All posts by SEEC

An International Perspective: My Experience So Far

It has been almost a year at Southern Oregon University (SOU) for me as an international student from Nepal and it has truly been a unique and revealing experience. Saying goodbye to your family and friends is always a sad moment. I was sad obviously, but I was so ready and happy to be in a new place, around new people and to get the thrill of an amazing experience earning my Master of Science in Environmental Education.

Going abroad is always a big decision that might seem scary at first. But I found that I totally enjoyed it once I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone and dare to try.  It is not only about leaving your hometown and going somewhere new until your study is done. It is really about the experiences and the relationships that you build while being abroad.  I have been able to make amazing friends and meet great people who added to my social network and helped me a lot in my academic life. What I have really enjoyed about this experience are the different perspectives that I got from different people; I have been able to give a part of my culture and receive an amazing experience back.

For me, the SOU campus is a totally different experience from my own campus in Nepal. It is lively and beautiful, full of joy, fun, clubs and sororities and fraternities. I am also really pleased with all the amazing opportunities for students to get involved on campus, particularly through student organizations, the Resource Center, and the International Student Center.


Academically, this year has given me a lot in terms of knowing what I want to do in the future. Through several of the Environmental Education courses I am learning how to develop curriculum and activities that meet educational standards and are place-based.  Also, I am working with my fellow students to gain hands-on experience to plan, develop and implement a two month outdoor environmental education program called Fall In The Field. This program is delivered to local school groups that takes place in the fall of each year. It consists of both over-night residential programs at Deer Creek Center and day hikes on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Being an international student abroad has taught me to open myself and make the most out of this experience. Although being new and alone somewhere can be a challenging experience, I think it also brings you a lot of personal benefits and gives you the ability to adapt to different experiences. I look at everything with an open mind and an inter-sectional perspective, which allows me to experience things that I never imagined.

Trying to meet new people and keeping an open mind in getting to know other cultures can help us to develop and become more mature people. I would not trade this experience for anything, and I can definitely say that this is one of the best moments of my life. I am thankful to everyone who has made it better and made me feel at home.

Written by Sujan Subedi
Photos by Sujan and others


A Spring Break Escape

Sometimes grad school makes you feel like a medieval knight riding into battle to save the world.

And sometimes grad school feels like you’re a medieval knight stuck on your noble steed in a never ending roundabout.

This is the reality of the world of grad school. There is so much you want to do right now – but so many things you have yet to learn, to be the best you can be at all those things you want to do.

And sometimes your noble steed finally finds an exit out of the roundabout, and that exit for Sarah, Alyssa, and I was spring break.

The spreadsheet was made, campsites were booked, trails were selected, backpacks were packed, textbooks were stashed, hammocks were unleashed, and playlists were made.

Our noble steed (aka Sarah’s Subaru Forester) would transport us to the lovely locations of Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, and Pinnacles National Parks. We planned to spend eight days in the wilderness healing our souls, resting our brains, and wearing out our hiking boots.

The first two nights we camped at Horse Creek Campground outside of Sequoia National Park. Beautiful views, infinitely many birds (as captured through Sarah’s binoculars), and a lower elevation kept us warm during the night as we ventured into the frozen, snowy tundra of Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. Our environmental educator hearts skipped a few beats as we marveled at the glorious interpretation at both parks and had wonderful experiences with park rangers.

General Sherman

Sarah, Alyssa, and I also experienced the meal of a lifetime in a parking lot covered by fog. Broccoli cheese soup, goldfish, and bagels were just what we need to push onward.

Fortifying Food

After three wonderful days we packed up our noble steed and ventured through California’s vast agriculture fields following signs for Yosemite National Park. I knew this park might be the park to beat on the trip. Over many seasons as an environmental education instructor I had heard of the marvels of its granite rock, bouldering, trails, and waterfalls.

Driving through that well known tunnel and catching the first glimpse of Tunnel View erased every worry and care I had brought with me on the trip. I was instantly filled with a sense of wonder and awe. I couldn’t look away but I felt like I had too, because views like that carry a weight of royalty and intimidation.


Breathe in beauty, breathe out chaos. The power of nature is in its ability to rid you of the things you didn’t know you were carrying and re-center you in the things in your life that truly matter.

I think gazing at El Capitan, Half Dome, and the infinitely many waterfalls of Yosemite was my tipping point on the trip. There was more positivity consuming my being than negativity. More relaxation, less stress. More thankfulness, less greed. More whim, less plans.

It was hard to load up the car and carry onward, but Pinnacles National Park, the nation’s most recent national park addition (eeekkk!), awaited.

Pinnacles held many wonders, including showers. We set out to hike through the infamous caves and upward toward the pinnacles the park is named after. With every foot of elevation gain came the infamous question: California Condor or Turkey Vulture? Sarah was patient enough to wait for condors come into view and Alyssa and I were slightly more interested in the fox scat and wildflowers along the trail.

Tent Moving

(Maybe we weren’t the most proactive scheduling campsite, but we did perfect the art of moving a pitched tent!)

It was bittersweet packing up the car on the final day to continue driving back to Ashland. There was considerably more room in the car due to our aggressive hiking appetites which wiped out muffins, bagels, a 1 pound block of cheese, avocados, apples, veggies straws, chips and salsa, grapes, and hobo diners.

However, as our car got emptier, our clothes stinker, and our skin tanner, our hearts grew fuller.

This trip reminded me of all the reasons I choose to pursue my Master’s in Environmental Education. Spending eight days outside was easy and carefree. Nature continued to sand away my rough edges on this trip. Nature pushed me to pursue the unknown. As I embarked on this trip I didn’t really know what I needed, but nature satisfied my unknown desires.

Returning to spring term wasn’t easy but I was reassured that when I feel myself getting stuck in the roundabout of grad school, or life in general, my escape route will always be nature. I know Mother Nature will continue to heal our souls; we just have to make the time to let her do so. 

Written by: Angie Gornik

Photos by: Angie Gornik, Sarah Norton

Habitat – What’s That?

First came the SOU M.S. Environmental Education graduate students, ready to teach a Fall in the Field program at Ashland Pond.

Next came the graduate students a year behind them, ready to observe, lend a hand, and take notes for next year’s Fall in the Field program.

Then, finally, came the bus full of yippity, skippity, second graders, full of questions and desires, ready to explore.

Excited to be at Ashland Pond
Ready to have fun!

“Where is the pond?”

“When is lunch?”

“Are there any animals?”

“How far is it?”

“This one time…”

The students wasted no time and were finding scat, tracks, birds’ nests, and more treasures as soon as they hit the trail.

Bird food - Ashland Pond
“This seed is food for a bird!” One student showed another.

During their walk around Ashland Pond they learned about habitat – how food, water, shelter, and air make up a habitat. Through a nature scavenger hunt they found the elements that make up the habitat at Ashland Pond.

Students practiced “fox walking”, walking very quietly and deliberately so not to scare off animals. They cupped their hands around their ears to form “deer ears” to hear well. They also used “owl eyes” to use their peripheral vision to detect movement.

Some of the students saw a Steller’s jay. An instructor described how the Steller’s jay has an interdependent relationship with the forest. The bird needs the forest for building materials for its nest and berries for food and the forest relies on the Steller’s jay for seed dispersal. The students looked for more interdependent relationships.

At the end of their walk, students made a topographic map of the area that included their school and Ashland Pond. Students learned about their watershed and how what we do as humans on the land can affect places like at Ashland Pond.

Watershed demo - Ashland Pond
One student very seriously offered to be the river guardian to make sure no one polluted.

After a quick break for lunch, students helped restore specific habitats around Ashland Pond. Invasive Himalayan blackberries had recently been removed and native plants were planted in their place. Students helped put mulch around the native plants, which would hold in moisture and keep out the invasive blackberries.

Protecting native plants - Ashland Pond
“Make a fortress around your plant!” Exclaimed an instructor.

The students loved it, gathering bucketfuls of mulch to build a fortress for every plant.

After all of their hard work, the students had one more important mission. As a class they planted their own native red osier dogwood along the bank of Ashland Creek. As the tree grows, it will help stabilize the bank, provide shade, and act as a food source for animals.

Planting a new tree - Ashland Pond
Each student contributed a handful of soil to help their new native tree grow.

An instructor explained that the students could come back and visit their tree anytime. “I also have something special that you can take home,” she added, producing a small bag of milkweed seeds.

She explained the interdependent relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed. Monarch butteries will only lay their eggs in milkweed and the larvae will only eat the milkweed leaves. The adult monarchs help pollinate the milkweed. Sadly, milkweed is in decline. There is milkweed at Ashland Pond and people are planting more to help the monarch butteries on their long migration – all the way from Mexico to Canada! Also, we as humans rely on pollinators like the monarch butterfly for our food. By planting milkweed, we can help the milkweed and monarchs, and in turn ourselves.

Milkweed seeds - Ashland Pond
Each student received their own packet of milkweed seeds to plant wherever they desired.

At last the time had come to say goodbye. The instructors waved their second grader friends farewell.

But the day didn’t end there. The instructors (Cohort 9 members) sat down with the new graduate students (Cohort 10) and their trusty professor, Linda, to debrief the day.

Debrief - Ashland Pond
They discussed what went well and what could have gone better.

At the end of the day, what mattered most to all of us was that the students had fun and learned something new.

Laughter in the lesson - Ashland Pond

I think we accomplished that.

Written by: Hope Braithwaite

Photos by: Mikell Nielsen

Fall Came Early to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

On a morning that was warm for Ashland in the fall, a group of five graduate students with the Environmental Education program out of Southern Oregon University gathered in the valley to head up to Hobart Bluff. Our group had a unified purpose: to get a group of fifth graders from Jewett Elementary outside to experience nature and to learn about interdependence on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

I had not been up to the monument for a couple of weeks, so I was quite surprised when I got out of the car at the turn off for Soda Mountain Rd., and the brisk air cut through my sweater. I quickly put on another layer as we put together our plan before the students arrived. We were going to have to keep the children moving today, otherwise they might not have fun with the morning fog hiding the sun.

Snowy morning at the Hobart Bluff trailhead

We made our plans and climbed back into our vehicles to make the drive up to the trailhead. Rounding a corner, we came into a clearing and were greeted by a light dusting of snow. I do not know who was more excited, us or the students who arrived shortly thereafter. It was sure to be an interesting day. We got the students off the bus and readied them for the trail.

Our lesson for this day’s hike was “Nature’s Mysteries,” a lesson that put the experience of science investigation in the hands of the students. Scientists are like detectives, after all, using clues that they find to help explain mysteries that have not yet been understood. Each student was given a hand lens to investigate nature as we hiked along. They were also given clues to mysteries that we would be looking to solve. These clues include phrases like “What made the holes in these trees?”, “What is this green fur?”, and “What kind of cone is this?”

Nature_s Mystery_ Can we eat it_As we made our way onto trail, the students were searching for clues to solve their mysteries. Not even the cold, foggy weather could dampen their eagerness to learn. We came across some of the “green fur” hanging off a Douglas-fir and began investigating the clues. Was this actually fur? Was it a plant? Was it a fungus? Or, was it something from another world? As we looked more closely, we discovered there was much more going on than we first thought. This green fur, called a lichen, was two organisms living in an interdependent relationship. One organism, a fungus, provides roots and structure to the other organism, an algae, which provides food. Without one another, neither would survive. As we looked around more, we realized that there was more than one kind of lichen. Some investigating students found as many as five different varieties.

After solving our mysteries, we gathered on a nearby summit overlooking Ashland and the rest of the valley. Normally this view would be breathtaking, with blues, greens, and browns. On this day, however, the summit carried us up into a cloud of fog, which was an amazing experience that the students talked about the whole way back down to the bus.

Eating lunch in a cloud


Having come to the end of our fall adventure, we said our goodbyes and, with heavy hearts, waved as the students began their trip back to Central Point. We would be back again the next day to greet some of their fellow students from another fifth grade class, hopeful to embark on an equally exciting adventure solving nature’s mysteries.

Written by: John Ward

Pictures by: John Ward

Cohort 10, Hello!

As the weather begins to change from summer to fall in Ashland, a new cohort of graduate students has settled in to the program at SOU. Find out more about theam and what brought them to our program!

Laura Bergner Bio Pic

Laura Bergner grew up in North Carolina, spending a good part of her childhood catching salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains. After leaving her hometown, she discovered that her true passion is helping children explore the outdoors and live in a way that feels connected to nature. Laura spent her early twenties managing farms and developing sustainable living skills in Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as spending several years as an early childhood educator.

Living in a variety of places left her with a great love and respect for the Pacific Northwest, and in 2014 she left the southwest for good to study Biology at Southern Oregon University. She was so impressed by the diversity of life found in this tiny part of the world that she decided to stay here after receiving her Bachelor’s in Science and attend the Environmental Education Master’s program.

Laura is excited to bring her passion for nature to a community that is so driven to protect the environment and give children access to the outdoors. When she is not learning or teaching, she prefers to spend time with her enormous dog in open fields.

India Bolding Bio Pic

India Bolding grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco exploring the tide pools and redwood forests. She’s always viewed nature as a unifying force; anyone can find something they’re excited about, something to geek out about when they explore nature. She wants to help kids find that enthusiasm that was inspired by her parents at a young age. She believes that if kids get to immerse themselves with nature and learn the science that explains what they’re seeing they’ll develop a life long love for the environment. This encourages them to think and care for more than just themselves, ultimately making caring and thoughtful people that want to help the world.

Paige Engelbrektsson Bio PicPaige Engelbrektsson is a Virginia native who grew up finding the wonder in the wild places around her suburban neighborhood and childhood barn. After graduating with a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary, she was elbow-deep in assisting museum researchers when she discovered two things. One, teaching visitors about the new and intriguing natural history facts she uncovered offered its own kind of wonder. Two, there was an entire country full of awe-inspiring, truly wild spaces she could live and teach in. So began a cross-country trip that has lasted four years and counting. From guiding backcountry pack trips in Yellowstone National Park to teaching outdoor afterschool programs as an AmeriCorps member in North Carolina, Paige’s pursuit of sharing the wonder of the natural world has led her through a checklist of mountain ranges and ultimately to SOU. She looks forward to using the skills and knowledge she will gain through the program to lead educational programming for audiences of all ages in even more beautiful wild places.

Angie Gornik Bio Pic

Angie Gornik is a Minnesotan from her accent to her snow driving abilities. She spent endless hours as a child running around barefoot both in her backyard and at summer camp. Angie attended Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and received degrees in Biology and Spanish. During her college years she called many places home from the tall grass prairie of Iowa, to the farm she worked on in Costa Rica, to the volcanoes of Ecuador, to the summer heat of Nicaragua, to the bayou of Louisiana. Angie blames her Costa Rican host mom, Doña Fatima, for igniting her love for environmental education and showing her what loving people and a place looks like.  Upon graduating in December of 2016 Angie packed up her car and moved to Southern California to teach at an outdoor education institute. Nature exploration, outdoor adventure, and the laughter of students became an integral part of her life and pursing her Masters in Environmental Education became a part of her journey. Angie never ceases to be amazed by ferns and can’t wait to achieve her goal of visiting every National Park within the next 10 years.

Anna Kennedy Bio PicAnna Kennedy grew up in a small town in Northern California, surrounded by redwoods, the Russian River, and a wild backyard full of endless possibilities. Whether hiking along the coast, camping in the redwoods, or building tree-forts, she found tranquility, inspiration, and a fascination for life in the great outdoors. This early love and curiosity led her Anna to pursue a degree from UC Davis in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. Over the summers Anna worked as a Trips Guide at Skylake Yosemite Camp, leading kids on day and multiday backpacking adventures in the Sierras. Her longing to be outside and learn everything about the natural world evolved into a desire to help educate and engage children outdoors. After graduation, Anna continued to work with youth as a Montessori Assistant Teacher and as a summer Camp Director. This love for educating children and helping them build a relationship with nature is what guided Anna to the MS in Environmental Education program at SOU. Anna is loving exploring the incredible wilderness and biodiversity of Southern Oregon, and looks forward to continuing to combine her love for education and for being outdoors in a life-long career as an environmental educator.

Sarah Norton Bio PicSarah Norton was born and raised in upstate New York. Growing up, an interest and wonder about nature was instilled in her as she explored creeks and hiked with her family. Sarah graduated from Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack mountains with a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science. It was during her undergrad that she found a passion for raptor research and conservation. For the next eight years, she traveled around the country working various field jobs focused on avian research. From jumping in swamps for Snail Kite surveys in the Everglades National Park to trapping and banding Golden Eagles in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Sarah has pursued her passion while also meeting amazing people along the way. After working with such diverse communities, Sarah discovered a lack of understanding between the public and scientific community. She also realized her greatest joy was interacting with the public and sharing experiences of her work. Finding her calling, Sarah switched her career to focus on environmental education. While pursuing her degree at SOU and beyond, Sarah hopes to bridge the gap between the public and scientific community through education programs and citizen science projects.

Sujan Subedi Bio PicSujan Subedi is from Pokhara, Nepal. Growing up in the tourism capital of Nepal, he was always attracted to hiking and camping. His inborn proclivity towards nature and environment was complemented by a BSC degree from Institute of Forestry in Forestry where he participated in various plantation programs, cleanliness programs, conservation rallies and extension programs. Later after graduation, he followed up on his education by joining several seminars, trainings and workshops organized by green groups such as Federation of Community Forestry User group Nepal (FECOFUN), National Youth for Climate Action (NYCA), and Clean Energy Nepal (CEN). His area of interest is studying the relationship and interactions between natural and human systems to better understand the world around him. He hopes to use his previous knowledge and the knowledge he obtains from S.O.U. to teach the next generation about the importance of forest management and sustainability for the future.

Ellie Thompson Bio PicEllie Thompson developed her love for nature and the outdoors at a very young age. As soon as she could walk, she began exploring the family farm in Eugene, Oregon and the ponds behind her house—collecting flowers, insects, and minnows to observe and marvel at. Her family vacations consisted of camping and hiking all over Oregon, spending days kayaking the remote Owyhee River, and visiting many natural history museums; learning about the land and its native flora and fauna. Her inquisitive mind and passion for learning about the world around her drove her to pursue a degree in biology at Portland State University. While she loved her major, she wasn’t sure what career to pursue after college. It wasn’t until she stood on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, in Malaysian Borneo, that she realized what she wanted to do. Witnessing the devastation of one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world was a powerful experience that lit a fire of passion for conservation and education in her. She is excited to work to light that same fire in people of all ages after she graduates from Southern Oregon University’s Environmental Education program.

Alyssa Wiens Bio PicAlyssa Wiens grew up just outside of the Birthplace of Rock ’n Roll, Memphis, TN. Growing up, most of her free time was spent playing underneath the giant oaks in her backyard. Her love of nature and working with kids led her to pursue a degree in Environmental Conservation at Mississippi State University. She soon realized that measuring how many 2×4’s you can get out of a tree was not her calling and decided to switch majors. Careful deliberation led her to obtaining a degree in Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture where she got to learn all the plants and animals, but didn’t have to measure any of them. During her undergrad, an internship with the U.S. Forest Service at Land Between the Lakes NRA in Kentucky solidified her path to becoming an environmental educator. She headed north after graduation to Wisconsin to work as an instructor for Nature’s Classroom Institute, a residential environmental education program for schools. Desiring a degree in what she intends to do with her life, Alyssa made the trek to SOU and is finally fulfilling her dream of living in the Pacific NW. She looks forward to a lifetime of inspiring children to love this planet we call home.

Heather Wilson Bio PicHeather Wilson grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. Nature was very tame in the suburbs, but she got her wilderness fix through her family’s frequent travels. (She still suffers from the travel bug to this day.) Visiting parks and experiencing nature all over the country showed her the power and importance of wilderness. Enthralled with the natural world, Heather studied Biology at Iowa State University. During her undergraduate career, she discovered a joy for teaching others through tutoring and teaching assistantships. After graduating, Heather decided to take on a new kind of educational role as a park guide intern at Mammoth Cave National Park. Guiding thousands of visitors through the world’s longest cave was an incredible learning experience, and gave Heather all kinds of exciting skills and confidence. She took these skills back home to St. Louis where she worked as an interpretation assistant at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Heather knew she had found something great, and decided she wanted to learn more. She applied to the Environmental Education program at Southern Oregon University and the rest is history!

Flying Home

The erratic weather patterns of late winter seem to be the signal for birds to return to the Klamath Basin.  Some will stay in southern Oregon for the warmer months while others just lay over here as they journey along the Pacific Flyway.  With over 350 bird species migrating through the area and a significant concentration of bald eagles, the Klamath Basin is a winter haven for birds and birders alike.

I have been doing my own bit of migrating lately.  As a nontraditional student with a family and a career, I commute from my home in Keno, OR driving 110 miles a day to attend graduate school at SOU.  Imagine then, my delight, when our program director decided to lead a birding trip to the Klamath Basin to view Ferruginous Hawks and other migratory birds.  I would finally have the opportunity to share my home with these people who have become my second flock.     

Early on that crisp March morning, seven members of the Environmental Education cohort piled into Subaru Outbacks (stereotypical, right?) to make the journey from Ashland to Keno.  They came in their own kind of winter plumage dressed in cold weather gear, and equipped with binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird guides.

Owls_Klamath Basin_By JohnWe started the day along Townsend Rd., a.k.a. “raptor road” due to the plethora of birds of prey which can be found there.  We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Rough-Legged Hawks hunting the open fields.  The highlight of raptor road was two Great Horned Owls perched above an irrigation ditch. John, the photographer of our group, cautiously made his way around the canal to capture this amazing photograph just before the owls took flight down the canal.  

Flock_Klamath Basin_By JohnNext, we moved on to the Klamath Wildlife Refuge along Stateline Rd.  This vast marsh area is home to abundant water fowl and shore birds.  It was salt and pepper skies as thousands of Ross’s Geese flew in.  Our professor had fun challenging us to a game of ‘name that waterfowl’ as we fumbled through our bird books trying to identify the many species on the water.  I can definitively say that we all got the Northern Pintail right.  

Sandhills_Klamath Basin_By JohnJust outside of the refuge, we spotted Sandhill Cranes mixed in with livestock drinking from a pond.   Joyful expletives were shouted as we rushed out of the cars to get a better view of the birds which for some in the group was their first crane encounter.  This moment depicted all that I love about living in the Klamath Basin: spectacular natural resources, wildlife, and people, existing in juxtaposition.   

Fruggy_Klamath Basin_By JohnThe final leg of our trip took us across the California border near Dorris to find Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Ferruginous Hawks.  At one point, we found all three perched on a single irrigation line.  As I watched these large birds of prey take off and soar above us, I couldn’t help but be envious of their ability to fly (it sure would make my commute easier).  

As we pulled into my driveway at the end of the day, we noticed a Merlin resting on a utility post across the street.  One last bird to close out this epic birding adventure.    

To learn more about birding in the Klamath Basin, visit .

 Below is the full list of birds we saw on this trip.  

-Common Raven

-Lewis’s Woodpecker

-Stellar’s Jay

-American Robin

-Black-billed Magpie

– Great Blue Heron

– Canada Geese

-Rough-legged Hawk


-Red-winged Blackbird


-Red-tailed Hawk (Dark morphs and regular plumage)

-House Finch

-Great Horned Owl

-Common Merganser

-Common Goldeneye

-Lesser Scaup

-Tundra Swan

-Northern Pintail

-Greater White-fronted Goose

-American Wigeon


-Northern Shoveler

-Ruddy Duck (Winter plumage)

-American Coot

-Bald Eagle

-Ross’s Goose (One dark morph was spotted)

-Eared Grebe

-Sandhill Crane

-Ferruginous Hawk

-Say’s Phoebe

-Golden Eagle

-Northern Harrier

-American Kestrel

-Downy Woodpecker




+ 1 coyote

Written by:  Christy Vanrooyen

Pictures by:  John Ward

The Eco-talk & One of the Seven Wonders of Oregon

Southern Oregon University is home to a diversity of majors. With only 16 students, our Environmental Education Masters program is one of the smaller programs at SOU.  This year, we have students involved with the SOU Farm, KS Wild, Bee Girl, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, Sanctuary One, and countless other projects my Cohort will shame me for not mentioning. Working to better connect our program to campus resources and the student body, we have begun developing connections with other campus groups.

Two such groups, are the Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center (ECOS) and the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program (OAL). One common goal among our programs is to promote environmental stewardship. If we can’t respect the areas in which we like to recreate, the magic of those places is lost. Having forged relationships with ECOS and OAL through the involvement of our graduate students in campus activities, our program had a unique opportunity to educate students from a variety of majors on a Crater Lake snowshoeing trek. Unable to book a Park Ranger, ECOS and OAL reached out to our Environmental Education Master’s program to offer an ecological talk. Having learned about the history of the Pacific Northwest, Fish and Fisheries, and Invertebrate Biology from Fall courses, we were already well on our way to becoming suitable interpretive specialists ourselves. Delaying my studies an additional day, I took on the challenge of leading an ecological talk. On the ground, the 40 participants would soon learn the history of Crater Lake, the ecology of this unique geological feature and the organisms that inhabit this region.

Matt TalkI was thankful to get some insider information from our very own (former) Park Ranger, Ashley Waymouth. Apparently, February is among the best times to visit Crater Lake National Park. With some 20ft of white snowpack overlaying the giant rim of our hidden gem, it’s another world. A colosseum of jagged edge surrounds the deep blue waters of Crater Lake. To me, it appears prehistoric. To many Oregonians it’s one of the seven wonders of Oregon.

After winding through a beautiful maze of snow in sub-alpine forest, we reached the rim (some 7,000-8,000ft in elevation). Unable to see the lake from our position, participants were quick to strap our snowshoes on, learning a few tricks from the Outdoor Program (run by OAL students). Eager to get eyes on the site for my ecological talk, I set off with the first group of snowshoers. It wasn’t long before we encountered stories along the path.

Immediately, the first group encountered tracks in the snow! With perfectly placed tracks atop one another, at a slight angle, the tracks in view appeared to have 5 toes. Upon further inspection, following the spore up a steep embankment, 4 separate tracks emerged! Four small tracks with rounded toe pads, made their way towards an outcrop of trees. Clawless and less than 1.5”, it could only be one animal… the elusive bobcat! Active in winter, these carnivores hunt small mammals traveling through the snowpack. Few bear witness to their beauty, and we were fortunate to see sign of one.

Further ahead, rippling calls revealed a few robin-sized birds in the distance. This would be a perfect opportunity for our scheduled ecological talk! Only a mile or so in from Rim Village, participants were already sweating. I was, at least. It was a bright sunny day, and many were comfortable snowshoeing in a light sweatshirt or jacket. The snowshoes students had checked out from the SOU Outdoor Program were holding well. If only I had remembered my sunglasses! As we neared a clearing ahead, those robin-sized birds welcomed us to Discovery Point. They were Clarke’s Nutcrackers, a special species in this region. These birds are symbiants with the white bark pine that surround the rim of Crater Lake. White bark twisting, with scraggly branches, white bark pines may as well be the wizards of tree folk. These twisted trees support the Clarke’s Nutcracker with seeds from their cones. Few creatures are able to harvest seeds from their fortress cones. Clarke’s Nutcrackers are able to retrieve the seeds from within the cones and help distribute them. Foolishly forgetting some of their stashed seeds, these forgotten seeds will develop into saplings and form the next generation of white bark pine.

Students were also excited to learn about the history of Crater Lake National Park. Did you know that Crater Lake is North America’s deepest lake at 1,943ft! It’s also arguably the bluest (you’ll agree with me when you see it). With no inflow or outflow from the steep rocky rim that surrounds the lake, it certainly has the appearance of a crater. But this geological feature was once one of the towering peaks in Oregon. Mt. Mazama as it was known, was a large volcano built up by gaseous mounds upon mounds. When it blew some 7,700 years ago, spreading ash and pumice 10 square cubic miles, this massive giant collapsed forming a caldera. Over time, rain and snowmelt filled the caldera forming what we know today as Crater Lake. I could go on and on, and Ashley could tell you countless stories from her time as a Park Ranger… but we’re in graduate school. We don’t have time for that.

After our ecological talk at Discovery Point, Crater Lake. I passed around some pelts and other materials from our Educational Kits that our program checks out to schools across Southern Oregon. Learning comes easy when you’re able to use a variety of your senses, even for college students. This is a technique we have been practicing often in our program. In the end, I received several comments that the ecological talk was among the favorite experiences on the trip. That, and the Newman O cookies that were distributed at lunch.

Matt Talk 2


Written by: Matthew Solberg

Featured Photo by: Ashley Waymouth

Additional Photos by: Sydney Lund