The Importance of Human Wonder

One of the most important lessons that I have learned from experiencing and exploring the outdoors is the potential for knowledge in human wonder.

Painted desert 2
Exploring the landscape of the Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park

The idea that one can learn from observing their surroundings through exploration is something that my parents instilled in me from a young age.  Family vacations, although a time to be spent together, often became a time for my siblings and me to investigate new surroundings.  Even while walking on the same trail, my brothers and I always saw things that made us feel differently.  On a trip to Petrified Forest National Park, I remember overhearing a conversation from another park visitor about vultures circling in the sky.  I immediately noticed the birds a little distance away.  I was fascinated and frightened by them at the same time.  What if those vultures thought I was a potential meal?  Were they strong enough to carry me away?

Looking back on my naive impression of those raptors, I am still amazed by those two vultures soaring in the Arizona sky many years ago.  What did those birds see as they circled?  How long did they soar before giving a flap to their wings?

A flock of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura). From All About Birds:

I have taken Avian Biology courses and learned about the behavior of New World vultures.  I have read about thermal updrafts and understand why raptors take advantage of the rising air to conserve energy while flying.  I have researched the diets of vultures.  I am glad to say that they do not seek little girls in pink shirts.  None the less, I still wonder what it was that those particular vultures were thinking.

I continue to find myself wondering about the doings of birds.  Even while sitting in the passenger’s seat of a car, I’ll notice the turkey vultures circling above the interstate.  I ask myself the same questions about those vultures as I did their relatives at the Petrified Forest many years ago.

Gazing at the blue waters below

This curiosity, this sense of wonder, is as important to me now as it was then.  My parents raised my siblings and me to question the world around us but to never lose touch of the things that make the world special.  I was reminded of this when Cohort 8 shadowed the Classroom at Crater Lake program this October.  The students who visited on a class field trip learned important ecological concepts that make Crater Lake unique, but the knowledge they gained was nothing compared to the sense of wonder expressed on their faces when they looked over the rim and imagined what lurked in those beautiful blue waters.  Those students identified with that place, and now they are connected to it forever.

As I learn to become a successful environmental educator, I remind myself that some of the most important lessons that I can pass on to students are the same lessons that I learned from my first teachers, my parents.  Just as my parents allowed my brothers and me to explore our surroundings, from the woods in our backyard to the national parks of the United States, I should let my future students explore the world around them.  Although I have faith that these students will be able to identify plant species along the trails they walk, I would rather they expand their mind beyond classifications and imagine what species are the favorites of the animals that call the land beyond the trail home.  Like Rachel Carson, who eloquently described this experience in her 1965 publication The Sense of Wonder, I hope that these children will never falter in their sense of wonder and find inspiration in the everyday.  When they enjoy their time outdoors and have fun exploring, they will be able to better understand the world around them and the additional discoveries that await them.

Encourage your sense of wonder.  Explore your backyard, your neighborhood, your city, your state.  Identify what makes your place unique and how that uniqueness translates into the extraordinary.  Place your feet on a trail outside and see where your sense of wonder inspires you to explore.

Discovering the Mystery of Where We Live

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

-Rachel Carson-

Rachel Carson in the field
Rachel Carson in the field

Rachel Carson (1907-1964), renowned biologist and writer, is most well-known for her career as an activist, taking a brave stance against pesticides with her publication of Silent Spring in 1962. She is a prime example of how science can be used to educate the public and effectively change attitudes about the environment. However, Carson was also a sensitive nature writer and mentor to her nephew Roger. Her book, The Sense of Wonder, chronicles their adventures in the varied terrain of the Maine wilderness, through intimate and sensory accounts of their findings. As environmental educators, it is important for us to follow Carson’s example, using our strong background in scientific principles to strengthen the messages of our lessons. However, she also shows us the other side of the coin: the importance of fostering a sense of wonder in children.

hiking in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
hiking in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

The Masters of Environmental Education program at SOU does an excellent job at finding the balance between these practices. We integrate ourselves into deep scientific study of natural history, botany, ornithology, herpetology, etc., but we also recognize that it is our job to practice Carson’s advice: “rediscover with [children] the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” The educators of Cohort 8, in all of our diverse experiences and geographic homes, were already united around this common purpose before we arrived in Ashland this July. We all seek careers in which we can make a difference while spending most of our time outdoors. But why now? Why Environmental Education?

Some of us have worked in wildlife research in the past and are now looking for a more direct way to impact conservation. Some of us have worked in schools and are looking to diversify our skills teaching outdoors. Some of us seek more scientific knowledge. Some of us are fresh from undergraduate degrees, eager to continue learning. And some of us intend to work in nonprofits, seeking experiences in management. We arrive from homes all over the country: Upstate New York, rural Washington, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, San Francisco, Hawaii, Maine, northern Michigan, Oregon, and fishing boats in Alaska. One of us even arrived in Ashland by foot via the infamous Pacific Crest Trail! We come together united by a common goal: how do we transmit information to people of varying contexts, attitudes, personal histories, agendas, ages, and skills? And how can this program prepare us to do this?

It all began by immersing ourselves in our new place. We spent a weekend together when we first arrived, camping, hiking, swimming, eating, camp fire-ing, and identifying new plants with our professors and Cohort 7, at the nearby Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. We then took a four-week place-based Environmental Issues class, in which we were introduced to six quintessential ecosystem types and their flora and fauna that we will encounter throughout our studies in this area. We practiced critter catching and collected data and dreamed about the environmental education programs we would soon begin designing. And we hiked to the tops of stunningly tall peaks where we could see the entirety of our new homes from a new vantage point.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument:
from Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument:

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, practically in our backyard, is a place of unmatched diversity. It is a mystery of colliding mountains, where ecologically distinct regions coexist in the nexus of the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Klamath ranges. Pygmy Nuthatches and kangaroo rats, typically found east of the Cascades, share habitat with western species such as rough-skinned newts and Northern Spotted Owls. Bigleaf Maple and Eastern Juniper grow on the same bluff, as do Manzanita and White Fir. All of these species coexist at the CSNM, along with the highest butterfly diversity in North America.

Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius

During this summer’s orientation weekend, we hiked to the top of Hobart Bluff, one of the tallest vantage points in the CSNM. Its high elevation reveals unique plants that exist in exposed, wind-swept areas. One such species is Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, or Cercocarpus ledifolius, a hardy specimen with bending branches, uneven bark, and small, indistinct leaves. But its ability to take root in a harsh, rocky environment is its true wonder. How does it do it? The answer is in the seeds. Spiraling out from the base of each leaf cluster are countless numbers of corkscrew-like seeds, whose fine hairs allow them to leap into flight at a passing breeze. And if they are lucky, each will find a piece of damp Earth in which to uncurl, drilling themselves into the ground, rooting their way to nutrients and new life.

Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff
Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff

Like the CSNM, our cohort is one of great diversity: age, experiences, and career trajectories. But for eighteen short months, we come together to learn. We will dream up and facilitate a program of our own creation. We will learn how to work together in close quarters, practicing life-long skills of conflict resolution and program planning. For eighteen short months, we will ground ourselves in the Rogue Valley like the curl-leaf mountain mahogany, wind-dispersed from our home places, and rooting ourselves into this new place.

Stewart Janes (Environmental Education program director) reminds us continually, “In a year, you will be the experts.” And we will. We will study the land and its diversity, acknowledging the unnoticed and marveling at the big picture. We will look closely, taking it all in as we ask new questions. And we will discover the mysteries of where we live, reminding ourselves of the inevitable stories of some of our future students: What would I do if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

If You Want to Learn More:

Meet Cohort 8!

All members of Cohort 8 have all finally arrived in Ashland! We are excited to begin our adventures here. Stay posted as we share them with YOU! It’s nice to meet you.

KatieBKatie Boehnlein is a native Oregonian who spent her early years searching for fairy houses on the hidden stairways and urban wilderness areas of Southwest Portland. Undoubtedly, these experiences led her to a dual undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and English at Seattle University. It was during these four formative years in Seattle that she awoke to a passion for environmental education while working as an educator at the Washington Park Arboretum on the shores of Lake Washington. Upon graduation, she moved to San Francisco, where she spent a year climbing the city’s many hills and writing about her experiences. However, Oregon’s lush forests inevitably called her back, prompting a move back to Portland and a job at a progressive independent school there. She spent three years teaching fifth graders, designing garden curriculum, and founding an environmental leadership program at the school. Now a resident of the Rogue Valley, Katie is excited to immerse herself in the unmatched beauty of the area as well as continue exploring how schools can be places of environmental stewardship, activism, and community building for students and families. When not contemplating world peace and other trivial topics, Katie enjoys cycling, hiking, writing, singing, gardening, hosting dinner parties, and fumbling on her guitar and banjo.

ShannonShannon Browne grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has always had a major affinity for mountains, rugged coastlines, and deep forest wilderness. Her undergraduate studies were completed at Oregon State University in Geography, which means she loves exploring the interrelationships of climate, geography, ecology, and human behavior. Over the last few years she has developed a diverse career background in interpretation, marketing, and activism. During college she worked summers as a Park Ranger at both the Oregon Caves National Monument and Crater Lake National Park. Most recently she hailed from the Sierra Club in San Francisco where she was working in advertising and marketing for the publication Sierra. She was called back to Oregon, and Ashland specifically, for the amazing bio-diversity and confluence of culture and science; as well as to enroll in the Masters of Environmental Education program at Southern Oregon University. She is excited to continue developing her passions of spreading environmental awareness and conservation and facilitating others to understand dynamic interrelationships of their own.

EmilyBEmily Burke grew up in northern Michigan and spent her childhood exploring the forests, rivers, and lakes of the northwoods, which instilled in her a passion for nature and a desire to protect it.  She headed south to Duke University for college, graduating with a B.A. in Evolutionary Anthropology (with a concentration in Behavior, Ecology, and Cognition) and a minor in Biology.  Emily pursued wildlife research after college, working with critically endangered lemurs in Madagascar, coyotes and kit foxes in Utah, and bottlenose dolphins in Mississippi.  She began a PhD program in the fall of 2014 to pursue her interest in wildlife research, only to quickly discover that the long and involved research process was not, in fact, the most straightforward way for her to make a conservation difference.  So Emily applied to SOU’s Environmental Education program with the goal of directly inspiring others to become conservation-oriented, and thankfully got in!  During the transition, she decided it would be a good idea to hike to school from the Mexican border via the Pacific Crest Trail, and she arrived the day before orientation.  In addition to her masters, Emily is pursuing the nonprofit management certificate and, to build on her wildlife research background, is completing a thesis on the interspecific competition between invasive barred owls and native great gray owls in Southern Oregon.  Her dream job is working at a national park, half in environmental education and half in monitoring research.  In her spare time, Emily loves to cook, hike, explore new breweries and wineries with her cohort, and hang out with her cats!  (We promise she’s not as weird as that makes her sound.)

CavColleen Cavanaugh is originally from Peoria, Arizona. After moving to and finishing high school in Trumbull, Connecticut, she returned to Arizona to attend The University of Arizona receiving a degree in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Wildlife Conservation and Management. After completing her degree she worked with an NGO called Conservation CATalyst in Namibia, Africa, assisting in the research of African carnivores, focusing specifically on caracals. Although surveying African ungulates and collecting roadkill samples of carnivores across Namibia was an enriching and eye-opening experience, Colleen soon realized that her true passion was in environmental education and teaching about wildlife. She has worked as a conservation educator at Disney’s Animal Kingdom playing the role of a Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader (“Caw Caw Roar!”) and an educator at SeaWorld Orlando as well as an Outdoor Educator at South Mountain YMCA in Pennsylvania. She hopes that her experience at SOU will give her the necessary tools to instill the same love and passion she has for wildlife in students across the globe.

EmilyCEmily Collins grew up on a small farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  She attended Boston University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a specialization in Marine Science.  Her favorite part of her undergraduate experience was her semester abroad in Ecuador where she studied Tropical Ecology.  After graduating, Emily spent 4 years working as a Fisheries Observer collecting data aboard commercial fishing vessels both on the East Coast and in Alaska.  Her most recent adventure was working on a NOAA research vessel in the Gulf of Alaska as the Lab Lead for the annual Walleye Pollock survey.  Emily is very excited to be a part of the Environmental Education program and is hoping to learn how she can use her knowledge and passion for Marine Biology and Ecology to help inspire others to care as much as she does.  Her favorite things to do in her free time include traveling, hiking, and snowboarding and she is always up for an adventure!

AndyAndy Cullison calls Hawaii home, specifically the island of Oahu, where the beauty of the landscape has had a profound impact on his life.  He has followed his interests in science, health, and human interactions with nature to study biology.  This eventually lead him to SOU’s Environmental Education program, although he originally studied Business Administration at the University of San Diego and worked as a nonprofit manager. Maintaining a deep personal connection with music and composition, he hopes to never stop learning and help people see the beauty in experiences, follow their own unique pursuits, and learn about themselves in the process.

CaitlinCaitlin Hosken grew up along the coast of Maine, amongst the woods and the rocky tide pools of the Atlantic. She relocated to the west coast for a change of pace, and received her B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Washington in 2008. After dabbling as a project technician with a marine research non-profit, she caught the environmental education bug when she started volunteering with the Seattle Aquarium as a beach naturalist. Seeing kids of all ages get super jazzed about the intertidal zone made her realize she wanted to be a part of those types of moments forever. She was most recently an assistant teacher at a nature center in Seattle, where she helped to inspire a love of the outdoors in 4 and 5 year olds – little did she know she would end up learning all the words to the Frozen soundtrack. She has moved to Ashland with her husband Kerry and is excited to explore a new area and grow further towards her goal of becoming an environmental educator! Caitlin loves traveling, hiking, dancing, puppies, cheese, yoga, photography, and adventures of all kinds. Bill Watterson says it best: It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…let’s go exploring!

KatieLKatie Leuthauser grew up in Upstate New York in a small town called Hannawa Falls. Her interest in the natural world was sparked at a young age by her parents, who dragged her up the Adirondack Mountains, through fields of wildflowers, along the St. Lawrence River to dig for rocks and minerals, and everything in between.  She attended Potsdam Central Schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade.  After high school Katie attended SUNY Cortland where she majored in Adolescence Education specializing in Earth Science and minored in Biology.  Time not spent on studies was spent splashing around in the pool as a member of the swim team, rocking out with Geology Club, and maintaining a decent social life.  After graduation Katie made the move to the west coast after accepting a teaching position in Bickleton, Washington.  She spent 4 years teaching 7th-12th grade science in the very rural 90 person town.  In her spare time Katie enjoys hiking, backpacking, traveling, swimming, running, waterskiing, snow skiing, wandering in nature, preferably doing all those things with her dogs Porter and Indigo.

Environmental_PhotoColleen MacGilvray originally hails from the picturesque rolling plains of central Illinois.  She traveled long and far from eastern North Carolina to the beautiful Rogue Valley to begin her journey studying Environmental Education.  She has been intrigued by the outside world since a young age.  Her enthusiastic parents allowed her and her two older siblings to explore everywhere from the woods behind her childhood home to the national parks of the United States.  Colleen graduated from Wake Forest University in May 2015 with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Environmental Science.  During her undergraduate academic career, Colleen could be found in the lab analyzing plant roots for mycorrhizal fungal associations.  Although exploring the rhizosphere allowed her to see beauty in the microscopic world, she developed a great desire to share with others the wonders of the world – from the smallest fungi to the tallest mountains.  Colleen worked as an Environmental Education intern at the Bald Head Island Conservancy on the barrier island of Bald Head Island, North Carolina.  There she helped guests of all ages understand the importance of the island’s ecology and marvel at the animals that claim the shores of Bald Head as their home.  The alligators, Great Blue Herons, sea turtles, and marveling kids and parents who visited the conservancy helped her realize that the best way to pursue her passion was through education.  Colleen hopes to develop curriculum for education outreach programs.  She believes every child should have the privilege to understand the natural beauty that they are inevitably connected to and inspire them to become better stewards for the land.  When she has a break from academic obligations, she can be found frolicking on hiking trails, thumbing through guide books, and identifying birds and fungi.

ChrisChris Sharpe is originally from Southern Maryland where he grew up playing outside in the woods every day and camping with his family on weekends. He studied History in Western Maryland at Frostburg State University.  There his ethnobotanist roommate opened up a whole new way of looking at the woods. After college and a short stint with Americorps he took a job as an environmental educator for a local non-profit. It was there that he began to love learning and teaching students about our environment. After moving to Bend, Oregon, to work for Portland’s legendary Outdoor School program he decided to further his education at SOU. In his spare time he enjoys camping, hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking, and seeing live music.  Since moving to Ashland has began rock climbing and exploring the wilds of Southern Oregon.

KareliaKarelia Ver Eecke grew up in Cortez, Colorado, in the heart of the Southwest. At an early age she developed her sense of wonder and admiration for the beauty and ruggedness of the San Juan Mountains and high deserts of home.  Feeling rather antsy after high school, Karelia explored Bellingham, Washington; taught snowboarding at Telluride Ski Resort; eloped to Vancouver, British Columbia; and finally landed in Gunnison, Colorado, where she earned her degree in Environmental Biology and Ecology. Karelia has worked for Colorado Parks and Wildlife as an aquatic conservation technician and Prineville District’s Bureau of Land Management as a plant and habitat technician. Hailing most recently from Bend, Oregon, Karelia, her husband, Matt, and dog, Revel, love exploring all that the west has to offer. Upon completion of the Environmental Education program, Karelia will work with local agencies and the public to bring science, conservation, and public understanding to the same table. When not studying, Karelia, along with Matt and Revel, can be found sailing, skiing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and generally having an excellent adventure.

Lessons From the Edge of the Earth

“What do you think? About a three?” Casandra, a young woman my age, asked. I rose from my seated position by the furnace, my seven layers of clothing making my movement a bit awkward. It was cold, very cold. As I crossed the aisle to where she was standing the tundra buggy shook again. I caught myself on the back of a seet.

A tundra buggy looks like a giant bus set on monster truck wheels. It’s built to weather the harsh elements of Churchill Manitoba’s high tundra. It’s built like a tank; hard, thick, impenetrable. But the creature rocking our buggy was evolved, without a furnace or strong metal or giant tires, to persist here. He was certainly no pushover either.

the Tundra Buggy
the Tundra Buggy

Casandra, intensely focused on the body fat index sheet, had barely moved. I made it to the window and peered down at a large male polar bear. Our tour group was breaking for a lunch of hot soup. The smell must have been irresistible. He stood now on his back legs, his nose reaching up ten feet above ground, seeking the source of the tempting scent. His forepaws braced against the cold metal of the tundra buggy.  His shoulders tensed. I braced.

Blog 5

The buggy shook again, back and forth like ship on rough waters. He was testing us, trying to figure out if he had a chance. The buggy held steady. It was built to take on bears even bigger than this one. Our bear came to the same conclusion. He sat back on his haunches to consider his next move.

“Definitely a three,” I agreed.

I scribbled it down in our chart. The body fat index was meant to give us an indication of the condition of the Churchill polar bears. The chart ranged from 1 (incredibly skinny) to 5 (quite fat). Three was very good for this time of year. It was November, the end of months of fasting. Polar bears are lipivores, meaning that they eat fat. Their prey, mostly seals and small whales, lives out in the ocean, so they can only hunt when the water becomes covered in a thick ice sheet. When the ice melts they are trapped on land without food until the ice returns.

This is where people come in. We’ve all heard the news and the commercials and the general upset over the sad state of the polar bear. As the earth warms the ice melts sooner and takes longer to reform. The polar bears are stranded for longer and longer. The buggy drivers confirmed that the ice should have been back by now, and that they had seen fewer bears this year than last.

blog 2I reached over to the back seat and pulled out a strange contraption; a camera set in the center of two parallel black metal bars with a laser pointer on either side. Churchill is the front line. It’s here, in the southernmost reaches of their range, that scientists hope to study the first effects of climate change on polar bears.

You see, polar bears are actually rather hard to find and track. It takes a lot of money, a lot of effort, and a lot of nerve. That in mind, it’s not surprising that there’s not a lot of data out there. That’s where people come in yet again.

As our polar bear wandered a short distance away, I turned the lasers on.  Casandra took over, maneuvering our crude device to try and get both laser points on the bear. When she had succeeded, she took a picture. This was the most vital part of her data collection. It was her hope that this tool would allow us to figure out the size of a bear based on a photograph.

If she was successful, it would mean that polar bear researchers could employ an army of citizen scientists. People come from across the world to snap just a single photo of a polar bear. If those same people send researchers their photos, we get an incredible database of the population throughout the season.

So where does that get us? Can ordinary citizens save the polar bear? I don’t know. In the end, it’s the choice of ordinary citizens whether or not to use cloth bags, to recycle, to conserve light and electricity, to carpool or walk, or not to do any of those things. It’s choices like those that got us into this mess, and the world can’t change unless ordinary people change it. It’s a way of thinking that’s always been said, but has seldom been believed.

I know the news said a while back that we’ve done irreversible (at least on our time scale) damage to the glaciers. The Churchill population and the people who make their living off the polar bears may be operating on borrowed time. But the information that comes from citizen scientists can help us answer the question that’s on all of our minds. Will they make it? Could they survive the actions of another species carried out far away from their icy world?  What’s really going to happen to the polar bears?

Our large male had wandered off towards the willows, likely looking for a place to bed down for the evening. All that was left of him was a long line of tracks leading back towards the ocean. The water was finally starting to freeze over. This male, at least, would likely make it back home to the frozen waters far away from any solid ground. He would feast on seals and seek out females until the warming seasons forced him back here, where he would wait for the ice once more.

Blog 6The tundra buggy was quiet now. Everyone was reflecting on the creature they had just encountered. Each held a different impression, but it was easy to see in their faces that they had all been awed and inspired. It was the encounter of a lifetime.

People are powerful, whether we think so or not. As our world becomes more technological, and information becomes increasingly easy to access, the citizen scientist becomes ever more valuable, ever more influential, a true force of nature. We have our doubts and our fears, but through the power of knowledge and self education, we can overcome any obstacle.

The polar bear knows little doubt. He knows the ice will come. He knows this because it has always come. As I watched the setting sun turn the snowy tundra a soft pink and orange, I liked to think that he was right.

For more information on this project, visit Polar Bears International’s website.

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So you think you want to go to grad school…

Greetings to Cohort 8! 

We are so excited you have decided to pursue your Master’s degree in Environmental Education with us at Southern Oregon University. I remember about a year ago when I was in your shoes… Excitedly sharing the news with family and friends, beginning to make preparations for my move to Ashland, planning out the courses I wanted to take, contacting businesses in Ashland to see about internships, dreaming about all the possibilities…

It’s an exciting time!

In an attempt to help you think about your new life path, I’ve put together a “survival guide” of my own. (Your real Survival Guide, should be arriving in your inbox so​on.)  I hope you, my fellow cohort members, and anyone else who has ever pursued an advanced degree will get a kick out of this (or at least a groan.)

Okay, here we go:

You are about to be busier than you can imagine, so in an attempt to help you manage everything that needs to be done in life I have put together this survival guide. Hopefully you have been saving up plenty of money for your graduate education. Sure, you will need it to pay for classes, books, college fees and all those typical kinds of things, but here’s really what you will need your money for:

  • A maid, to do all your cleaning.
  • A cook, to do all your food shopping and preparation.
  • A personal assistant, to attend to whatever else you might need to have attended to.
  • If you like fresh food from the garden, hire a gardener.

That is… unless you enjoy those tasks, like I do, at which point I would say it is probably cheaper and easier to hire a Reader. Your reader will follow you around and read all your homework assignments to you. It’s better than books on tape, because you can easily ask them to read exactly what needs to be read!

Make sure you have purchased everything you will need for the next 18 months: clothes, toiletries, office supplies, a backup hard drive, etc. You will not have time to shop.

If you have a significant other, spend some good quality time with them before the program begins. Then give them a big hug and a passionate kiss and let them know that you are really looking forward to all the time you get to spend together over the next 18 months… while you slee​p!​

If you don’t have a significant other, be comfortable with being single. Sure, you might find time to squeeze in a date or two, but you certainly won’t have time to actually form a relationship. That is, unless it is with another graduate student or insanely busy person, who understands that school dominates your life.

If you have family that lives more than a few hours away, let them know you love them, and you look forward to seeing them… at your graduation.

When looking at your class schedule, you might be tempted to make weekend getaway plans with your sweetheart, or just to have a break… don’t be fooled. Those free spots in your schedule actually belong to the program. Meetings, class field trips, group projects, all have been know to materialize out of thin air occupying the space you thought you had free.

Learn how to run, bike, do yoga, swim… all with a book in your hand. Take multitasking to a whole new level!

But seriously… you will be busier in this program than you anticipate.

Here are some of my real recommendations:

  • Read “The Art of Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
  • Find a place to live as early as possible and get your study space set up exactly how you like it.
  • Explore Ashland: Learn places that you can retreat to for relaxation and refreshment. As well as learning where you can find the things you might need.
  • Spend time with your family and friends.
  • Attend to your health now. Make sure you feel strong and full of vitality before the program begins.
  • And perhaps most importantly: remember even in the midst of all the business of the program, take breaks and have fun with others. You will need it to maintain your sanity

​We look forward to meeting you!

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but we aren’t dogs!

I call shenanigans! At least when it comes to humans. My father, a man I’d definitely call old in years, just got a new smartphone. He sent me a grammatically correct text accompanied by a picture of the final snowbank remaining in the yard outside of my house in Massachusetts. Anyone who knows my father knows that he is about as savvy with new technology as he is happy about the fact that he hasn’t been able to mow his snow-covered lawn. However, he learned to poke a touchscreen just as quick as the snow melted, both being incredibly slow processes, but the important part is that he did it.

Humans have developed technology that allows us to have an abundance of free time rather than spend most of our time worrying about basic survival like the rest of the animal kingdom. This free-time has in turn allowed us to study the world and learn more about it, creating a positive feedback loop between knowledge and available free-time. Imagine having to travel to the nearest water source to fill up a bucket, haul it back to your house, then make a fire to boil the water, then cut up the veggies that you spent the whole day harvesting, just to make some soup. Now, you can just fill a pot up in the sink, turn the knob for the stovetop 90 degrees to ignite the burner, open a bag of pre-cut veggies and soup it up. The time it takes to complete tasks, compared to a few hundred years ago, is significantly less, which allows us to accomplish many other things in a day. Many poorer countries do not have this luxury. However, the majority of people living in the US are fortunate to have access to clean running water and other amenities that make life easier. We have the privilege of having extra time in our daily schedule explore, discover, and learn new tricks.

One thing I like to do in my free time is read books and one of my favorite quotes is from the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. He says “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running”. To me, the term old is an excuse to be lazy and I have even found myself using it a few times, which is just plain ridiculousness. Okay, I will admit that someone pushing 100 years can justifiably use the excuse of being too old to avoid entering an MMA cage match. However, outside of strenuous physical activity, I think saying “I’m too old” is a cop out, especially when it comes to learning. Anyone at any age can learn about anything they want to, if they have the resources. To not seize an opportunity to learn more about the world and everything in it (and everything outside it) is like throwing away a box of my housemate and fellow Cohort 7 member Brooke Mueller’s homemade cupcakes. They are both a wasted magical treat that many others would feel blessed to have.

My point is that learning is a privilege that all who have free-time have time for. Who knows, maybe we could learn how to make clean water readily available to everyone in the world. Maybe we could learn to make homemade cupcakes like Brooke…well probably not, but we sure would have a fun time trying! Think about everything that anyone has ever done, or never done, and go learn how to do it!

For a fantastic artist’s rendition of an interview with Isaac Asimov about this subject, click here.

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


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