Cohort 8 graduates

March 18th marked the end of a journey, and the beginning of a new. Celebrating the lovely ladies of Cohort 8—“C8”—the graduation of the Masters of Education Residency took place on a spring-like afternoon at the Environmental Learning Center in the North Cascades National Park.
Family, friends, Institute staff and fellow graduate students of “C9” attended the intimate ceremony honoring the accomplishments of Kelly Berger, Emily Mendell, Jenny Rae, Aneka Singlaub, Sarah Sutherland, Katie Trujillo, Nora Venne and Meghann Willard in earning their Masters of Education in Environmental Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and a certificate in Non-Profit Leadership awarded by North Cascades Institute.

Families and friends of Cohort 8 gather in celebration

After spending an initial summer quarter exploring the North Cascades’ many ecosystems from Bellingham, the majority of Cohort 8’s experience was a four-quarter residency at the Institute’s Environmental Learning Center where they taught Mountain School and assisted in residential family, adult and youth adventure programs in the summer. This experience was then proceeded by two traditional quarters of study at Western Washington University’s campus where the students applied their experiences in the field to educational theory and research projects.
The ceremony began with personalized stories of the students from the Institute’s Graduate Program Advisor, Tanya Anderson, followed by remarks from WWU Graduate Faculty, John Miles, on the accomplishments of women like C8 in the field of environmental education. The Institute’s Executive Director, Saul Weisberg, who the cohort had worked with in learning how to create and run a non-profit organization, applauded their efforts in working at the Institute from early September 2008 to late August 2009. A slideshow of the ladies’ work, play, and learning over the past two years of the masters program gave rise to laughs, as well as to awe-struck faces, as all photos presented of the students were cast across a backdrop of precipitous peaks and deep valleys. A shared poem by all cohort members concluded the ceremony with the final phrase recognizing their accomplishment of becoming Masters.

Saul Weisberg, Tanya Anderson & John Miles present Emily with her certificate
Meghann Willard and Jenny Rae are all smiles at graduation
Emily, Aneka, Katie and Nora help present the “passing of the paddle”

The traditional “passing of the paddle”—where the outgoing cohort of graduate students passes their journey over to the new cohort—took on a different twist this year than in years previous. After each of C8 was awarded their certificates in Non-Profit Leadership, Emily Mendell announced that C9 must go on an adventure around the Learning Center in order to locate the paddle. Traversing the trails surrounding campus, the graduate students went from Sourdough Creek to the water tower to Deer Creek shelter, following clues created by the C8 graduates. The terrestrial trail ended at the boat dock on Diablo Lake and went water’s way as all students of cohorts 8 and 9 piled aboard the Institute’s new traditional, 18-person canoe in pursuit of paddle. On what is referred to as “One-Man Island,” the paddle was discovered by cohort 9’s Paul Wiemerslage who happily retrieved it beneath lodgepole pines and salal bushes.

Cohort 9 discovers the paddle with Cohort 8’s help
All of the graduate students aboard the new Institute canoe

The celebration of cohort 8 continued into the evening as family, friends, staff and students gathered in the Learning Center’s Dining Hall for a delicious, sit-down meal prepared by the Institute’s chefs, and C8’s Jenny Rae presented each of her fellow graduates with a homemade bottle of elderberry wine, whose berries had been picked in the first days of their program. The evening concluded with sunset strolls and shared campfire activities.
In recognition of the legacy that these ladies have left at North Cascades Institute, we extend our congratulations. As you have wandered this path with us, may you wander many more, and even, perhaps, create your own. But, and you all know full well, make sure, on those new trails you traverse, to always “touch nature gently.”
Congratulations C8!

Cohort 8 all together again for their graduation celebration, From back left: Aneka Singlaub, Katie Trujillo, Nora Venne, Kelly Berger, Meghann Willard, Jenny Rae, From front left: Emily Mendell, Sarah Sutherland
Photos courtesy of Christian Martin, Saul Weisberg and Kelsi Franzen.


  1. Leslie Franzen

    Nice job ladies! Love the journey you had the new grad students do looking for the paddle. What a fun way to pass this on and what a beautiful new way to end your journey in this lovely new canoe. Good luck to you all in your future endeavors.

  2. vida morkunas

    congratulations ladies !!

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