Category Archives: Cohort 8

Find Your Place: Musings from the Bear Creek Greenway

Bear Creek Greenway in the fall

In the summer, insects drone loudly beneath a thick canopy of riparian vegetation and ripe blackberries, while white fluff falls like snow. The future of Black Cottonwood trees along Bear Creek is certain. My wheels whir a harmony with the insects and the breeze down by the water is refreshing, a meditation to combat the southern Oregon heat. In the fall, cottonwood leaves dance pirouettes in the air, yellow-brown hearts strewn about the trail. School has started now, and I begin riding to Medford each Wednesday for my graduate teaching classes. A weekly celebration of bikes and the seasons and learning. Winter is stark. The rains are cold, but the path is clear of ice near the water, and the Great Blue Heron nests are now visible high in the trees. Bare branches reach for the sky, as I-5 traffic barrels past. cottonwood- The School for Aromatic StudiesThe path smells musty, like decomposing leaves, and we hope that spring will come again soon. Like clockwork it comes, with its sweet smell of lilacs and warmer days. The mornings come sooner and the rains are less chilling. Cottonwood buds emerge by the thousands coating the path with little brown bullets, resinous and fragrant. The smell is overwhelmingly delightful, like warmed beeswax inside a busy hive.

Riding my bike has always been a way for me to connect to the world around me. Everything seems so alive from my saddle: smells, sights, sounds, the feel of the air…all of it is so close, so present, so tangible and alive. I have traveled to great lengths and accomplished much on the seat of a bike. I have climbed mountain passes, slogged through three inches of snow, ridden from city to ocean, found hidden paths inaccessible to cars, and regularly glide by “rush hour” traffic in Ashland.

This past year, I have had the joy of getting to know the Bear Creek Greenway, a 20-mile trail that connects Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point with a single, concrete track. It meanders its way alongside Bear Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River that originates near Emigrant Lake. It is home to deer, salmon, and countless birds, including a notable Great Blue Heron rookery near Phoenix. During my rides along this path, I have written poems, had conversations with friends, watched the creek rise and fall with the seasons, and am always able to experience the world in the raw, even if I am riding through the pouring rain.Greenway

Riding a bike is just one way to feel connection with the natural world in our busy, technology-driven lives. As Karelia wrote in “The Water Ouzel,” a previous post, finding places to go back to again and again is essential for all humans, but most of all environmental educators. If we are to teach our students the importance of caring for and conserving beautiful places around them, we must practice what we preach.

NatureAwarenessI leave you with my favorite environmental education activity, “Secret Spots,” a classic EE activity written up by world-renowned environmental educator, Joseph Cornell. He encourages his audience of educators to feel connected to the places around them and pass this along to their students. Cornell’s bestselling book, Sharing Nature With Children, has now been updated 35 years later in an all-inclusive book called Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages. In this practice, the instructor allows his/her students to find their own “secret spot,” away from all other students. They return to this spot day after day, to write, draw, and observe how it changes. It is likely that we will never know every spot in our yard, our neighborhood, our town, or our favorite wilderness area, but it is important that we do form those connections as a modeling practice for our students, the future stewards of wild places. After all, as Jane Goodall reminds us, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”





The Sea within My Soul

“We all leave home to find home, at the risk of being forever lost.”  -Philip Hoare from The Sea Inside

I recently went out to dinner with a couple members of Cohort 8.  I always enjoy spending time and sharing a meal with the cohort outside the classroom.  It helps us strengthen the bonds we have formed throughout the program.  Additionally, the food is always delicious.  When I paid for my meal during this particular outing, the waitress noticed that I had something quite non-Oregonian about me.

“You are not from around here.  Where are you from?” the waitress asked.

“I’m from North Carolina,” I tell her.

I have introduced myself as a North Carolinian numerous times throughout my graduate school experience in the Master of Science in Environmental Education program at Southern Oregon University.  Although I originally hail from Illinois, North Carolina has been home for the past eleven years.  I drove over 2,900 miles from my hometown of Greenville, North Carolina, to start a new chapter in Ashland, Oregon.  With that long distance move came sacrifices.  I traded longleaf pines for ponderosas and coastal plains for mountain views.  The hardest topographic sacrifice I had to make, though, was trading the Atlantic Ocean for the Pacific.  On my first trip to the Oregon coast I asked myself, “This doesn’t seem right.  Where are all my sea oats?”

Sunset on the barrier island of Bald Head Island, North Carolina.

I felt out of place during my visit to the coast because it was so unlike the North Carolina shores and barrier islands I have grown to love.  Barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina are shaped by the wind and rain of storms that constantly change the landscape.  They serve as protection to mainland coastal communities during hurricanes.  One typical ecosystem of these islands includes the dunes.  The dunes may seem sparse of vegetation, but sea oats and other plants have deep roots that stabilize those systems.

View from a hike along Oregon’s coast.

The most striking contrast between the dunes of North Carolina’s beaches and Oregon’s coast is elevation.  While the dunes in North Carolina may resemble rolling hills, they do not compare to the majesty of the tall coastal mountains in Oregon.  The vegetation on these coastal mountains is comprised of coniferous forests and includes stands of Douglas firs and cedar trees.

Observing the tall stands of conifers along the Oregon coast greatly confused me, especially when I could hear the roar of the ocean.  The stark differences between the natural history along the coasts of North Carolina and Oregon also presented an opportunity for a personal study of coastal ecosystems.  I felt like Philip Hoare, author of The Sea Inside.  Hoare traveled across the globe detailing the world’s oceans and the personal connections humans have with the water.  From Southampton Water in England to New Zealand, Hoare presents natural, cultural, and personal histories of the ocean.  I dove into his prose while I read his book, and I took reflections of his travels to heart.  Hoare felt at ease in the water and the coastal communities he visited.  Like Hoare, I began to reflect on my own experiences.  I realized that I too have a connection to the sea.

From Philip Hoare:

In his book Hoare writes, “The sea sustains and threatens us, but it is also where we came from.”  I lived and worked as an Environmental Educator on the barrier island of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, during Summer 2014.  It was full of amazing, and sometimes contradictory, experiences.  The crashing waves and high tide of a hurricane brought stormy weather to the island, but when the storm moved, the sea was calm, plovers ran along the tide line, and tide pools exposed the intricate design of shells.  Bald Head Island changed me, just as the winds and storms constantly shaped the barrier island.  Those experiences are a part of me and have helped mold me into the environmental educator I am today.

I continue to return to the coast because I know that it is forever a part of my soul.  The roar of waves crashing on the beach is a familiar noise whether on the East coast or the West coast.  When I visit the beach and close my eyes, I am unable to differentiate between the shores of Bald Head Island and Cape Sebastian on the Oregon Coast Trail.  I return to what is familiar, and the coast forever represents home.

Whenever I introduce myself as a North Carolinian, such as I do to numerous people who fancy the conversation, they usually mention that I am a long way from home.  They are correct in that statement.  Home is not one place, though.  I left North Carolina and found wonder in Oregon, and I continue to do so every day.  I look towards the coast and listen to its sounds to remind myself that I am not lost.  I am home.

Zoos and Environmental Education

Throughout this holiday season, thousands of people flocked to their local zoo in hopes of immersing themselves in the lights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that many city zoos displayed as “Zoo Lights.” While this is a seasonal event that zoos provide as family-friendly entertainment, throughout the year, zoos also provide numerous environmental and conservation education opportunities. Many zoo visitors may only see the entertainment value in zoo visits, but it is almost impossible to go to a zoo without being educated about the environment and wildlife conservation. As David Grazian explains in his new book American Zoo: A Sociological Safari, zoos can be “centers of environmental education with the potential to mobilize audiences around issues of great import, from ocean pollution to climate change.”1 According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), zoos and aquariums are visited by 183 million people annually. This is just in the United States and only includes the approximately 220 zoos and aquariums accredited by the AZA. With this many visitors, zoos have a large platform upon which they can cultivate an environmentally literate community. In fact, this is a key focus for the Oregon Zoo located in Portland, OR.

ZoologoV130gold.pdfI had the pleasure of speaking with Alison Heimowitz, School and Teacher Liaison at the Oregon Zoo, who gave me some insight into the zoo’s innovative environmental education programs. Alison serves as the interface between schools and the zoo and coordinates the programs that go into Portland schools. One of the most recent programs is the Salmon Habitat Restoration Project. This program, which the zoo created for a Portland elementary school with a sustainability focus, teaches students about the biology of salmon, with each grade level focusing on a different aspect of salmon biology. For example, kindergarten learns about habitat, 1st grade learns about adaptations, 2nd biodiversity and so on. Students in 3rd grade study the life cycle of salmon by actually raising salmon from eggs and eventually releasing them into a nearby stream. Students also restored salmon habitat by planting trees along stream banks to create much needed shade, as salmon prefer cold water temperatures.


In addition to the school programs developed by the Oregon Zoo, there are a number of other education programs that take place within the zoo including zoo school, zoo teens, ZAP teens, and exhibit interpretation. Oregon Zoo’s commitment to education has led to the expansion of the education center, which is currently under construction but should be opening in 2017.

Many zoos are situated smack dab in the middle of urban metropolises. This is not coincidence but by design. David Grazian explained that the first US zoos were created as “oases of nature” as a way to escape the industrial and urban development of the 19th and 20th centuries.1 Just because these zoos are in urban environments does not mean that there is not still potential for environmental education. John H. Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning, states in his article “Evidence for the Educational Value of Zoos and Aquariums” that “many members of the public do see zoo and aquarium experiences as vicarious wilderness experiences, and…for an increasing number of urban dwellers a visit to a zoo or aquarium may be the only ‘nature experience’ they have.”2 

Tracy-Aviary-LogoTracy Aviary, one of only two aviaries in the US to be accredited by the AZA, is situated in urban Salt Lake City, UT. The aviary has embraced its urban location and created an environmental education program entitled “Nature in the City.” Free and open to the public this family-oriented education program provides opportunities for participants to explore the nature that is all around us, even if we’re in the city. The programs take place in locations all around the city to show just how much nature is out there that may have been bypassed. In addition to “Nature in the City,” Tracy Aviary also offers Birds of the Great Salt Lake Wetland Tours. These daylong trips give participants a greater understanding of the significance of the Great Salt Lake as migratory bird stop over and nesting habitat. Although it may not take place directly in the city, this program still shows the urban dwellers of Salt Lake City that there are significant natural areas in close proximity that need our protection.3

If you ask an environmental educator why they do what they do, I’m sure many, if not all, will say they want to help connect people, kids especially, with nature. Well, this is a goal of many, if not all, zoos as well. In fact, there is a recent movement within the zoo community to create what are called “Nature Play” areas. The AZA, in partnership with The Walt Disney Company, are working to help zoos develop Family Nature Clubs. These will be “safe havens for unstructured nature play” which are “child-directed and allow for spontaneous learning” within AZA accredited zoos. There is vast research showing the mental and physical benefits of allowing children to play outside in nature, but much of the learning done by today’s children is so structured and focused on technology. These Family Nature Clubs will allow families to bond and learn about wildlife and nature while also fostering a conservation ethic through self-led discovery and shared experiences. As stated by the AZA, “More traditionally structured environmental education programs serve an important role in cultivating an environmental ethic, but direct experience with nature and opportunities for unstructured play in nature are at the heart of most environmental action in adulthood.”4 

g_ZNElogoOne of the zoos incorporating the ideas of nature play into their park is Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo which is part of Zoo New England. Through campaign efforts the zoo has raised money to build the Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo where families can experience and learn about red pandas through the Bamboo Climber, climb into a giant eagle’s nest to get an aerial view of the zoo, and track animals through the Tallgrass Maze. This interactive and experiential learning opportunity provides children and their families with much needed connection to nature while instilling them with conservation values.5

Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo “adventure play” area coming to Franklin Park Zoo

While many visitors may not realize it, zoo education expands far beyond the interpretive signs in front of the animal exhibits that guests may or may not read. Zoos are creating opportunities for guests of all ages to connect to nature, become environmentally literate, and participate in conservation action. With about 1 in every 10 people visiting a zoo this year, zoos really can and do make a difference in educating people about our natural world.

For more information:

1 American Zoo: A Sociological Survey

2 Evidence for the Educational Value of Zoos and Aquariums

3 Tracy Aviary: Nature in the City

4 Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium Resources

5 Franklin Park Zoo Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo


Featured image from The Oregon Zoo:

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.