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Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

November 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Adventures

By Mike Rosekrans

For the North Cascades Institute’s 14th cohort of Graduate M.Ed. students, it was a year marked with adventure, struggle, triumph and togetherness.

Our cohort is a very tight-knit, close community where we all share our various skills and talents with one another to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable living arrangement, and family for that matter. From Petra’s primitive skills to Kelly’s crafting projects and to Kevin’s rock climbing, we each bring something special to the group, sharing our lives, talents, hopes, dreams and abilities with one another to improve and enhance each other’s lives and to make the world a better place.

After a year of living in the North Cascades — a year that saw “fire and rain and sunny days that we thought would never end,” to quote James Taylor — it was time for our cohort to transition to the second year of the program at Huxley College of the Environment on the Western Washington University campus. (After a cohort does the residency program at the North Cascades Institutes’ Environmental Learning Center for a year, they “trek” down to Bellingham to finish the degree.) It seemed only fitting that leave our homes in the mountain for the city of Bellingham by traveling the river that connected us from the Environmental Learning Center to our new home on the Salish Sea: the mighty Skagit River. We realized that eventually our time at the Environmental Learning Center and campus portion in Bellingham would merge into one, and a river runs to it.

» Continue reading Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

Zachary with Hawk

Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

November 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Woke up at 0555 to a pack of coyotes (Canis latrans) howling and barking in a playful manner with one another for about ten minutes. During this time a barred owl (Stix varia) was making some small hooting. Still very dark, the weather was mostly fog with a 70 yard visibility at 40*F.

This is how my journal entry for the 2015 Fall Natural History retreat started on October 8th, 2015.  As part of the Graduate Program at North Cascades Institute, the fifteen of us students  in the newest cohort along with our instructors Joshua Porter and Lindsey MacDonald went over to the Methow Valley to get first hand experience with our natural home. As future environmental educators, it is vital for us to understand our local ecosystem through experience so that we can lead the next generation in outdoor experiences.  With this trip in particular, the first day focused on beavers, while the second on hawks.

We had spent the night in the Gardner Hut on Rendezvous Pass.  When we awoke we heard a chorus of coyotes and owls, but could not see them due to two factors: low visibility due to heavy fog and little sunlight, and rather comfortable and warm sleeping bags. Despite this, we packed up, ate breakfast, and heading for Winthrop.

Ponderosa at Gardner Hut

Packing up from our night in the Gardner Hut. Two Ponderosa Pine are pictured.

» Continue reading Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

Classroom in Bloom Circle

Classroom in Bloom: Growing the locavores of tomorrow

October 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Hot. Dry. Dusty. A perfect description for the Methow Valley, an area currently in a severe drought. So it was rather surprising then when the new graduate cohort arrived to the Methow Elementary School to see an oasis of a garden in full bloom!

Classroom in Bloom Learning Circle

Learning circle space in the middle of the garden.

Part of our Graduate Program curriculum is to study local environmental education programs for examples of how we can give students different educational experiences. Classroom in Bloom is a nonprofit founded in 2004 that works with the Methow Elementary School to provide curriculum to the students based on growing food. The actual garden is located 100 yards away from the school, making transfer of students and food back and forth as easy as running outside for recess.

Kate Posey, the Executive Director of CiB, met with us first thing in the morning to explain that that day was Local Food Lunch and the students’ “farmer’s market” day. With that half of the cohort went to go help the fourth grade class with their market, while the other half went to wash carrots.

While washing the carrots, Kate explained that not only does this garden provide a space for students to learn hands-on experience, but it also produces food that the students eat. Two Thousand pounds worth each year. We were washing carrots that were planted, harvested, and soon to be eaten by the students. How much more local could you get?

As we finished up, it was time to go to lunch in the cafeteria, with food provided not only from the garden but also local growers in the valley.

Classroom in Bloom Plate

The colorful local school lunch.

» Continue reading Classroom in Bloom: Growing the locavores of tomorrow


The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

» Continue reading The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

Uplift Group

Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the pillars of North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. graduate program is a “sense of place.” This can be hard to define, but often includes an understanding of the natural landscape, knowledge of cultural history, and the feeling of community. Over the past nine months, the mountains of the North Cascades and the shore of Diablo Lake have become a second (or third, or fourth) home. There is another place that has always felt like home: the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau is a 130,000 square mile area that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. It is home to ten National Parks, 17 National Monuments, the Colorado River, and mountains standing up to 11,000 feet high.

The Colorado Plateau gave me my most rewarding employment and confirmed for me that I am destined for a life outdoors and many years of teaching. It was there that I first developed a deep connection with land and learned innumerable lessons about myself. So, I when I heard about the Grand Canyon Trust holding a conference in mid-April, I knew I had to go. With the blessing of all the staff at North Cascades Institute, I flew to Flagstaff, AZ on April 17th.

» Continue reading Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau


Path for Youth: Emma Ewert

May 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Fifteen year after attending North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School at Newhalem, Emma Ewert is coming full circle. This fall, she will join our fifteenth cohort in the Masters of Environmental Education degree program and teaching Mountain School!

Emma attended Mountain School with her 5th grade classroom from Lopez Elementary School, where her father Greg Ewert was a teacher.

“We were at the Newhalem campground and what I remember most is the rain,” she recalls. “It rained a lot and we were outside most of the time, yet we still had so much fun.”

Emma still remembers learning the names of Cascadia’s native trees, and today can point out a Western hemlock or Douglas fir. She also recalls learning the cultural history of many plants, such as nettles, and how enthusiastic the instructors were.

She felt comfortable at Mountain School because of a lifetime spent exploring the outdoors with her family, including frequent trips to the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula.

“It is so important to get kids to learn where they come from, what we have here,” she says. “If we don’t understand what we have, it is easier to not to take care of it. Making decisions about sustainability and conservation is much easier if you have already learned to love it.  This is especially important since we are so urban these days.”

Later on, Emma left Lopez Island to study international development abroad. She returned back to Lopez when her father got cancer and, with her mom and two sisters, made the most of his last nine months, spending precious time together.

In his last days, Greg received notes from a broad spectrum of students, friends and colleagues who said over and over how inspired they were by him as a teacher and mentor. Every fall, he took his students camping in the Olympics, and this stuck with his students too.

Emma enjoyed the special time with her father until he passed away in August 2012.

Considering her next move, she wondered how to combine the elements of the things she loves — education, being with kids outdoors, learning about nature – and her earlier Mountain School experiences kept coming up.

“I realized that it is in these moments – backpacking, camping, loving the outdoors ‑ when I am the happiest, so why not figure out how to do this as a job?” Emma explained. “Plus, doing this work keeps me connected to my father, getting to pass a love for the outdoors on to kids continues his legacy.”

Offered in partnership with Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed. residency program prepares students in all aspects of environmental education while living among the towering peaks of the North Cascades at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. In the first year of the program, students take classes on teaching strategies, natural history and curriculum development – skills that they are able to instantly put in to practice through teaching 5th through 12th grade students in Mountain School.

“I was drawn to the Institute’s M.Ed. program because it is really experiential and hands-on,” Emma says. “Sure, there are classes too, but you’re also immediately doing something with this information. I’m just really excited to get up there and start the program!”

Fifteen years after learning about native plants and glaciers in the rain as a Mountain School student, Emma will return to the North Cascades this summer, as a teacher, as a graduate student and as a proud daughter carrying forward her father’s legacy of education and loving the great outdoors.


Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation

April 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Time has a variable quality when you live in the mountains. Spring can descend on you with no warning, like it happened overnight, but a day can stretch on eternally when staring at the umpteenth draft of a project. When I worked as a wilderness therapy guide, the students had a saying: “The days go by like weeks but the weeks go by like days.” So it is here, too, sometimes.

Somehow, without us noticing, the students of Cohort 14 have completed nearly nine of our thirteen month residency. An even bigger milestone hit; one that served as a reminder of our trajectory and where we’ll be in exactly one year: graduation.

In the two days leading up to graduation on March 19th, the members of Cohort 13 presented their capstone projects to an audience of friends, family, North Cascades Institute staff, and Cohort 14 students. These capstone projects focus on “a topic that has intrigued [the students] throughout their graduate school experience, connecting their experiences within environmental education, natural history, sense of place and the future of education” (quoted from

As a relatively new graduate students, and never having seen a capstone presentation before, I had no idea what to expect. Frankly, I still don’t. Cohort 13’s projects spanned an incredible range of presentation styles and topics. Due to a change in the schedule of the graduate program, and the flurry of activity that C13 was in the midst of when we arrived at the Environmental Learning Center last July, the two cohorts have had very little interaction. But these capstone presentations gave me excellent insight into each student’s passions and values.

Kaci Darsow’s Doing.Myself.Justice. felt like a true performance piece. One that intimately explored Kaci’s identity, sense of justice, and shifting perspective during their time in graduate school.

Katherine Renz’s No More Icebreakers: Environmental Education for the Rest of Us took us inside the walls of Phyte Club: a visionary bar with the goal of educating customers about the natural world through botanically infused libations and weekly events.

Phyte Club
Did I mention that Phyte Club also plays heavy metal?

» Continue reading Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation