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books Stephanie Burgart

Confessions of a Bibliophile

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

It has been almost two years now since I graduated with my Masters in Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and North Cascades Institute’s unique graduate program. My memories are filled with the laughter of Mountain School students, Professor John Miles’ New “Hampsha” accent and endless views of Diablo Lake. While I miss the sunshine, quiet and darkness up there in the mountains, there are days where I also long for the library, research and studying. It may be shocking to some, but it’s true: we did actually do traditional learning and coursework during the residency. With images of the graduate students gallivanting around snowy peaks, dense forests and playing in the sunshine, it is easy for parents and friends to wonder if we were actually trying to “learn anything” in the program. Of course, it’s a very big “yes”.

We were all there to learn. Sure, Dr. Miles did an excellent job of getting us out into the world we preach about, but there were also the necessary times of studying inside. You can’t read heaps of homework out in the rain, at least not everyday. Deer Creek Shelter, for example, is a wonderful place for respite, but I doubt a LAN cord to connect to the servers will reach that far (though I’ve no doubt Nick Mikula, one of my fellow graduates, tried it at least once). Large portions of curriculum writing, nonprofit work and research for various projects all happen in front of the screen or book, but one of the best parts was the individuality of all this learning.

The amount and types of research varied from student to student. Taken out of context, some of the reading we do as experiential environmental educators could come across as crazy. For me, I’m pretty sure the WWU library has me flagged, and with the recent National Security Agency and “Big Brother” news going on, I wouldn’t blame them. I’m into some pretty amazing stuff.

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Searching for the dream

June 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

I work in a room with no windows. All day I watch the refracted light from the skylight, which is made from those swirly glass blocks, dance and change on the floor. Sometimes, my coworker and I look up in surprise and wonder what’s going on when the sun bursts forth from the clouds and a giant beam of light shines into our room. We notice the natural light so much because we try to keep the harsh, florescent, overhead lights off as much as we can.

"window"the skylight, as mentioned above

Sometimes while I’m riding the bus to and from work, I think about how different my current job is from what my graduate school experience was just over a year ago. The mountains, the mama bear and her cubs, the darkness, the moss and lichen, the quiet, the snow, and the leaves of different trees pass through my mind. It’s so different to teach in the outdoors instead of a classroom.

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Leaving the Learning Center: A graduate student reflects back

August 20th, 2011 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Lily the black bear and her two cubs stop by for a visit. They’re seen almost every day! Photo by John Harter

The summer has been whizzing by at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center! Families, children, adults, and black bears alike have been visiting and lounging amongst the Douglas firs and huckleberry bushes here on Diablo Lake. Most of the graduate M.Ed. students are out in the woods with high schoolers on their final North Cascades Wild and Cascades Climate Challenge trips, but a few have been holding down the fort. Elizabeth Penhollow has been changing lives through the Kulshan Creek Program, Stephanie Bennett and Nick Mikula have been immersed in interning for North Cascades National Park, and I have been working the Institute’s summer programs. It has been a fulfilling and busy summer for sure!

Water and sunlight create a beautiful summer rainbow over Diablo Lake. Photo by Stephanie Pate

Stephanie and Hannah orienting participants at the Memorial Day Family Getaway. photo: NCI

Summer canoe training with graduate student Stephanie Pate and Matt Chapman the education intern. Photo by Stephanie Pate.

Stephanie and her new friend at the August Family Getaway, one of the great programs! Photo Stephanie Pate.

Myself and all of cohort 10 are enjoying their summer. Sadly though, our residency is at a close, and it’s that time of year for the departure back to “civilization” as a new group of grads to begin their special time up in the mountains. This very real life example of the ever-changing cycle of life is bittersweet for some. Quiet mountain moments, hikes through the forests, laughing on the lake, and other great memories are abundant. I don’t want to leave this landscape that has been called home for a year but yet I am excited for the opportunities and adventures that await in Bellingham and beyond. Classes, buses, street lamps and new friends will fill my senses instead of the smells, sights, and sounds of the mountains. A new chapter is beginning, and yet one thing is for certain, whether a graduate student, staff member, or a visitor, this place is beautiful and holds a special place in our hearts.


Closer Connections

May 28th, 2011 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Each season the graduate students at North Cascades Institute go on a retreat. The purpose is relaxation, fun, and to learn a little more about natural history. For the spring season, myself and the other planners decided that getting out and exploring places closer to home would be perfect. A canoe ride across the lake, riparian exploration along the Skagit, and working the land at Blue Heron Farms became the main activities for a three-day stretch in May.

Imagine gray clouds. Cool and wet, the wind licks the skin. The 11 graduate students of Cohort 10 and their fearless leader, Tanya, piled backpacks, fire wood, food, and themselves into six tandem canoes, despite the 180 degree change in weather from the previous day. Spring had teased us with sunny skies while we worked with Mountain School students in and amongst the newly budding plants the day before. Making the best of it, our group set out towards the destination, Thunder Point campground, situated on the other side of Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park. Canoes slide in, paddles hit water, and the day began.

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