The Water Ouzel

Out of the corner of my eye I catch the flit of a dark, buzzing bird flying low over the water of Ashland Creek, just above Lithia Park. I’ve caught the melodic babbling brook song over the breeze (Click here for song and another). I pause, and search the riffles and tops of boulders for my favorite denizen of the sky and water, the Water Ouzel.

The Water Ouzel (ouzel) Cinclus mexicanus, or American Dipper (AMDI, dipper), as it is recognized by the American Ornithologist’s Union, is a small dark bird that lives a relatively secretive life in the Western United States’ clear, fast-flowing mountain waters. Being closely related to the wren family, the ouzel is most easily recognized by its slender insect-picking beak, upright-angled tail, and erratic flitting and foraging.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of this small bird is its prowess in the air and water. Much like me on a tropical vacation, the ouzel spends much of its time with its head underwater, looking for its audubonAMDInext meal (though I’m only a silent observer). American Dippers feed on macroinvertebrates, the aquatic larvae of insects, like the stonefly, mayfly, and caddisfly. This unique ability is facilitated by the AMDI’s transparent nictitating membrane, a protective longitudinal moving extra eyelid; an insect eating wren-like beak; strong legs; long, grasping toe-nails; and short powerful wings. While snorkeling, the ouzel moves along on underwater stones and cobbles, searching for tasty morsels. When satisfied with its gleaning in an area, the ouzel flits upstream or downstream, landing on the occasional mid-stream boulder to sing and call. When just the right riffle has been found, the ouzel returns to its feast.

On the walks that I am lucky enough to spy my favorite bird, I know that I am blessed. Nature reveals its secrets to the patient, brave, and passionate. As I sit and watch what I have now come to call my Water Ouzel, the worries of the day, week, and month drift away. I watch this small being in wonder. Alone on the boulder in the big riffle, the little soul sings its heart out in trills, whistles, and buzzes, then flits to a small riffle and begins searching for a bite to eat. In its little niche, the dipper has found its place. Flying up and down this quieter reach, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Ashland, this dipper is wild and free.



Walking Home

We cowered under Joshua trees during a hailstorm in the Mojave Desert, ran out of food just past Mt. Whitney, had a fight over whose turn it was to carry the tent on Mt. San Jacinto, and struggled through endless snow-covered mountain passes. We baked in the desert; we froze in the Sierras. We carried too much water near Kennedy Meadows; we didn’t carry enough water over Hat Creek Rim. We earned painful blisters from the wrong shoes; we chafed on our thighs, armpits, and shoulders. From Mexico to Ashland, my boyfriend, Andrew, and I hiked the infamous Pacific Crest Trail.

pic whitney
The top of Mt. Whitney

But amidst all the inevitable struggling that comes when two Midwesterners who have never backpacked before decide to walk 1,726 miles on a remote 18-inch wide path
through the wilds of the west, we witnessed so much beauty. The sunset over Mt. Shasta, coyotes yipping in the desert twilight, cerulean alpine lakes near Yosemite. We watched a down-wind bear rip apart a log for grubs, fell asleep under the clearest sky we’d ever seen, and ate lunch on carpets of wildflowers.

But through it all, a single question kept arising:

“What the #&^* is that!?”

pic shasta sunset
Mt. Shasta sunset

I grew up in northern Michigan, Andrew in southern Ohio, and we went to college in North Carolina and Ohio, respectively. We both moved around quite a bit after undergrad, living in New York City, Washington D.C., Madagascar, Utah, Mississippi, my native northern Michigan, and aboard a Semester at Sea vessel. I did briefly live in Davis, CA, but never really got outside the Central Valley. So, we had effectively never before been in the mountains of California and Oregon prior to our PCT adventure. We honestly didn’t know a ponderosa pine from a Douglas fir or a Steller’s jay from a scrub jay. The first time I saw a marmot, I jumped back in astonishment, quickly announcing to Andrew that I had just seen “a beaver without a beaver tail.”

pic marmot
They do kind of look like beavers, right?

When we arrived in Ashland in July, Andrew continued hiking the trail north, while I stopped to begin taking the requisite summer courses with my cohort, one of which was Stewart Janes’ Environmental Issues class. In this class, not only did I learn the difference between pines and firs, I learned to look at the cones to tell the difference between ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, the buds to determine Douglas firs from white firs. I learned that the tempting red berries with the maple-like leaves I saw everywhere along the northern California PCT were called thimbleberries, and that they were edible. (I could have been eating them the whole time!)

pic lupine
Lupine in northern California

I learned that what Andrew and I had called the “devil plant” due to its sharp spines was actually called yellow star thistle, an extremely virulent invasive that can cause a neurological disorder in horses if consumed. I learned that the trees that reminded me of the southern magnolias on Duke’s campus were called Pacific madrones and that they store energy in an underground lignotuber as a fire adaptation. The plant I thought of as holly on the PCT was actually Oregon grape (the state flower) and those grooves in fallen trees were made by bark beetle larvae. The carpets of wildflowers we walked through were lupine, and the blue-bellied lizards skittering beneath our feet were called western fence lizards and could rid a tick of Lyme disease.

pic 1,000 miles
Celebrating a milestone!

Because we were mystified most of the time on the trail and didn’t have names for the plants and animals we saw everyday, arriving in Ashland by foot primed me for learning post-trail more than any other mode of travel could have. Yes, I arrived in Ashland with the strongest legs and the most sun-bleached eyebrows I will ever have, but most importantly, I arrived with my eyes wide open to the natural world. I came wanting information, hungry to feel grounded in the strange world through which I had been walking the last few months. The PCT taught me so many things, from how to feel pretty without makeup on to how to feel comfortable relying on just myself and one other person. But the most important thing the trail gave me was a sense of wonder for the new environment in which I found myself, a craving that let me learn about this place. To learn how to call it 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:

Poison Oak, the Lurking Plant

Toxicodendron diversilobum. Until October 2015, poison oak was just another plant with the potential of causing minor irritation to me.

Having grown up in Colorado I had trained my eyes to look for stinging nettle and poison ivy, and though I have had many a run in with stinging nettle, it was nothing a little rubbing alcohol couldn’t cure. So when I first began adventuring in the Northwest woods, a stronghold of poison oak, I kept a weary, albeit lazy, eye out for this unfamiliar, lurking nemesis.

Poison oak grows ubiquitously throughout Oregon, west of the Cascades. It is found in the ponderosa shrub forests, amongst the chaparral shrubs, in the shade of the oaks, and along the coast. Its growth fpoisonoakorm ranges from a trailing vine, reaching high for the sun, to a short and
spindly pseudo-shrub, to a robust grouping of groping, poison stems. Poison oak leaves resemble those of oak in their lobed appearance, and one can recall the foreboding “Leaves of three, leave it be” when setting out for a romp in the woods. Spring and summer will present a display of small flowers and white fruits, called drupes. Starting in early fall, bright green leaves begin to turn a sunset orange-red hue and by early November, they have fallen.

A poison oak rash, when it’s bad, is really, really bad. It’s not just an itch. It’s not just a burn. It’s some terrible concoction of the two that begs to be scratched, rubbed, and iced. It makes you moan in agony as you search the depths of your memory for when you got the few drops of the not-so-innocuous oil on your right wrist and left cheekbone.

The oily sap of poison oak, or urushiol, causes mild to severe contact dermatitis on the areas of skin it touches. And much to the chagrin of the outdoor enthusiast, trace amounts of the oil can stay on surfaces for days, weeks, months, even years, waiting for a touch of naked skin. Urushiol is found in all parts of the poison oak plant –living or dead—including leaves, stems, and roots. In fact, when poison oak is burned, the oils volatilize and can cause severe allergic reactions in the lungs of those who inhale the smoke.

Interestingly enough, poison oak is a popular browse for Pacific black-tailed deer and range livestock, as it is rich in phosphorous, calcium, and sulfur, and does not evoke the painful allergic reaction seen in humans. In Native American cultures various parts of the plant were used; both as a basket textile and medicinal herb. Popular American folklore even claims that drinking the milk of a goat that has eaten poison oak will render the drinker immune to the unpleasant consequences of interacting with the plant.

My doctor told me I had very likely picked the oils up from my dog’s fur. And unfortunately, I do not own a milking goat that eats poison oak. After a heavy two week dose of Prednisone and numerous washes with Tecnu©, my face and wrist were home free, but my mind remains a prisoner of this plant.

Yet, like we all must, I continue the trek into the unknown. I do my best to keep an eye out for this formidable plant, but am reminded that even the best intentions can still procure unwanted results. In my quest to make meaning out of all things unfortunate, here is what I learned from poison oak: be grateful for the health you have, because even a few small drops of oil can temporarily take it from you; be patient, even the greatest temptations, like scratching, are sometimes best left alone; and finally, love those that love you for you, because only true love can still kiss someone with puffy, splotchy eyelids and a red, swollen cheek.

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.

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