The Naming of Things

Names carry power. I’m not talking about the mystical notion of power, but rather social and educational power.

Names are social in nature. The same name can have different meanings or connotations based on culture and language.  Names are a way for us to form mental, and sometimes emotional, connections to people and things. When I learn a person’s name, and use it, it strengthens our relationship. For people we are really close to, we might bestow nicknames or pet-names. I served for several years in the Air Force where there is a culture of bestowing call signs (nicknames) based on stupid or special things that people have done. Knowing their call sign told me a little bit more about who they were.

modern "tree of life" (image:
modern “tree of life” (image:

We humans like to try to put the order into the world. We create categories and schemas to make sense of the chaos around us. Names are part of that order. Give me a name and I immediately have a frame of reference for what type of thing we are discussing and its characteristics or functions. We even go so far as to have an entire branch of science dedicated to the naming and ordering of things found in the natural world.

Part of the joy of discovery, for me, is the joy of learning the name of a thing I have seen so many times but didn’t know what to call it. Growing up in Oregon, I am very familiar with the plants and animals that are typical to Pacific Northwest forests. However, I had no names for them while growing up. I made up my own- names like Nature’s Toilet Paper (Thimbleberry), Spiny Plant (Devil’s Club), or Climbing Tree (Douglas Fir). However, I couldn’t use these names to communicate with other people. It wasn’t until I began learning the names that I could not only talk about them, but also learn about what made these organisms unique and how they fit within their given ecosystem.

Douglas Firs (image:
Douglas Firs (image:
Devil's Club (image:
Devil’s Club (image:

Over the summer, we began to learn about ecosystems that are unique to the Siskiyou region. In the process we were introduced to such places as “fens” or “chaparral” and along with them, we learned about the plants and animals that make each place unique. This is important because we will need to pass these names on to the children we’ll teach next year during fall in the field. The point isn’t just to make sure our students gain knowledge. Rather, it’s that without a name, our students will be less able to connect with the natural world they are experiencing. They will be unable to retain the important information about that mushroom or bird’s unique function if they don’t have a name to attach it to. Most importantly, the names we provide our students will create a framework that will allow them to know this place they call home and to actually care about it.

Kids and Creeks- A Day of Exploration!

Just a few weeks ago, the Siskiyou Environmental Education Center enjoyed teaching kids and adults all about the salmon life cycle at the Kids and Creeks event located at Bear Creek Park in Medford, Oregon. This event was organized and sponsored by the Bear Creek Watershed Council, OSU Extension (BCWEP) and Bear Creek Watershed Education Partners, and there were many exciting educational booths. For example, kids took the opportunity to look at male and female dissected steelhead trout, then do some salmon watching guided by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Our SEEC graduate students quizzed their internal anatomy fish knowledge with the salmon dissecting table (and remembered more than they thought!). While watching our very own Chinook salmon spawning (laying eggs in Bear Creek), we had the opportunity to speak with biologist Chuck Fustish with ODFW. He was generous to share his fascinating knowledge about this incredible fish that has made a comeback in Southern Oregon. Check out our impromptu interview of Chuck speaking about these fish, as well as some actual Chinook spawning behavior!

When you grow up

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ah, the age old question asked to young people everywhere, and, for some of us, it is still an ongoing question. Somehow the answer of an environmental educator (or something to that effect) does not always satisfy the asker. Follow up questions might be, “What is that?” or “What are you planning on doing with environmental education?”

Well, in the context of Cohort 7, some of us have very clear goals in mind, and some of us are leaving our options open and come what may. I think both of these views are perfectly wonderful. If you have read over the bios our members, you can see that we have a wide range of backgrounds and more experiences than can be contained in roughly 150 words. Each of these events in our lives has shaped us and pushed us into the direction of environmental education. These forces will continue.  Every day we hear about new opportunities for us to explore. Internship, projects, job opportunities, volunteer opportunities, organizations, schools, nature centers, outdoor programs, just to name a few. The possibilities truly are endless and one cannot know where they are going to end up.

For me, I have an idea of where I want to end up. Working with motivated young people who are looking for a start in environmental education and teaching them how to teach environmental education. But the journey to get there or wherever can be the most fun.  It is thrilling and terrifying and exciting to wonder what is out there and where we will go with it. And as I look around at all of the excitement, passion, dedication, and willingness to inspire young minds, I think Cohort 7 is going to be exactly who they are meant to be when they grow up.

The Benefits of Travel

Whether it is a flight across the world or a weekend getaway to a favorite camping spot, traveling is the answer that keeps my curiosity questioning. No matter what the destination, changing my location provides many memorable experiences that shape who I am. Things like breathtaking views and exotic foods are like the muffin-tops of traveling. They look really nice and taste great, but it’s not a wholesome experience unless I eat the entire muffin. Without the muffin-bottoms, or the inner benefits of traveling, the experience would be incomplete. Traveling helps broaden my mind at the end of a trip as much as it broadens my smile in the beginning.

One of the ways I benefit from traveling is by gaining a better self-understanding. The key is placing myself in foreign situations and analyzing how I react. Traveling provides a perfect atmosphere to make this happen because my experiences with new cultures are so different compared those I am used to at home in Massachusetts. When traveling, daily interactions bring me out of my comfort zone and into a hyperaware state where I consciously process each decision. The autopilot feature that guides me through easy decision making is turned off when I face situations I have never been in before. Trying to comprehend new languages, putting trust in strangers, and bartering in markets are just a few examples that elevate my thought process. Travelling is mentally draining, but all that brain use helps me uncover who I am and how I think. Continue reading The Benefits of Travel

Follow us!

Obviously, you know about this blog. Chances are you know about our Facebook page as well. But, did you know SEEC is on Instagram and Twitter as well? It’s true! Our username is simple and the same for both: souseec. Click here to check out our Twitter and click here for Instagram, or follow the links in the sidebar on the left side of this page.

Now, both accounts are still in their infancy, but every week they grow a little more, and with your help, they’ll grow even faster. So follow along! You won’t regret it. We promise. It’s an easy way to stay in touch, sharpen your naturalist skills with trivia, and see pretty pictures like this:


Winging It: Hawks, their migration, and the nuts who watch them

In late September I was lucky enough to take part in one of my favorite activities, hawk watching. Every year, tens of thousands of raptors move south across America in a brilliant display of endurance and grace. People from all over the world congregate in areas called hawkwatches to share in some small part of this experience.

Now you may be wondering how people know where to go to watch hawks, and that’s a very good question indeed. As hawks, and birds in general, migrate they are using certain landmarks to guide their journey. The two biggest geographical features used are coastlines and mountain ridges. The birds use long connections of ridge lines to travel huge distances without flapping. As the wind hits the side of a ridge it creates an updraft of air that allows the birds to glide along with hardly any effort. Some ridgelines and coastal areas work as funnel systems, and this is where we place hawkwatches.

Now you may be wondering why anyone would want to watch hawks. That’s another great question. From a scientific point of view we watch hawks to monitor populations. Raptors have had a rough road in the United States. Their troubles began in the 1900s with people killing them en masse because they were seen as predators to livestock. In fact, many of the hawkwatches today, like Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, began as popular sites to shoot raptors for sport. In the 1960s, fish eating raptors like Bald Eagles and Osprey were affected by DDT. Today, possible effects of climate change and habitat destruction are causing more problems for our birds of prey.

Hawks killed at Hawk Mountain
Hawks killed at Hawk Mountain (photo:

The second reason to watch hawks is for the sheer joy of it. When I went hawk watching here in Oregon, I spent all day on an exposed ridge above Upper Klamath Lake with binoculars held to my face until my arms ached. I came home dehydrated, sunburned, and not regretting a single moment of that day. Hawks in flight are some of the most beautiful animals you’ll ever see. From the tiny but beautifully colored male American Kestrels, the Turkey Vultures wobbling in the sky as they try to find a rising current of hot air, and the large Golden Eagles who soar by like WWII bombers, every bird is a thrill. On this particular outing we were lucky enough to see a Peregrine Falcon with lunch held in its talons. It would seem as though this bird’s mother never taught it not to play with its food.  We watched as the falcon flew up high and dropped the prey item, only to catch it again mid-air in its talons. It’s those moments that make hawk watching, and bird watching in general, so compelling. For some people it becomes almost like an addiction. They can never get enough of it.

So join us, I say! The migration season isn’t over yet, and you don’t have to spend all day on a ridge to see hawks. Birds also use interstates as migratory pathways. So on your way to work, school, or wherever you happen to be, keep your eyes open because you never know what you’ll see. Who knows, you may just wind up on a ridge with me next year as we both try to get a fix for our bird addiction.

header photo: redtail hawk over Grizzly Peak, by Chaney Swiney

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.


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


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