The M.Ed program through Western Washington University and North Cascades Institute has several different parts to it. Though it evolves and changes every year, the general format for the past eight years has been to spend part of the summer in the Bellingham area tromping around the mountains and Puget Sound, living in North Cascades National Park at the Environmental Learning Center for a full year, then move back to Bellingham and take classes at Western for the final two quarters.
Right now I’m ending my final quarter of the graduate program. And I’ve finally gotten an idea of what a traditional graduate program looks like.
Being a Back-in-Bellingham Grad Student
We have five required classes these last two quarters, plus an elective. In the fall we took courses about the psychology behind practicing conservation and a conservation mindset, reviewing and reflecting on the foundations of environmental education, and environmental discourse. Winter quarter we took a class on assessment and evaluation, and one to help us prepare for our capstones—our big final presentations that take place in the week before graduation. For my elective, I’m doing an independent study that complements my capstone project.
Moving back to Bellingham has been a big change from going to school up at the Learning Center. Some of it has been challenging for me—not having mountains literally in my backyard, being around so many people, city noises and distractions. But there are also some really great things that I missed while I was in the mountains. I love being able to ride the bus and walk everywhere. I love the farmer’s market. And, even coming from a shy introvert like me, it’s nice to be able to meet new people and make new friends.
Most of our classes these final two quarters have folks other than just the cohort. It’s a nice reminder that there are other people out there with other experiences, who haven’t been living in a tiny bubble for a whole year.
Along with all the school stuff, most of us are also looking ahead to what comes after school. Re-entering the job market after spending nearly two years playing in the mountains and spending a lot of time just learning can be intimidating at times. When I’m able to calm my brain down a little, though, it’s also really exciting. I’m looking at job descriptions for education and program coordinator positions and realizing that I have all those skills. These are jobs I’ve looked at in the past and felt I wasn’t qualified for. It’s such a validating feeling to know there are so many possibilities. But with broadening possibilities comes the question, “Where do I start?”
Well, I like to start small and get my bearings before jumping to deep into something new. I’ll be hanging out in Bellingham for the spring and then moving to Boulder, Colorado for the summer. I’ll be teaching kindergarteners and fifth/sixth graders for a nonprofit at the base of the Rocky Mountains. A brand new ecosystem for me to sink my teeth into!
Ryan Weisberg is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Ryan grew up here in Washington, exploring the natural areas around Bellingham and in the Cascades. Passionate about writing since childhood, Ryan served as Chattermarks editor during their year-long residency at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Ryan continues to enjoy writing for the blog.