Graduate Students

M.Ed. Graduate

We're creating a new generation of leaders for communities throughout North America


DegreesMany of the Institute's graduate students are professionals with educational backgrounds who are looking to expand their horizons with non-traditional teaching opportunities. The Institute offers an alternative graduate program that blends theory and practice — interdisciplinary, field-based education — where you’ll learn best practices in real-world settings. Each graduate student gets to experience four seasons in the North Cascades, including a summer full of backpacking and naturalist studies, an autumn spent designing curriculum and teaching in the award-winning Mountain School environmental education program and a winter studying place-based education and nonprofit administration. During your free time in the North Cascades, there are countless opportunities for hiking, boating, skiing, climbing and other incredible recreation pursuits in one of the wildest settings in America.


Graduate Class of 2016

Liz Blackman
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Liz is a Southern girl at heart. After graduating from Hendrix College in Arkansas in 2008 with a degree in Religious Studies, she now calls the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, home. Liz heard the song of her nature calling her first summer at Girl Scout Camp and she came alive under the Magnolia, White Oak, Loblolly Pine and Bald Cypress trees of the South. She spent every free moment in high school and college working to share her nature awe with others, teaching sailing and kayaking on the weekends to raise extra money to canoe Boundary Waters in Canada and backpack in Spain. Whether as a Montessori educator, tennis instructor, Girl Scout Program Director or corporate trainer, Liz has spent much of the last 10 years teaching. She hopes to merge her passion for teaching, small business development and the natural world and one day open a nature-based early childhood program or environmental education consulting company. Before arriving at the ELC, you could find Liz covered in mud crystal digging in the Ouachitas, bird watching covered in mud and listening to records on her farmhouse porch, or covered in mud and surrounded by children, bugs and boats on the shores of Lake Texoma. She looks forward to getting her hands dirty changing the world and cultivating a more sustainable future with her fellow students in the M.Ed. program with her dog Ransom by her side.


Chelsea Ernst
Chelsea grew up on a barrier island off of the Georgia coast, climbing Live Oak trees and playing in marsh grass. After living in Memphis, Tennessee briefly in high school, she moved to the southern Appalachian Mountains and attended the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) and studied Environmental Sciences, focusing on Ecology and Environmental Biology. She spent her free time in Asheville camping, backpacking, getting out and listening to live music, cooking delicious meals, cycling, and going on hikes in exploration of Western North Carolina’s biodiverse ecosystem. Through her studies at UNCA and an internship at Asheville GreenWorks—teaching the community about invasive plant species and removal methods—she found a passion for sharing knowledge about the planet’s ecosystems. Chelsea believes that educating others about the environment is the first step in saving the world, and is excited to find new ways to share that knowledge and passion.


Rachel Gugich
Rachel discovered her passion for the outdoors exploring in the woods along with her twin sister and many pets growing up. She feels very lucky to have grown up in Washington and  to call this great state home. Rachel attended the University of Washington where she earned her B.A in Comparative History of Ideas with a minor in History. Upon graduation she completed an Americorps term of service with the Montana Conservation Corps. Rachel has a background in environmental education, outdoor recreation and place-based learning, This includes programs in Washington ( YMCA Camp Orkila and Camp Dudley, Catholic Youth Organization's Camp Hamilton and Boy Scouts, Camp Pigott); as well as working with organizations in Minnesota, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. While in Wyoming, Rachel worked as a field education instructor for the Teton Science Schools. Recently, Rockaway Beach, Oregon has been her home as a forest field instructor with the Northwest Outdoor Science School. Rachel is passionate about experiencing the great outdoors and seeking out new waterfalls big and small to photograph and enjoy. She is excited for this graduate program and all it has to offer.


Petra LeBaron-Botts
Although Petra was born in Portland, OR, she cannot in good faith call herself a native Pacific Northwesterner. She spent her childhood in the wildly different climates of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC before departing for the midwest where she earned her BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from Indiana University. After a short stint of employment with the federal government, Petra ran at top speeds to the west coast where she discovered her passion for mountaineering amidst the splendor of the Cascade Range. Through a series of recommendations, dares, and last-minute applications, Petra was hired by the National Outdoor Leadership School in 2011, which has allowed her to explore the wilderness of Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. She also had the good fortune to stumble upon the field of wilderness therapy, and spent two wonderful years hiking her students all over Colorado and Utah, teaching primitive fire-making, and carving a *lot* of wooden spoons. She decided to return to school to pursue a degree in the field that has brought her the most fulfillment, awe, and days wearing a fanny pack - environmental and outdoor education. She is thrilled to return to the mountains that bred her love of climbing and can’t wait to make a career of sleeping on the ground. In her free time, Petra loves board games, planning her homestead, wildcrafting, yoga, and hiking with her husband John and her dog, Lunchbox.


Lauren Ridder
Lauren grew up creekin’ and camping in the hills of Tennessee, and expanded on her love of the outdoors while studying biology at the University of Tampa.  Science and education have always captured Lauren’s interest, but it was not until her junior year of college that she discovered she could combine the two disciplines into one incredible career path in the environmental education field.  Subsequent work with the National Park Service in Colorado provided invaluable classroom experience and ultimately inspired Lauren to continue her education.  Lauren cannot wait to lace up her hiking boots once again and explore her new home in the Cascades.


Mike Rosekranz
Mike grew up in Wisconsin and spent his childhood canoeing and fishing the Northwood’s Rivers and exploring the woods and prairies. He loves everything about the outdoors and finds spending time in the outdoors a mental and spiritual necessity in his life. He has been involved in outdoor education for the past four years and takes great pride in what he does. He has worked as an outdoor educator in California and Washington, as well as a backpacking guide in Yellowstone National Park. His favorite place in the world is Yosemite National Park and it was Yosemite that inspired him to move out west after college and follow in the footsteps of his hero, John Muir, who went from Wisconsin to California as well. His greatest passions in life are backpacking, national parks, and wolf conservation. He had his eye on this program for two years and after researching just about every environmental education grad program in the country he found this program to far exceed any other. He is excited for this program and hopes that it will give him the skills and networking opportunities to land a job working with the National Park Service or a wildlife conservation organization.


Kelly Sleight
Kelly is from a small town in Maine called Carrabassett Valley. She loves all things Maine, especially snow and moose, and considers herself very lucky to call such a beautiful state home. She also has a bit of a travel bug though, and has found many other places to call home as well. Her favorite places include: El Salvador, where she spent three years serving in the Peace Corps; Spain, where she spent a year teaching; and Massachusetts, where she has taught outdoor education and worked as a Program Coordinator for the Girl Scouts. She carries little pieces of all the wonderful places she has been and people she has met and holds them very close to her heart. She is always looking for new places to go and wonderful people to go with her. She enjoys bringing people together with stories, culture, food, and adventure planning. She is very excited to embark on this new adventure of learning and teaching in the M.Ed. program at NCI. She has been a teacher longer than she realizes and is excited to fully embrace this identity and inspire many young children through environmental and leadership development. She cannot wait to be an advocate for environmental education, a better educator, and North Cascades wanderer.


Kevin Sutton
Kevin hails from Portland, OR and grew up in a family of outdoor enthusiasts who cycled, hiked, camped, and fished together. He discovered his passion for adventure and experiential education during a trip to Costa Rica and later pursued that, graduating from college with a degree in Tourism and Outdoor Leadership. Over the years he has worked as a climbing wall instructor, a backcountry ranger for the National Park Service, and an interpretive ranger with Oregon State Parks. When he applied to NCI, he described himself as: “a tough looking dude, standing in wildflowers, wearing a salmon colored shirt.” He has matured a bit since that photo was taken but he will always enjoy the juxtaposition.  Maybe that says something about his personality. Things he likes: bicycling, rock climbing, chocolate (Hershey’s, Nestle, Reese’s), board games, and such. Sometime he’s photogenic..


Gavin Willis
The youngest member of the cohort family, as well as the most local, Gavin brings with him a love of the outdoors fostered at an early age by free explorations of the local woods and streams with his childhood friends in Pennsylvania. Since then he has continued to pursue his passion of biology, specifically ecosystems. A move to the Pacific Northwest in middle school, combined with an elementary school science unit on whales, pushed his interests toward marine biology, and he graduated in 2013 from Western Washington University, majoring in marine biology. Along the way he had a chance to study abroad in Mexico (which simultaneously gave him the travel bug as well as gave him a research paper to write - he claims it's still in progress) but found, as a teacher's assistant in the Biology 101 classroom, that his true passion was teaching. He hopes that this program will be an incredible adventure and at the same time give him the skill set needed to design a place-based learning high-school curriculum that will challenge and inspire all students to succeed, regardless of their abilities or learning level.

Graduate Class of 2017

Adam Bates
Born and raised in Bellingham and an alumni of Western Washington University's English Department, Adam has been living in Seattle for the last five years. After exploring a wide variety of jobs and career paths, he felt a desire to combine a love for the outdoors with a passion for working with people, leadership development, and youth programming. He was drawn to North Cascades Institute for the combination of coursework and real work experience against the backdrop of the North Cascades. Adam is a published poet and journalist, a hiker, a biker, a runner, a musician and was featured in a movie about boats when he was eight.


Emily Baronich
Emily grew up just outside of Buffalo, NY in a rural village called Springville. She has has been camping within New York State since she was two and could always be found climbing trees, jumping in mud puddles looking for crayfish, eventually working at a summer camp offering canoe trips. Emily has a bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education with a concentration in Mathematics and has spent the last year teaching Algebra to 8th, 9th and 10th grade students. Shortly after graduation, her great love for the outdoors and teaching led her to North Cascades Institute. Emily is excited for a new adventure in the Pacific Northwest and to immerse herself in a greater outdoor classroom.


Ginna Malley Campos
Ginna Malley Campos was born and raised on the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in Borikén. Limestone caves, rivers and beaches were her backyard and friends and family were her home. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology and has since been exploring her passions and deepening her practice in agro-ecology, permaculture, yoga and outdoor experiential learning for young people. She has a passion for the outdoors and for all the wonders that the natural world provides for us to grow, learn and heal.


Tyler Davis
Tyler was born and raised in southern Mississippi. Growing up, she spent most days outside climbing trees and exploring with her brothers, as well as taking care of her animals and garden. She had the opportunity to intern at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota when she was in college and realized she had a passion for environmental education. After graduating in 2014 from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology, she started researching graduate programs that would allow her to pursue her goal of teaching others about the great outdoors. She found out about this program, and is excited for the incredible opportunity to explore and learn in the Pacific Northwest. In her free time, Tyler's favorite things are hiking, camping, kayaking, listening to records, drinking coffee and spending time with her family, including her dog, Blu. 


Emma Ewert
Emma grew up on the beautiful island of Lopez in the Puget Sound. She spent her childhood hiking and camping all over the Pacific Northwest with her family, and when she wasn’t outside building forts or exploring, she usually had her nose in a book. She finished high school at the United World College of the Atlantic in the United Kingdom. She returned to North America to attend McGill University in Montreal, where she studied International Development and Spanish. However, it was when she returned to Lopez and started working at her local school through AmeriCorps that she discovered that her true passion was education. In particular, she loved watching her students grow and blossom when she could get them outside. When looking for opportunities to be work with kids outside, she remembered an awesome program she had attended as a 5th grader called Mountain School. Looking into it, she was excited to discover that North Cascades Institute had a graduate program! She is excited to spend the next few years being outdoors and engaging kids in the world around them. These days, she is still camping, hiking and reading as much as she can, especially fiction and history set in the Pacific Northwest. She also loves storytelling, baking and knitting.


Emily Ford
Emily grew up “on the lake” in Harbor Springs, Michigan with a healthy diet of beachcombing and tree-climbing. In 2011, she decided she was also hungry for some mountains and moved to the Northwest to pursue a Geology-Environmental Studies degree from Whitman College. She spent her summers guiding multi-day rafting trips on the Green, Colorado, Yampa and Salmon Rivers. Some of her most formative college experiences were in New Zealand, where she fell in love with glaciers and lush forests. Now she has returned to glacial bliss and the big woods with North Cascades Institute’s Graduate Program, during which she enjoys learning and teaching experiential education to anyone who will tolerate her zealous passion for rocks and enthusiasm for camp songs. She looks forward to full days of wandering in the mountains, cozy nights in the Wild Ginger Library and contributing to the many communities that thrive in this region. 


Aly Gourd
Originally from Colorado, Aly discovered her love for the Pacific Northwest while attending the University of Puget Sound. After graduating with a degree in Business, she worked as a Wilderness Therapy Guide in Vermont, spent time in Colorado working at the Douglas County Outdoor Education Center, and eventually made her return to the PNW to teach bouldering to kids at the Seattle Bouldering Project while also working as an assistant Montessori teacher. When adventuring, she can be found biking, climbing, and berrypicking her way through the Northwest. At NCI, she's looking forward to exploring with a community of passionate people who care for the environment and who hope to inspire others to respect, appreciate, and experience the natural world.


Rob Healy
Rob was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and has been passionate about working outdoors since he was a teenager. He's been employed in a number of environments including volunteering as a mountaineering and climbing instructor for the Cascade Leadership Challenge, Community Youth Services (programming for at-risk youth) and Search and Rescue with King County, WA and Gallatin County, MT. For the last several years, Rob has worked for the Evergreen State College in a number of capacities including Outdoor Program Coordinator, Challenge Course Manager, Athletic Strength and Conditioning Coach and adjunct professor of Experiential Education. Teaching in the mountains and enabling people to surpass their own goals, barriers and expectations has been Rob's calling for as long as he can remember.


Ben Kusserow
Ben grew up around Pittsburgh, PA with an unending appetite for adventure and exploration. Through Allegheny College, he was able to discover his love for singing, cooking, nature and, most of all, teaching. He served a year in a fourth-grade classroom in Manchester, NH through an AmeriCorps program called City Year. During that year of tutoring, he discovered two very important facts: he needed to teach outside and that there is a lack of access of technology and nature to a lot of the students he was serving. With this in mind, his goal is to operate his own Environmental Education Center that allows students from all backgrounds to access the best in technology and nature so that they will develop into the stewards of tomorrow.


 Joe Loviska
Joe grew up in a suburb north of Seattle in a backyard shaded by columnar Douglas firs. It wasn't until he left home for college in Missoula, Montana that he learned that not all forests are so mossy and verdant with goliath trees reaching up out of sight. In the Rockies, he found a new nature where lodgepole pines and larches colonized north-facing slopes while the south faces were bare mountain prairies. These differences stoked his curiosity, and he spent his college years studying creative writing and exploring the backcountry. He learned to backpack, rock climb and mountain bike; to wander along creeks, tracking wildlife, hounding rocks, and generally finding truth and solace in the outdoors. After college he traveled, worked as a bicycle mechanic and, in 2010, became a Tour Leader with Adventure Cycling, a nonprofit bicycle touring organization. From coast to coast and in 38 states, he's now ridden his bicycle more miles than he can count. In those experiences, he found that bicycle touring is a most intimate way to travel through an unknown place and really get to know it: what it smells like; which ecosystems are intact; and which communities are open to newcomers. He chose this M.Ed. program because he wants to combine his skills as a group leader and outdoor recreationalist with his love of wild nature and his interest in education and conservation.


Zachary Lundgren
Born in California, Zachary grew up in many communities up and down the west coast. Having lived in Seattle, Bellingham, the San Juan Islands, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Humboldt County, Zachary is at home near the Pacific Ocean where he enjoys surfing, sailing, mountain climbing and fish tacos. Zachary studied Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental College. He spent his summers following in his mother's footsteps working for the Forest Service as wildland firefighter. After attaining his degree, Zachary worked as a middle school teacher before becoming an EMT and working on an ambulance as well as in the Emergency Department at Harborview in Seattle. Enjoying the excitement but missing the field of education, Zachary found the perfect program at the North Cascades Institute to continue advancing his knowledge in education. He is passionate for the outdoors and has a deep sense of responsibly in promoting the natural world's preservation through education.


Hannah Newell
Hannah grew up in the Philippines, Indonesia and parts of Southern California. Currently, she calls Seattle home, but her parents hail from Phoenix, Arizona and she finds herself frequenting the desert for vacations and holidays. She would describe herself as a passionate pursuer of all things interesting. She is an amateur photographer with an affinity for hiking, yoga, swimming, writing and crafts. She dabbles in herbal medicines, mushroom hunting, gardening and succulent propagation. She decided to go for this residency program because of her desire to learn and explore the North American landscape and so she can confidently pursue a career in outdoor education.


Sasha Savoian
Propelled by a deep love of landscape, she tends to land in towns where her feet can roam freely through beauty. She's spent time on trails through thick forests leading to craggy peaks, kayaking rivers and the salty waters of the Salish Sea; wandering along slick rock in the Utah desert; skiing through light, dry snow in the Rockies; and backpacking to the wild coast of Washington. She spent a decade in Jackson, WY where she moved after graduating from college in Tennessee, but she's lived in Bellingham, WA for 13 years with no intention of leaving this wild, glaciated, river-gorged, soggy area. Sustainable living is important to her and she lives a simple lifestyle that affords her time to spend outside. You can find her sinking her hands in the dirt of her garden and eating the vegetables that grow, picking berries off unruly bushes, biking around town to her favorite swimming hole, hiking the steep and forested trails of Whatcom County and in the North Cascades, practicing yoga or leaning against a madrona tree overlooking the bay with a good book.


Holli Watne
Holli is a native to the Pacific Northwest and has always found joy in simple pleasures, like looking for life under rocks and squishing mud between her toes. In 2012, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology from Western Washington University. At this time she married, bought a small house in Burlington and started working in the horticulture industry and volunteering for the Skagit Conservation District. She has become known throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties as “the bug lady” because she has been regularly sharing her love for insects by teaching free classes to the public since 2011. The classes started as a self-designed internship with Washington State Parks, but has grown into a deeply fulfilling hobby that Holli has shared with several organizations and now accepts as part of her identity. She has found that teaching members of her community about the principles of Biology, Ecology and Entomology has been far more rewarding than any job ever has, which is why she decided to join the North Cascade Institute's Master of Environmental Education program. When finished with her degree she would like to remain in Skagit County, and serve the community by helping it appreciate Skagit's natural beauty and make well-informed ecological decisions to sustain it.


Annah Young
Annah spent her formative years in a small town in central Maine, tromping around in the nearby rivers, lakes and mountains. She got her undergraduate degree at Skidmore College. Driven by her infatuation with the mountains, she moved to Jackson Hole, WY where she worked for a nonprofit that assisted adults with developmental disabilities and connected them with nature through outdoor experiences. She worked in Berkeley with an environmental education nonprofit organization that uses school gardens and reforestation projects to empower youth. Annah is deeply inspired by this work and excited to continue exploration into environmental education as a means to connect young people with the natural world and to promote social and environmental justice. A keen backcountry skier, biker and explorer, she is beyond excited to experience the magic of the North Cascades! 


Joshua Porter: Graduate Program Director

big_quotation_mark.pngIf you want to be a leader in Environmental Education, we designed this program with you in mind. I invite you to come visit the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and see for yourself! You can also contact me at or (206) 526-2568 with any questions.Study-Joshua