C9 Graduation: The Mark of New Beginnings

March 17 marked a day of recognition for the hard work and dedication of the graduate students of Cohort 9, and their completion of a Masters in Environmental Education from Western Washington University and a Certificate in Leadership and Non-profit Administration from North Cascades Institute.
Friends and family of the graduating class, Institute staff and graduate students of Cohort 10 filled the intimate dining hall venue in support of the achievement of the members of Cohort 9: Corey White, Brandi Stewart, Paul Wiemerslage, Mike Parelskin, Rebecca Ryan, Martine Mariott, Justin McWethy, Kelsi Franzen, Megan Magee and Erin Fowler.
The group had spent the last two years working, teaching and learning together at both the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and Western Washington University. In June 2009, the 10 strangers came together in Bellingham where they spent the summer learning about and exploring North Cascades ecosystems in preparation for their year-long residency at the Learning Center in North Cascades National Park. While at the Learning Center, the cohort gained hands-on experience working as educators for Mountain School and various other Institute programs including Base Camp, North Cascades Wild and Cascades Climate Challenge. In the winter, the students delved into curriculum development and learned how to create and manage a non-profit organization.
Following the residency, the grads returned to Bellingham to spend the remaining two quarters at Western’s campus. The students applied their experiences from the Learning Center to educational theory and various research projects.

Top: Members of Cohort 9. Above: Graduate Coordinator Tanya Anderson shares stories of Cohort 9 with the graduates’ friends and family, who filled the Learning Center’s dining hall to celebrate the cohort’s accomplishments.

Graduates Kelsi Franzen, Megan Magee, Martine Mariott (front), and Paul Wiemerslage and Just McWethy (back) listen to shared stories of their experiences as graduate students.

Graduates Corey White and Mike Parelskin (back), and Brandi Stewart (front) enjoy stories and encouraging words from graduate faculty.

Thoughts, reflections and words of wisdom taken from this multitude of experiences were shared during the ceremony. Institute Graduate Coordinator, Tanya Anderson, shared stories of each graduate highlighting the unique qualities they contributed to the program and acknowledged how the group helped strengthen and shape the graduate program. Western Professor John Miles also shared stories about each grad reflecting their personalities, and reminisced about their initial summer backpacking trip to the town of Stehekin, in the eastern portion of North Cascades National Park Complex. The Institute’s Executive Director Saul Weisberg acknowledged and thanked the group for its dedication and hard work while at the Learning Center and wished them well in their future endeavors.
Graduate Kelsi Franzen toasted her colleagues into the future, acknowledging their next step of entering the career field as environmental educators. A slideshow depicting the students’ diverse experiences teaching, living and exploring the North Cascades concluded the ceremony as graduate Corey White strummed his acoustic guitar to a song about this mountain landscape.

Graduate Kelsi Franzen offers encouraging words and a toast to her fellow graduates as they enter the next chapter of their journey as Masters of Environmental Education.

Graduate Corey White plays a musical number on his guitar that reflects the group’s time spent in the North Cascades.

Following the distribution of certificates, Cohort 9 led the members of Cohort 10 in the “passing of the paddle” ceremony, where the outgoing cohort hands off the paddle listing each cohort and its members for the past nine years to the new cohort, symbolizing the passing of the torch of new adventures and wisdom in the grad program. Each cohort loaded into the Institute’s two large canoes for the ceremony, but members of Cohort 10 were surprised when the transferred paddle was a piece of cardboard that initiated a scavenger hunt around the trails of the Learning Center campus. The messages eventually led the newer cohort to the Deer Creek shelter where they were surprised by Cohort 9. The final “passing” consisted of jovial toasts and the sharing of words of wisdom from Cohort 9.

Members of Cohort 9 and 10 take a few moments together following the passing of the paddle ceremony.

Cohort 9, we congratulate you on the accomplishments of your hard work and contributions to environmental education over the last two years. May the knowledge and experiences you acquired during your time with North Cascades Institute and Western serve you well as you go forth into the world as environmental educators ready to share and test the capabilities of your highly cultivated leadership skills.

Photos courtesy of the author. Lead photo courtesy of C9.



  1. Aneka

    YAAAAHHHHOOOOO!!!! Way to go C9, I look forward to hearing about all of your future adventures. Go forth, savior and save the world.

  2. leslie franzen

    Congratulations to all the members of Cohort 9-you are a great group and we wish you the best! It was a spectacular day for all of us and we are proud of your accomplishments. Good luck on your future adventures.

  3. Kelsi

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Codi. Could you, by chance, pass along some of those wonderful group photos to us via the C9 email? I’d love to have some copies, especially the one of the C10 and C9 group in full at Deer Creek Shelter! A congratulations to all my cohort, I’ll miss you, but don’t be strangers and keep me posted on your awesome adventures. There’s a place for you in Seattle, when and if you need it!

  4. Meghann

    Congrats C9! I can’t believe it’s been a year since my own cohorts graduation! Best of luck to you all.

  5. Martine

    Thank you Codi!

  6. Tanya Anderson

    Great article, Codi! Congratulations to everyone in cohort 9. We will miss you!

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