Lindsey MacDonald, Nick Engelfried, Ash Kunz, Jenny O'Toole, Kay Gallagher, Jihan Grettenberger, Alexei Desmarais, Sarah Clement, Becky Moore, Melissa Biggs, Joshua Porter, Smokey Brine, Angela Burlile, Hanna Davis, Rachael Grasso, Dan Dubie, and Nick Stanger

2018 Capstones and Graduation

 A few weeks ago now, we celebrated the 16th Cohort of graduate students’ completion of their Master of Environmental Education. From March 19-23,  friends, family, staff, and fellow students watched capstone presentations by each member of the cohort at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Each presentation was as unique as the individual who wrote them, though there was overlap in subjects pertaining to social justice and the underlying history of racism in the environmental movement.

Overall, I was impressed by the common message of the capstone projects. Although the 14 grads came from incredibly diverse backgrounds and personal experiences, the common message of social growth within and through environmental education was an inspiring call to action.”

-Eric Buher, Cohort 17

It was refreshing to see an array of topics from a group of people who have spent so much time together: from the practice of teaching, to natural and cultural histories, to leadership in the fields of environmental education and nonprofits, to environmental justice and education reform. Graduate students’ capstone presentations were inspired by subjects that intrigued them throughout their time in the M.Ed. degree program, through the North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University.

Nick Engelfried presents  “White Guy Hiking: How I learned to think critically about my ecological identity”

This process of self-guided exploration is called Transformative Inquiry, taught by Dr. Nick Stanger at Western Washington University. The idea is that within the process of be~coming an educator, you are likely to become concerned about complicated and important questions.

For example, you may wonder:

  • What do I really care about as an educator?
  • How can I nourish and maintain my energy as I teach?
  • How might my attitudes, beliefs and values affect my teaching?
  • What do learners really care about?
  • How do I~we build healthy learning community in schools?
  • What really matters in our broader communities, both local and global?

*Note, the above is from the Transformative Inquiry website.

These types of open-ended questions guide your experience as a learner~teacher, informing your practice and growth as an educator. I felt inspired by people’s passion for their chosen subjects, and the way personal narratives were interwoven within their professional work. Oftentimes, the line between academia and ancedote blurred, allowing space for students to showcase what really matters to them.

Being able to get a glimpse into the journey that each individual from Cohort 16 underwent during their M.Ed. experience was inspiring, especially as a member of Cohort 17. Their growth gave me a lot of hope for where Environmental Education has the potential to go. I am excited to see where their work takes them and how they will enact change in education.”

-Amy Sanchez, Cohort 17

Hanna Davis presents “Searching for Balance: Stories of Community Action
Hanna speaking passionately about the nonprofit she has created
Angela Burlile presents “A Radical Transformation: Racial Justice and Environmental Education Reimagined”

The morning before graduation, Cohort 16 sent Cohort 17 on a scavenger hunt to find “the paddle,” a tradition from one cohort to another. The paddle symbolizes what it means to be a cohort in this program – in this place. This year we kept the tradition alive, and journeyed through the early hours of the morning to find Cohort 16 along the shores of Diablo Lake.

A circle of “real talk” then took place, where members shared how they were feeling as graduates, and offered advice to us current students. They graciously shared their wisdom and perspective now that they’re done with the program. What they got out of it. What they wish they’d done differently. And how to navigate the murky waters of graduate school.

Photo of Cohorts 16 and 17 by Angela Burlile
And of course, a silly one; photo by Angela Burlile

These past two days… Cohort 16 passed the paddle on to C17, who will continue the inspiring work graduate students do in this masters program at NCI and WWU.”

– Jenny O’Toole, Cohort 16

Nick Stanger shares kind words about Emily “Smokey” Brine
Smokey Brines, Kay Gallagher, Alexei Desmarais, present a heartfelt gift to Nick Stanger
Smokey Brine gifts Joshua Porter a personalized cookbook

Congratulations to Cohort 16 of our North Cascades Institute Graduate M.Ed. Residency program! This week was a time to celebrate your many accomplishments in a ceremony at the Learning Center with family and friends.

Angela Burlile and Lindsey MacDonald share a warm embrace

C16 graduate with much laughter and tears in the beautiful group of people and North Cascade mountains that we all deeply care for and from whom we’ve learned so much… I am so excited for who we are and who we will be.”

– Jenny O’Toole, Cohort 16

After a year and a half of learning, exploring, growing and playing together, we sure are going to miss this bunch — but we are excited to watch the ripples of positive change radiate outwards from the North Cascades as they take the next steps on their journeys. Now more than ever, the world needs changemakers like these passionate graduates. They give us so much hope that the future is in good hands. Congrats C16!!

Capstone week was a spectacular experience because it’s not just about academics. Graduating students shared about their journey in graduate school and opened their hearts. I learned so much!”

– Ashley Hill, Cohort 16


  1. John Miles

    Congrats to all! It’s wonderful and gratifying to see your work and the program growing and flourishing and traditions continuing. Thanks for sharing this in a great blog post.

    1. Montana Napier

      Hi John. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and the program update! It would be nothing without your many years of dedicated work.

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