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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

What Gives Life to the Wild Ginger Library?

December 13th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Libraries have long served as places of refuge from the world, where enlightenment and knowledge surround one in the form of books. They are a place to exercise our minds as thinking beings, and to contemplate the words of great authors within the comfort of a cozy, hushed building. Here, within the walls of brightly-colored book spines, is endless inspiration for those who take a moment to flip open the pages of a book (remember books?).

No, reading is not a dying art, but a way to let the imagination run free during the cold, winter months, or to acquire information for a graduate school project. Reading is a conversation with a much wiser friend, who knows all the right things to say, or the best hikes to try, interesting histories of a place, how-tos, and so forth. When was the last time you visited a library?

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center we have the Wild Ginger Library, nestled by the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake. In fact, Wild Ginger is arguably one of the most peaceful and beloved places on campus. Its mission is to help people of all ages learn about the literary and oral stories of the North Cascades. Wild Ginger brings people together around the power of the written and spoken word and supports the mission of the North Cascades Institute: to inspire and empower environmental stewardship for all through transformative experiences in nature.

Photo courtesy of Rick Allen

In essence, the history of the Wild Ginger Library began more than 10,000 years ago as Ice Age glaciers receded and the North Cascades’ first people ventured into local mountains and river valleys. After all, it’s the stories of this place – from Native legends and explorer journals to Beat poetry in fire lookouts – that give Wild Ginger its life.

More recently, the library took shape with design of the Learning Center in the late 1990s. Architects from The Henry Klein Partnership led staff members from the Institute, North Cascades National Park and Seattle City Light in detailing the needs of each building on campus. When the Learning Center opened in July 2005, the Wild Ginger Library – named, like other buildings on campus, for a local native plant – remained empty of books and materials.

Photo of empty shelves courtesy of Lara Swimmer

Initial books were made possible by a generous donation from Mac and Linda MacGregor. Dr. Fred Darvill, a Northwest writer, outdoorsman and lover of books, pledged significant support, and gifts from other individual donors soon followed. In addition, early in-kind donors of natural history books included University of Washington Press, Lone Pine Publishing, Sasquatch Books and the Mountaineer Books.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

Oversight of the library is provided by Institute Staff and Graduate Students at the Learning Center. Today, Kira Taylor-Hoar serves as the Library and Office Graduate Assistant for her Work Study position. It is an opportunity for her to understand and improve a library that is used for graduate studies, as well as for environmental education; learn about research methods and cataloging systems; work with staff to develop book collections.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

To understand more about the library and her job as the assistant, I’ve included an interview with Kira that reveals both the whimsical nature of her mind and the beauty of Wild Ginger.

Who uses the library?

Visitors, staff and graduate students all come by Wild Ginger for a place to study, for meetings, and to check out books or simply to relax. The big windows and high ceilings make the tiny room feel a lot bigger, and let in plenty of natural light. Chairs are placed under the awning outside, so on nice days you can read under the majestic tops of the surrounding mountains while lounging in an Adirondack chair.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

What are three things you like about the librarian work study position?

Coming into the library on a cold December morning, I’m surprised to see light filtering in through the high windows. The sun doesn’t make it into too many buildings at the NCI campus in the winter, but as I write this I have a sunbeam shining right onto my desk. The building was built beautifully, with fabulous views. Peering out a window to my right I see the mountains rising into the clouds, a sprinkling of snow dotting these subalpine forests.

One thing that I wanted from my work study was to be able to spend time outside, and I never expected to be a librarian. But once I started working here I realized that I felt just as connected to the natural world in the library as I would outside. Plus, I get to make plenty of trips to the printer in the main office building, which means I get to breath fresh air frequently. The in-floor radiant heating doesn’t hurt for cold feets, either.

On days like this I have the library to myself, a quiet sanctuary of solitude. I am doing inventory, which takes a while pulling books off the shelves, entering them into the system, and then going back and doing it all over again, until I get through nearly 3,000 titles. You would think this boring, no? Ahh, but you see I have a trick up my sleeve. I have been listening to books on tape to make the time pass more easily. Lately I’ve been following some Hobbits across Middle Earth, delivering one particular ring to the fires of Mount Doom…while taking inventory. Other common tasks are cleaning, entering new books into the system, taking old books out, and checking in and re-shelving books people borrow.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

When I’m not listening to books about little people, I’m reading some of the wonderful knowledge and tales this library has to offer. The periodicals, fiction, nonfiction, kids section, poetry…so much to read and so little time! I recently turned in Water: A Natural History, Yurts: Living in the Round, and Spell of the Sensuous. A natural history of water is a fascinating tale of hydrology in North America, told in narrative form to make it an easy read. Yurts are beautiful natural buildings and this book has some good tips on how to build and decorate your own. And Spell of the Sensuous is an excellent foray into the world of philosophy, science, and how we as human beings relate with the natural world through our senses.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

I recently checked out a book of fiction, anticipating having time over winter break. It’s called The Cookbook Collector and it’s about two sisters who are total opposites but are bonded by blood and cooking. I haven’t gotten into it yet, but once I’ve finished all my readings for graduate classes, I’ll be sure to crack it open by the fire one of these blustery winter evenings.

History of Wild Ginger was obtained from the Library Guidelines of the Wild Ginger Library from March 27, 2006. The original vision of the library has been slightly modified to reflect the North Cascades Institute’s current mission. 

(Top Photo) graduate student Kira Taylor-Hoar re-shelving a book borrowed; photo by Marissa Bluestein

Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report: Western Washington University

June 20th, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County. While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trip and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts and photographs that highlight their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Inna Mayer and Aaron So, who share their experience visiting Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Inna Mayer

In late April, the Youth Leadership Ambassadors went on a trip Western Washington University. There, I learned about the Huxley College of Environment. Western Washington University is one of the colleges I’m interested in attending and I was happy to find out about their great Department of Environmental Studies. Steve Hollenhorst, Dean of Huxley, talked about the college and what interested him the most in the environmental field. It was special to hear what it meant to him to be a part of one of the oldest environmental colleges in the United States.

Youth Leadership Ambassadors taking a tour around the Western Washington University campus. Photos by Inna Mayer and Aaron So.

During the second half of the day, we got to attend the annual Earth Day event that the Environmental and Sustainability students and staff at the university put together. There were many speakers at the event and I was surprised and inspired at all the steps that these people took for conservation efforts. It was an eye-opening experience to learn what I could do to help out.

About Inna Mayer

My name is Inna Mayer and I’m a junior at Mount Vernon High School. I was adopted from Russia and I love the Pacific Northwest and getting involved with almost anything in the outdoors. Last summer, I participated in the eight day Outdoor Leadership trip with Youth Leadership Adventures. Taking on a leadership role in the outdoors provided a great experience to learn how to communicate and get through the day as smoothly as possible. It was a little intimidating to have the responsibility of leading my group through all the days planned activities. I had made a personal short-term goal for the day, which was to be able to look back on the things that went well and see improvement. Overall, I learned that it’s ok to ask for help.

Last fall, I attended the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit and found out about the Youth Leadership Ambassador program. I joined the Ambassadors because I wanted to continue my involvement with the North Cascades Institute.


Youth Leadership Ambassador: Aaron So

For our fourth trip, the Ambassadors of North Cascade Institute went to Western Washington University. Located in Bellingham, we had the opportunity to meet the Dean of Huxley College of the Environment, Steve Hollenhorst. An advocate for program, he also serves the board member for the North Cascades Institute. Frankly, without his keenness for the program, it would not have existed.

While at the college, we toured the campus with Emmanuel Camarillo, a North Cascades Institute graduate alumni. At WWU, Emmanuel advises students academically, coordinates their peer mentor program and advise the Blue Group (Western’s student club for undocumented students). With Emmanuel, we were able to gain more insight on the college life, visiting the dorms and cafeteria. After eating lunch in one of Western’s dining halls, we listened to Tina Castillo, a WWU Admissions expert.

Listening to Dr. John Francis at Western Washington University’s Earth Day celebration. Photo by Aaron So

For the second half of the day, we participated in a student led day celebrating Earth Day. There were 7 local speakers who gave short talks of various areas of sustainability, ranging from food waste to transportation. We ended the day with a notable keynote speaker, Dr. John Francis, who spoke of the day’s theme, “Turning Empathy Into Action”.​​​​​​

About Aaron So

I’m Aaron So and I’m 16 years old and I’m currently attending Burlington-Edison High School. A few of my hobbies pertain sports like swimming, tennis, and volleyball. To be quite frank, I’ve never really been outside into nature for long periods of time nor have I ever had the chance to see nature for what it is. I joined the Ambassadors in hopes of experiencing new things and seeing new sights.


Walking Washington’s History

August 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Four villages — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — grew along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay and rode every boom and bust that swept the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatcom surged on sawmills and a gold rush; Sehome boomed on a coal mine and railroad hopes. They merged in 1891 to become New Whatcom. The next village south on the bay, Bellingham, had a brief fling with coal but was swallowed up by Fairhaven to the south, which had visions of railroads and ended up with canneries. In sequence, they inhaled opportunity, exhaled optimism, and built long docks into the bay.

Bellingham is one of 10 Washington cities that Bentley provides brief but engaging historical overviews for, along with walking routes that explore our region’s past on foot (or bicycle). Seattle, Olympia, Walla Walla, Everett, and Yakima are other destinations that Bentley—who also wrote the bestselling Hiking Washington’s History—explores and interprets for her readers.

Each tour is a loop from two to seven miles long, with each city chosen to represent a distinct chapter in the post-European settling and development of the Evergreen State: Vancouver as the earliest significant settlement in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend as an important port of call for sailing ships in the mid-1800s, Spokane symbolic of urban renewal and reinvention efforts of the 1970s, and so forth.


Bellingham, in a chapter subtitled “Reluctant City,” is symbolic of the many frenzied waves of resource extraction that created booms and busts throughout our region: coal, gold, timber and salmon.

» Continue reading Walking Washington’s History


An Open Letter to the 16th Cohort

June 24th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

If you are new to or unfamiliar with the North Cascades Institute, there are a few bits of jargon that need to be explained:

  • Western Washington University has a graduate residency program where students spend their first year at the Institute (often shorted to NCI). They then finish their degree at the University.
  • Early summer is the transition time where the older cohort spends the summer working through Leadership Tracks, while the younger cohort arrives to the mountains for the first time together.
  • The current older cohort is the 15th, and the younger 16th. Often this is shortened to C15 and C16.

Even if you are not a part of C16, this letter is a great opportunity to learn about C15, Leadership Tracks and the residency as a whole. On to the letter!


Dear C16,

Welcome to the North Cascades ecoregion! If you have lived here your whole life or if this is your first time here, you are going to get to know more about the life in these mountains than you ever thought possible. Between hiking, tracking, teaching and paddling, in just a year this place will feel like home.

» Continue reading An Open Letter to the 16th Cohort


An exploration into science and art

June 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Holli Watne, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th Cohort.

I have a deep love for entomology and artistic exploration. Until recently, I viewed these two pleasures as mutually exclusive. My perception changed when I was introduced to the work of Hubert Duprat. He has been working with Trichoptera (one of my favorite orders of insects) since the 1980’s, getting them to build beautiful structures out of precious materials. (For more information of Mr. Duprat’s work, please read this article.)

Trichoptera, commonly known as caddisflies, can be found in all biogeographical regions, except the Antarctic, in (larvae) or near (adult) a large range of aquatic habitats. There are about 1,400 species of Trichoptera in North America, 230 of which have been identified in Washington State. The majority of species have aquatic larvae that build cases out of silk and various natural materials. These cases aid in streamlining substrate-attachment and protection against predators.


Trichoptera, or caddisfly, larva. Drawn by Holli Watne.

In my undergrad studies at Western Washington University, I remember my entomology professor telling me that entomologists that specialize in Trichoptera can frequently identify the species just by looking at a case. This is because each case-building species has characteristic ways of building their cases. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Using Duprat’s work as an inspiration, I started a simple study to see if larvae would build cases that are structurally similar to their native cases when provided with a choice of unfamiliar building materials.

Being a poor grad student, it wasn’t really an option for me to use such fine materials as Duprat uses in his work. Instead, I introduced the caddisflies to various beads and different sizes of glitter:


» Continue reading An exploration into science and art


Sea Stars in the Community

May 26th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

After two months upon completing her graduate degree from Western Washington University, Rachel has been reflecting on her amazing experiences over the previous 18 months. Through her journey at the North Cascades Institute’s Graduate Residency program, her accomplishments and experiences have molded her into a passionate environmental educator. One of those experiences was incorporating her natural history project on sea stars into her leadership track at Concrete Summer Learning Adventures. 

By Rachel Gugich, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

For my natural history project I researched the current turmoil occurring with sea star populations with the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.
I mainly looked at conditions off the west coast and Puget Sound region and what is being done to save this tide pool titan. Current research suggests younglings of sea stars are starting to appear and making a comeback. I have grown up exploring the tide pools and having witnessed up close on my explorations a sea star effected by wasting syndrome, I wanted to learn more about this crisis in the sea.

» Continue reading Sea Stars in the Community