Category Archives: Environmental Education

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

In Search of Invertebrates.

On November 10th, several of our cohort members went on a field trip to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology  (OIMB) with Dr. Carol Ferguson’s Invertebrate Zoology class.  The purpose of the field trip was to meet with biologists working on marine invertebrate research, observe marine invertebrates in their natural habitats, and have a fun experience in an exciting location.

OIMB is located on the Oregon Coast, in Charleston, OR, and acts as the marine station for the University of Oregon.  Upon arrival, the visiting students from Cohort 9, along with several other SOU students, quickly made themselves at home in the dorms and, then, went out for a night exploration of the Charleston Boat Docks.  Using flashlights and headlamps, students explored the nearby marina for anemones, sea stars, crabs and more, all of which utilize 15094288_10154325375494690_1494818490654910913_nthe docks for habitat.  The highlight of the evening was the discovery and observation of a marine polychaete swimming near the docks and responding to our flashlights.

The following morning, the visiting students were welcomed for a complete tour of the facility and were able to talk with several of the students that are currently studying at OIMB.  The institute houses undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students as they take courses and pursue research projects in the field of marine biology.  The research happens on site in various labs with multiple saltwater tanks, scanning electron microscopes, a confocal microscope, and DNA analysis machines that utilize PCR to amplify DNA sequences.  Current research projects include how caffeine induces tetraploidy in certain inverts, how certain fatty acids are transferred through trophic levels and how parasites affect that transfer, and the reproductive cycle of cold-seep mussels in deep ocean ecosystems.  These are all very special opportunities for students, who get to explore topics, design their own projects, and carry them out.  This sometimes 20161111_100437includes the use of research vessels, including manned and unmanned submersibles.

Aside from touring OIMB, SOU students were also allowed to visit the Charleston Marine Life Center.  Here, they were able to touch and observe several unique species of marine invertebrates in touch tanks and aquariums.  Some of the more interesting ones included nudibranchs, armored sea slugs, and an octopus.  They were 20161111_113905also able to converse with some experts in marine biology and explore amazing exhibits about the local marine ecosystem.

After lunch, the class went tide-pooling at Cape Arago.  Armed with rain jackets, rubber boots, and laminated field guides, the students struck out searching for tidal invertebrates.  Thirty-four different marine species 15094264_10154325363749690_563838647025621390_nwere found including gumboot chiton, sea anemones, and multiple species of sea stars.  However, the most exciting might have been the clown nudibranch that was found by Melissa Donner and Morgyn Ellis.  

On the final morning at OIMB, the visiting students packed up, ate breakfast, and headed out to visit the Interpretive Center at the State of Oregon South Slough Estuarine Reserve, which was the first national marine reserve in the United States.  Here, students explored several exhibits about the importance of the South Slough Reserve and were able to buy some fun momentos at the gift shop.  They then returned to OIMB for a presentation from Scott Groth, the Pink Shrimp and South Coast Shellfish Project leader with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Scott shared his expertise with the invertebrate zoology class, discussing the multiple invertebrate fisheries in Oregon and how they are managed.

This all created a wonderful experience for everyone that was involved.  Hearing about ongoing research projects and getting to see and touch wild invertebrates sparked interest and fostered creativity in nearly every student on the trip, all of which was enhanced by the passion for the subject and expertise of Dr. Carol Ferguson.  And now for the question that we are all surely wondering… When can we go back?


Written By: John Ward

Photos By: Dr. Carol Ferguson, John Ward, Alessandro Broido, and Malia Sutphin

Earth Day

As another Earth Day comes upon us I think it is important to take some time to reflect on what Earth Day means to us.  The first ever Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 and was the idea of Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin senator.  Nelson was inspired by the many political protests on the 1960s and sought to harness that energy toward a developing public consciousness about pollution.  The first Earth Day was a great success and people across the spectrum gave support to a day to celebrate the earth and it lent a hand in passing the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the years have gone by Earth Day has spread across the globe and has brought environmental issues and action onto the world stage.

Today Earth Day celebrations come in all different shapes and sizes.  Parks offer clean ups and family friendly activities, political groups rally around environmental causes, fairs and festivals take place gathering people together to “love your mother [Earth]” as the bumper stickers say.  Here at Southern Oregon University there are an array of events from pollinator celebrations, to musical performances, to bike rides, and discovering ways to get involved with environmental groups both on and off campus.  On Saturday the 25th the Rogue Valley celebrates Earth Day with an event at Science Works where anyone can join in and see what different groups are doing in the Rogue Valley to have a positive impact on the environment.

As Environmental Educators this day may be one of the most important to our cause.  It is a day that reminds people that the earth is in need and individuals have the power to do something about it.  It is a day where we can easily connect with people who are already conscious of environmental issues or educate those who are unaware of problems and help to work toward solutions.  It is a day we should celebrate and enjoy what the earth has given us and make sure we give something back.  So weather you choose to celebrate Earth Day by joining in a rally, picking up some trash, or maybe just taking a moment to enjoy a little nature remember all the work that is being done by our planet and by people working toward a cause and celebrate.

For more information on SOU and Rogue Valley Earth Day events please visit:

Fall in the Field 2015: Rooted in Discovery

Cohort 7 is proud to introduce Fall in the Field 2015: Rooted in Discovery.

For those of you who may not know, Fall in the Field is a place-based capstone experience for SOU Environmental Education Master’s students. Each cohort designs residential and non-residential environmental education programs for and delivers them each fall. This allows emerging environmental educators to put into practice what they have learned in the program and provide a much needed service to students throughout Southern Oregon. This year, we will be accepting classes from grades 4-12 (grade range varies by site).

The residential and day programs are offered at three field sites this year. Residential programs are held at the Siskiyou Field Institute’s Deer Creek Center for Field Research and Education in Selma, OR. Day programs are offered at two sites in and around Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument off of Hwy 66 near the Green Springs Summit, and this year we are introducing a pilot day program at Ashland Pond in Ashland, Oregon. All programs are aligned to interdisciplinary state standards including Science, English, Math, Social Sciences, and much more.

This year’s theme is “Rooted in Discovery: Explore our space, Find our place.” The phrase was born from our collective interest in guiding students to explore connections in nature, with nature, and with each other. By discovering the world around them, we hope students will gain a better understanding of their environment and the role they play in their communities, ultimately rooting them in discovery.

For more information, check out our Fall in the Field website or contact us at (541) 552-6876 or We’d love to have your class be a part of our program!

Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

A few years ago I worked at an outstanding outdoor science school in southern California and had the privilege of moving into a program coordinator position. At the time, I had no idea what this position would entail.  None of us really did.  We were in need of inspiration to get us started for the year.

After speaking to our boss’s wife, a brilliant and motivated local teacher, she directed us to Los Angeles teacher Rafe Esquith. You may have heard of him. Just a few of his honors include the 1992 Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, A Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, Oprah Winfrey’s “Use Your Life Award”, and he was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. If you would like to read one of his New York Times Bestsellers, check out There Are No Shortcuts or Lighting Their Fires.

Rafe Esquith
Rafe Esquith

This man writes of truths that have a place in every classroom (inside or outside). For example, the simple aspect of building trust among your students, rather than fear, is crucial to establishing a working system within your class.

Teach Like Your Hair

Esquith also devotes a chapter of his book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. As my reading began, I felt that this concept transcended not only every aspect of teaching, but also our everyday involvement with other human beings. These levels are so beautifully simple, yet require a lifetime of work to accomplish. Please read on for a brief summary of Kohlberg’s Six Levels.  As you read through these six levels, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

What are my motivations for some of my decisions, actions or behaviors?  How can I work up towards the sixth level?  How can I create a teaching environment that encourages students (of all ages) to aspire towards the sixth level?  

Are you eager to know what these are yet? Then read on…

Continue reading Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

Kids and Creeks- A Day of Exploration!

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