Welcome New Graduate Students, part 3

This is part 3 in the series: Meet the Graduate M.Ed. Students

This is part three of graduate student introductions. Here is part one and part two of the series. 

The goal of this series is to welcome the Class of 2019, and learn more about why they chose the Master of Education degree program through the North Cascades Institute. Below are the reasons folks are here, and what they hope to take away from a year-long residency. They have also shared their most memorable experiences so far. Enjoy!

Liz journaling with a view of the North Cascades; photo by Montana Napier

Liz Grewal:

I had to decide which direction to take my education in. At first, I considered a master’s degree in ecology, but then I felt inspired to study environmental education. Researching different options and programs, I remember gasping aloud with excitement when I came across the Graduate M.Ed. program through the North Cascades Institute. I felt like I’d found my people: people who are passionate about connecting others to nature through place-based education. After visiting in January 2017, I knew that the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center was exactly where I wanted to be. I appreciated the kindness and openness of the community. It was my first time visiting the North Cascades, and I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape. This is the only graduate program that I applied to because its mission aligns with my goals in environmental education.

Through my time at the Learning Center I would like to improve my skills as an educator. I also want to have a greater understanding of my teaching style and refine it. I look forward to creating curriculum, and learning how to convey important concepts, such as climate change, in tangible and engaging ways. I am excited to cultivate my connection to the North Cascades, and to build my relationship with the community.

My most memorable experience…there are so many! I enjoyed starting our canoe journey near the headwaters of the Skagit River, and paddling 80 miles to the Salish Sea. We began our journey in the first month upon our arrival. I think that time together was important for community building among the graduate students. We laughed, I cried at some point, shared stories, cracked jokes, and began to really know one another.  I am thankful for that special time and enjoyed the challenge with the support of the cohort.

Tanner showing off the fall harvest from the Confluence Garden

Tanner Johnson: 

I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and attended the University of Oregon in Eugene for my undergraduate education. There, I studied Sociology, with a focus on Environmental Sociology. For the past few years I have worked in the foodservice industry, and volunteered at school garden projects in my spare time. I was drawn to pursuing this Graduate M.Ed. program because of my passion for education. More specifically, the ways in which food systems education can connect people to the environment. I feel that NCI offers an unparalleled educational experience in exactly the field I want to be in, Environmental Education.

Living in such a remote and beautiful locale, I hope to really embrace this new place that I find myself in. I mean this both physically, taking the time to explore where I am. And metaphorically, learning to understand and accept where I find myself at this transitional time in my life.

I must say that so far, I have found the experience of living and going to school in the North Cascades to be totally transformative. In particular, coming over Cascade Pass in the dumping snow, and seeing two black bears eating huckleberries within 10 minutes of each other, was completely stunning and memorable.

Amy taking a selfie with her camping crew during the backpacking portion of the summer course

Amy Sanchez: 

When looking into programs in Environmental Education, I was really drawn to the immersive experience that the North Cascades Institute offers. The variety of programs, and the diverse populations that they serve, was an aspect of the Graduate M.Ed Residency that was very much important to me.

So far I have tried to soak in every learning opportunity I’ve been presented with, and boy have there been a lot! Since I grew up in California, I came into this program knowing very little about Washington’s ecology and history. But I’m excited to say that my connection and sense of place to the North Cascades has grown. I hope that my time at the Educational Learning Center only continues that experience.

My most memorable experience was the day I joined my cohort for the last four days of the backpacking portion of our summer course. Due to a cold, I wasn’t able to start the trip with them, and that reunion helped me appreciate the sense of community that we spent all summer building. We finished off the backpack by crossing over Cascade Pass during its first snow of the season. While we were a little shocked at the extreme change in weather, it made for an epic ending to our summer.

Zoe examining bear signs on a tree; photo by Rachael Grasso

Zoe Wadkins:

After spending more than 15 years in education, I began to lose hope in finding what I perceive to be the essence of knowledge – exploration, enthusiasm, limitlessness. Discovering NCI’s M. Ed. program helped me regain faith in what I felt I had lost. Each moment since beginning our journey here has emulated a commitment to life as a learning process, not an end goal to be achieved… and I could not be more thrilled!

Whether surrounding oneself in the remnants of a recent burn, slowing down enough to view the migration of raptors, or lending a quick smile to an unsuspecting 5th grader, I have learned to embrace “place” as a much more deeply seated and intangible idea. If I can aid another in fostering a similar sense of connectedness to their home, I will feel I have succeeded.

My most memorable experience? Climbing to the top of Tiffany Mountain in an unexpected snowfall — realizing as we crested that far off in every direction of the horizon, we had engaged with new communities in new experiences, and each had uniquely transformed the educator I hope one day to be.


And that’s all folks! Next time you see a graduate student around the Learning Center or beyond, you can now say hello with confidence.

(Top photo) Graduate students at the summit of Tiffany Mountain during the Fall Natural History Course

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