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Bellingham Life: the Experiences of Cohort 16 in the City

March 15th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This post is a compilation of voices from graduate students in the 16th Cohort at the North Cascades Institute. In it they describe what the second year of the M.Ed Residency Program is like at the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, WA. Next week they will present their capstone projects at the Environmental Learning Center, and then the week after, they graduate! Isn’t that exciting? With that said, we hope you enjoy the insights and musings about life in the city!

To start things off right, Kay Gallagher has a few words to share on behalf of Cohort 16:

“Last year we spent 13 months living and learning at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. We gained valuable experience teaching, coordinating, learning logistics, and risk management in a remote environment… and a whole lot about community living. In the summer we took to the trails of Sauk Mountain, parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, Stehekin, and the Okanogan National Forest, where we learned about natural history, geology, botany, and native peoples.


In the fall we taught Mountain School and began our work study positions. In the winter we transitioned to two classes, Nonprofit Administration and Curriculum Design. And finally, in the summer we all spread out to begin our Leadership Tracks positions and work with partner organizations.


Now, the cohort is wrapping up our time at Western, and have gained a lot of insight into this portion of the program through many courses. Courses included Program Evaluation and Assessment, Foundations of Pedagogical Theory, Social Justice in Education, and Professional Writing and Presentation.”


Who are you?

My name is Kay Gallagher.

Where are you now? 

» Continue reading Bellingham Life: the Experiences of Cohort 16 in the City

Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

February 25th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland

February is the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – the transition from winter into spring, and then spring into summer.

This winter I am finding myself drawn to the lowland forests and deciduous banks of the Skagit River. My time upriver has been the most wintery winter I’ve endured; I am now accustomed to the semi-regular process of scraping ice and snow off my windshield, and wearing microspikes as I walk down the icy road of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. However, a walk in the forest feels like a visit with an old friend. It reminds me of my island home at the other side of the watershed, Deception Pass. Everywhere in the forest, signs of familiar companions are appearing and talking and that makes my heart feel much warmer, though my toes and hands are just as cold.

These interactions have also filled my journal with many, flowery ramblings. In between classes, and now Mountain School trainings, I try to take a walk outside and note changes in my environment. February is especially a time of rapid change – one day it can be cool and damp out, and the next day there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and slush in my boots. Below, I’ve noted some of the changes witnessed within my little sphere of the world this past week. What have you noted, too?

Recent Naturalist Notes: 

On February 16 – I heard a Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) sing outside of my partner’s cabin in Marblemount, while branches cracked from the weight of freshly fallen snow.

February 17 – During a rainy walk in Rockport State Park, I found Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), or osoberry, breaking leaf buds all along the Suak-Springs trail.

Also spotted were young buds on the Vine maple (Acer circinatum), leafy buds of the Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and two of my favorite edibles popping up along the forest floor: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica). It’s only a matter of time until I can make a batch of nettle pesto!

And there were signs of moss reproduction everywhere, with the stalk-like shoots of the sporophyte popping up. The spore capsules are about ready to release spores that will grow into new moss. Next time, I will take my hand lens with me to get an even closer look.

On the drive home, I stopped at mileposts 100 and 101 to stand by the Skagit River. I saw three Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at 101 and noticed the snow line on the mountains and grey clouds. It felt good to stand close to the talking river and listen to the eagles.

» Continue reading Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

December 17th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first of a 3-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field excursion to the Methow Valley, as part of their fall Natural History Course. Below is writing by Brendan McGarry, graduate student in the North Cascade Institute’s 17th cohort

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was frost coating the inside of the rainfly. I could hear the crepuscular stirrings of my fellow campers, and gave myself a silent pep talk to get moving despite the chill. This was going to be an exciting day after all, we were here to see raptors. 

My cohort and I were part way through the field section of our Natural History of the North Cascades course when we trundled up to Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch Station. It was only October, but we’d seen the hints of winter coming to the high places. The hawks we hoped to see migrating were another hint that the seasons were changing.

The rugged terrain stretching down toward Lake Chelan; photo courtesy of Brendan McGarry

The Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch station was established in 1998 in a partnership between the Okanogan-Wenatchee District of the US Forest Service and HawkWatch International. The goal was to learn more about the raptors migrating through Washington, down the Pacific Coast Flyway. Here, starting in late August, ending in late October, intrepid biologists scan the skies, and count hawks. With luck, they also lure them into traps to band the birds and release. While we were grumbling about the cold, they were already out doing their jobs.

The first bird, an immature Cooper’s Hawk that zipped by during breakfast, was spotted by Kent Woodruff. This was apt because he was our host. Kent, a retired Forest Service biologist who established the station, was full of stories about the wildlife of the North Cascades. Yet, never was he more animated than when he spoke of the birds overhead.

» Continue reading Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

Weekly Photo Roundup: November 19 2017

November 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Photography

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

It’s that time of the year where the precip rolls in and you either embrace it, or settle down inside for learning and traditions. Graduate students in the M.Ed Residency are currently doing a little bit of both as the days get shorter, and the sky a bit grayer.

Pictured: Zoe Wadkins, Tanner Johnson, and Marissa Bluestein

Taking advantage of the season’s first heavy snowfall, graduate students in the 17th Cohort made their way to Mt. Baker during the weekend for a celebratory snowshoe. Woohoo to Snowvember!

Tanner Johnson and Marissa Bluestein having a good time

They toasted trail hot cocoa to another successful year of snowpack. Some even went skiing on Mt. Baker – one of the reasons why they were drawn to the North Cascades in the first place. Below are photos from their adventure.

Nate Trachte, C17, Becky Moore, C16, and Naturalist Natasha Way go touring up Mt. Baker enjoying the fresh powder a week before the resort opens; photo by Charlee Corra

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: November 19 2017

Welcome New Graduate Students!

October 25th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

We are a new generation of environmental leaders. We are the 17th graduate cohort at the North Cascades Institute, ready to immerse ourselves in learning and work within the greater community. One of my new tasks, as a fully-integrated community member, is to produce blog posts for your enjoyment.

So, hey! I’m Montana, and below is Part 1 in a 3-part series of graduate student introductions. Keep in mind that we recently finished the Place-based Learning Field Course, and are knee-deep into our fall Natural History coursework. Below are the reasons why we’re here, and what we want to take away from our year-long residency. We’ve also included some of our most memorable experiences so far. Much more to come, my friends.

Yours truly day-hiking to Monogram lake during prime fall color

Montana Napier:

As a teenager, I participated in a program called Girls on Ice. For eight days I camped on a rocky moraine on Mount Baker, and was challenged outside of my comfort zone through a wilderness science expedition. At the end of the program, we stayed at the cozy Environmental Learning Center and presented our research on the Easton glacier. I’d never seen a community quite like the North Cascades Institute before, or people as knowledgeable as the Naturalists. They seemed to know everything about the natural world! I was inspired to return.  

» Continue reading Welcome New Graduate Students!

C14 Row

Graduation 2016: C14’s Grand Finale

March 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Phenology, or the study of natural cycles, is a constant part of life at the North Cascades Institute. We dive deep into when the first buds appear on trees, what bird songs we can here in that season and the height of all of the flowing water in the area. This year two of the largest, and most celebrated, phenological events at the Institute were the capstones and graduation of the 14th graduate cohort obtaining their Master’s in Outdoor Environmental Education with certificates in Non-profit Leadership Administration and Northwest Natural History.

Back in the summer of 2014, Cohort 14 (or better known as C14!) was born. These individuals then spent a year at the Institute’s Environmental Learning Center located on Diablo Lake, WA learning and teaching about the natural landscape. They then finished their degrees at Western Washington University.

Each of the nine cohort members poured their passion into their studies and made a permanent impact at the Institute. Their grand finale was giving their capstone presentations from March 15th-March 17th where staff, professors, family and Cohort 15 gathered to listen to the wise words from C14.

Kevin Capstone

Kevin Sutton

Kevin Earhart Sutton gave his capstone on Perceptions in (Outdoor) Education: Using openness and vulnerability as learning tools. In his presentation he discussed the “masks” that we all wear and how outdoor education can be a tool to help empower people to take control of the masks they wear each day. Examples of masks include proficiency, extravertedness and stubbornness.

» Continue reading Graduation 2016: C14’s Grand Finale

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.

» Continue reading Confessions of a Bibliophile