Program Overview

For the first five quarters of the program, students live at or near the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, located in North Cascades National Park on the shores of Diablo Lake. The Learning Center opened in 2005 and serves as the residential campus for North Cascades Institute. It features guest lodges, staff and grad student housing, a library, classrooms, computer lounge, an administrative building and a dining hall. Hiking trails connect the campus with over a million acres of public lands of the North Cascades mountains.

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center Campus

Photo Icon Lara Swimmer (l), Rick Allen (r)

In the living classroom of the North Cascades, students act as professional instructors for a variety of Institute programs, including Mountain School, our award-winning residential school program for elementary, middle and high school students. Graduate students explore all aspects of curriculum design while working with schools to meet grade level learning standards. In addition, students undertake many responsibilities under the supervision of North Cascades Institute faculty and staff – from planning, teaching and evaluating programs to nonprofit administration, risk management, marketing and community relations.

During the year-long residency program at the North Cascades Institute, graduate students are immersed in varied educational settings. Students participate in natural and cultural history intensives, professional development trainings, design individual projects in curriculum development and nonprofit administration, and complete a teaching practicum. In doing so, students collaborate with many of the Northwest's best educators, naturalists and conservation leaders, including rangers and researchers with North Cascades National Park.


Graduate students working on the Heather Restoration Project in the North Cascades

Summer: Place-based Learning Field Course

Students get to know their new home by engaging with the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades through field excursions across the region. This intensive six-week course includes canoeing on the Skagit River, learning about local communities and sustainable agriculture, hiking in alpine areas, cohort community formation and a culminating 10-day wilderness backpacking experience.


Students learning about geology along the Skagit River. Here they observe 30,000 year-old wood. Photo Icon Darcy Page

Fall: Natural and Cultural History Coursework

Join our collaborative community, working learning and living at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Grow as a naturalist and pursue a specific Pacific Northwest natural history research project. Explore the natural world with knowledgeable experts through a series of seasonal natural history intensives meant to spark curiosity, provide a foundation of naturalist skills and enhance your knowledge of the surrounding landscapes


Graduate Students at Shannon Point Marine Center for curriculum training. Photo Icon Joshua Porter

Winter: Leadership and Nonprofit Administration & Curriculum Courses 

Engage curriculum design theory by creating lesson plans and curriculum projects in an area of environmental education. Integrate practicum course pedagogies into practice as an educator.

Build your foundation of nonprofit administration skills through coursework and participating in the behind-the-scenes operations of North Cascades Institute. Learn from Institute staff as you work toward earning your Certificate in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration. Topics covered include fundraising, organizational development, finance, program management, marketing and operations.


Graduate Student Angela Burlile teaching fifth graders during Mountain School

Spring: Teaching Practicum 

Develop and hone skills as an environmental educator through interdisciplinary training and teaching experiences in our Mountain School program. Students focus on understanding and expanding their identities as educators. Receive constructive feedback and support from instructional experts and take your teaching skills to the next level.


Graduate student Jenny O'Toole leading a group of teenagers during a summer Youth Leadership Adventure 

Summer #2: Leadership Tracks

Hone in on an area of interest for a summer of professional development and develop and practice leadership skills in environmental education. Leadership tracks include facilitating wilderness expeditions for high school youth; collaborating with the National Park Service and Forest Service in areas of interpretation, restoration and conservation; coordinating a local camp focused on literacy and helping local nonprofits advance.


Graduate students at Oyster Dome in the Chuckanut Mountains south of Bellingham,WA. Photo Icon Angela Burlile

Fall/Winter #2: Western Washington University Courses

Moving to Bellingham, students connect their residency experience and the educational theory that supports it through two quarters in the classroom at Western Washington University. Courses include foundations in environmental education, conservation psychology and assessment and evaluation and culminates in a Capstone project focusing on a personal area of inquiry.

Celebrate your accomplishments with family and friends at an intimate graduation ceremony hosted at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center!