added to the tea (or to potting mixes if one is container gardening). Then the liquid is just sprayed onto the soil and plants in the area.

So, the moral of the story is: as this gardening/farming season gets going, consider partnering with your soils and optimizing the diversity of life in your soils, ultimately fostering those arbuscular mycorrhizal relationships, as well as many other bacterial and fungal relationships, and perhaps making the work of it all a little easier! Trust the biology and let it work for you!


I wish I was back home! (or, how to deal with homesickness as an educator)


We were all out contra dancing.  It’s a type of line-dancing with a lot of twirling and jumping and partner-changing.  I loved watching the kids bump into each other and help each other learn the dances.  It was fast-paced.  If you didn’t keep up, you were likely to cause a train wreck.  I was watching the blur of young and old couples, when a finger jabbed my side.  It was Rachel.

“Eliza is crying and she’s calling her mom to tell her to pick her up!” Rachel blurted out.

Oh boy.  Eliza had been homesick all week, moping and crying and being generally anti-social.  Being the only female counselor, I was “mom.”  Rachel ran ahead and I followed, trying to form a plan of action.  Where did she get a cell phone?  Eliza was curled up on the stairs, surrounded by the other girls.  I shooed the other girls away and sat down next to Eliza.  She was wearing blue jeans and a purple cardigan.  Her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail.  Tears streamed down her face and her eyes were swollen and red.

“My mom wants to talk to you.  She said she’s going to bring me home,” Eliza said with a big smile.  That’s the first smile I’d seen from her all day.  My heart sank.  I didn’t want Eliza to miss our backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, but I didn’t want her to be miserable either.

I stepped outside to call her mother.  I barely said Hello? and the mother started crying.  My heart sank further.  Her daughter was 13 and had never been away from home.  I barely considered myself an adult and here was a grown mother reaching to me for comfort and advice.  She asked my advice.  I gave her the advice I was trained to give: “This is a rare opportunity for a young lady to gain independence.  If not today, then some day she will need to face her homesickness.”

After much deliberation and crying and comforting, Eliza’s mother came to a decision.  Without the courage to break her own daughter’s heart, she asked me to tell Eliza.  Eliza’s despair manifested itself physically in the van on the way home.  It is amazing how emotions can affect the stomach.  In the end, Eliza was too sick to participate and went home.

As an environmental educator, I encountered homesick children all the time.  The most common symptoms were: crying, isolation, loss of appetite, upset stomach, and lack of interest.  Many students ask to call home, but this usually exacerbates the problem.  Homesickness surfaces during “down time” when kids have time to think – especially on the first night.  Catch homesickness early because it is contagious!  Pull the homesick student aside and provide comfort, but mostly provide distraction.

Eliza was a special case.  Most students settle in by the second or third day.  Her story shows the complexity and seriousness of homesickness.  These are real emotions and real physical manifestations of those emotions.  Educators often experience homesick children, but what about their parents?  What struggles do they face by saying “No, you cannot come home?”  At what point should we let our children come home?

Interestingly, Eliza met up with our group at the end of the backpacking trip.  She was eager to hear our stories.  She repeatedly expressed her regret that she could not come.  Perhaps it is good that she felt this regret because next time it will motivate her to take the chance.

Discovering natural wonders with the Siskiyou Environmental Education Center (SEEC)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 155 other followers