Undergrad Spotlight: Maria Gamman

“I’ve always felt that whatever you do without getting paid on your own time, that’s what you should try to do for your job,” says Maria Gamman, who is heading into her final quarter at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “Particularly what you enjoyed doing when you were younger—something you had a natural pull or attraction for.”

Maria Gamman

From an early age, Maria Gamman says she has always felt a strong pull to work with wildlife (here, it’s a beetle!).

For Gamman, that meant trying to find a career involving animals. She grew up in Livingston, Mont., about 60 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, and enjoyed early exposure to the mountains and wild lands of Big Sky Country. She remembers asking her parents to order a series of pamphlets about wildlife, which would arrive every month—each one featuring a different species, and each mailing going into a binder Gamman could page through again and again. “I’ve been studying wildlife since I was about 10 years old,” she says. “I was always hungry for it.”

Of course, developing a passion for wildlife was the easy part. Channeling that childhood curiosity into a practical career—as you can hear the cynics harrumphing—is not as simple as it sounds.

Yet there’s nothing naïve about Gamman’s philosophy. She’s never relied on wishful thinking or idle dreaming to reach her goals. She’s had to will herself—through great resourcefulness and resilience—to overcome a number of personal and professional challenges, and there have been plenty of recalibrations and near-derailments along the way. But now, as she wraps up her degree, Gamman can look back on all her decisions and detours and see the journey has been almost as exciting as the opportunities ahead of her.

West, East and Back Again
After attending school in Livingston through 8th grade, Gamman earned a scholarship to attend the Madeira School, an all-girls boarding school in McLean, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. Madeira attracts students from all over the country and world, and it was a dramatic East Coast plunge for Gamman. “It was a challenge,” she says, “and especially my first year, my freshman year, was very hard to be away from my family.”

Maria Gamman

Gamman, left, at Mount Rainier National Park.

Gamman quickly adapted, though, and took advantage of the school’s rigorous curriculum, which included spending every Wednesday at an outside internship. Her projects included volunteering at a retirement center, working with a Montana senator, and tutoring at a middle school in downtown D.C.—each experience feeding her love of hands-on, applied learning.

Yet the East Coast couldn’t compete with the mountains and wilderness of the West, or the proximity to her family, so when it came time to think about colleges, Gamman decided to head back across the country. “My older sister Réva had moved out to Seattle my sophomore year, so I had visited her out here,” she says. “We walked around campus, and I fell in love with the University of Washington. Then my senior year, my entire immediate family moved to Issaquah, so UW was the only school I wanted to go to, and the only school I applied to.”

After she was accepted, Gamman started working on the next hurdle: financing her education. “I’m one of seven kids in my family, and my parents didn’t have the money to put me through college,” she says.

She managed to secure grants to cover tuition and expenses her first year, but then her funding ran out. Gamman had initially chosen to major in biology, but she wasn’t feeling confident enough in her direction or finances to commit to another year of full tuition. So she withdrew from UW and enrolled at Bellevue Community College in 2005 to try studying business. It was a brief experiment. “That is not my thing,” says Gamman. “Not happening.”

At that point, Gamman decided to take some time off and work, and she found a position with a local moving company called Miracle Movers. She started as a saleswoman and quickly worked her way up to manage the office. But after six years at a desk, she was feeling pretty burned out from the routine. “At some point I just discovered I couldn’t handle working in an office for the rest of my life,” she says.

Back to School
Gamman had never lost her interest in working with wildlife, so she did some research to figure out the best program for her if she returned to UW. She ended up calling the SEFS advising office and connecting with Lisa Nordlund, who encouraged her to consider the Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major with a wildlife conservation concentration. It sounded perfect, so Gamman re-enrolled at Bellevue College (previously Bellevue Community College) to get her prerequisites in order, and then she returned to UW in winter 2013.

Maria Gamman

Gamman has thrived in the applied, hands-on field courses at SEFS.

There was still the issue of funding, and Gamman had pulled together enough grant and loan money to cover her first year back. It was a risk, and another big investment for her, but she quickly realized she’d made a terrific decision. “Oh, I love it—I love this program,” she says. “From that first quarter, I’ve absolutely loved my classes, and it’s not that they’re easy. Most of the classes I’m required to take are pretty challenging, but I love that.”

She especially enjoyed courses with large field components, including Wildlife Research Techniques (ESRM 351). “Really any class that has field trips is my favorite class every quarter,” she says. “I’m all about application, and field trips are the best method of teaching for me. I like to get out and do whatever it is I’m learning.”

A little less than a year into the program, though, Gamman lost her older sister Réva, who had been her closest friend. “She passed away last November from brain cancer when she was 38 years old,” says Gamman. “We’re about 10 years apart, and she was my best friend, as well as a mother figure to me.”

To spend as much time as possible with Réva, Gamman withdrew from the 2013 Autumn Quarter. “That was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” she says. “The more life I live, the more I recognize that relationships are the key to happiness. I am so happy I chose to spend that time with her without the distractions of school or work.”

The Final Push
Determined to finish her degree, Gamman returned to SEFS for the Winter Quarter. She had won a School of Environmental and Forest Sciences Scholarship, awarded through the College of the Environment, to cover the 2013-2014 academic year, and she was able to scrape together enough extra money to stretch through her final quarter. “It’s just barely going to work, but it is going to work,” she says.

Maria Gamman

One of Gamman’s pillars of support for the past few years has been her fiancé Victor Martinez. “Victor has really been there for me, supporting me while I’m in school and after my sister passed away,” she says. The two met salsa dancing, and they’ve since competed in a number of competitions—including earning second place regionally in the Pacific Northwest in 2012 (in the amateur division).

Since she wanted to make the most of this investment in herself—and to make herself more competitive in the job market—she had also added a Quantitative Science minor. It seemed like a great idea to bolster her scientific credentials, but that didn’t mean she could sleepwalk her way through it.

“I struggled with math until my sophomore year of high school,” says Gamman. “I don’t know what I missed in grade school, but some things just didn’t click.”

Everything started falling into place when she took algebra, and especially when she discovered how much she enjoyed statistics and quantitative science courses at SEFS. Suddenly math made a whole lot more sense to her, and felt much more relevant to her studies—not to mention more applicable to her career goals.

Gamman has shrewdly sought out a number of internship opportunities, as well, to build up more field experience for the sort of jobs she’s thinking of after graduation.

For a week and a half last summer, she helped SEFS graduate student Laurel Peelle with telemetry for VHF-collared snowshoe hares and vegetation plots for kill sites as part of Peelle’s Canada lynx research. They were working on kill identification and how to systematically prove what kind of predator killed a snowshoe hare. Also, as part of a different project last summer, Gamman spent another week assisting with pellet plot surveys to establish population density baselines for snowshoe hares around Loomis, Wash.; she recently returned from doing two more weeks of those surveys this summer, too. “I’m a poop counter,” says Gamman, and she actually first got turned onto the wonders of studying animal scat through her friend and fellow SEFS student (and now graduate) Tara Wilson.

“I feel like internships are so important for learning what you want to do, and getting you experience for the job you want to have,” says Gamman. “Go out and try it. That was one of the reasons I did two different internships last summer—and they were very different—is because I wanted to see if I could really cut it in field work. You’re not going to know unless you get out there.”

Maria Gamman

Gamman and Martinez at a competition in Las Vegas.

What she’s learned so far is that she definitely wants to work as a wildlife field technician, and, if possible, preferably in the Seattle area or greater Pacific Northwest. Graduate school could be down the road, but right now Gamman wants to be outside and working hands-on with scientific research and conservation. In the meantime, as she tweaks her resume and starts applying for positions, she has already completed her minor and has only a few classes to go this fall, as well as her senior capstone project, before graduating.

Even with that job search ahead of her, Gamman can still savor a rare moment of relative calm: She has no regrets about coming back to school, she loves what she’s studying, her funding for this quarter is secured, and she’s worked hard to give herself a vast horizon of opportunity in a field she loves.

That’s a fine reward for her perseverance and optimism.

Photos © Maria Gamman.

Undergrad Spotlight: Julie Hower

Julie Hower, a senior Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major, split her childhood between the two coasts: first out west in the Los Angeles area, and then back east near Tampa, Fla., for her high school years. By the time she started looking at colleges, though, she felt the call of the West once again.

“Because I grew up in LA,” she says, “my dad would take me to Yosemite and Sequoia, so I really missed the West Coast.”

She considered a number of schools, including a few in California, but a University of Washington campus tour in 2008 sealed it for her. “It felt like a great fit,” she says.

Julie Hower

“Each national park is different, but Yellowstone is something else,” says Hower, who has also worked on summer projects at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.

Hower arrived on campus originally interested in studying marine biology and fisheries, but later in her freshman year she attended a seminar with Professor Aaron Wirsing involving his research with tiger sharks and dugongs, and wolves and elk. She loved the concept of predator-prey ecology and quickly shifted her focus to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “I knew I wanted to be a wildlife major,” she says.

In the next few years, she took advantage of a wide range of field courses, including Spring Comes to the Cascades (ESRM 401) with Professor Tom Hinckley, and Wildlife Research Techniques (ESRM 351) with Professor Steve West. Then she took “Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems” (ESRM 459), which begins during spring break with an intensive week in Yellowstone National Park. Led by Professors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal and Wirsing, the course focuses on a range of wildlife and management issues in the park, including corvid distribution and wolf predation.

The experience really resonated with Hower, and this past winter she signed up to take part in a long-running study of the wolves in Yellowstone as part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

Back in 1995 and 1996, after decades of wolves being completely absent from the ecosystem, 31 were reintroduced to the park. Since then, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has worked with the National Park Service (NPS) to research and closely monitor the wolves, including carrying out two 30-day winter surveys every year—one at the start of the season, and one at the end. Technicians receive a small stipend and free housing, and they operate as volunteers for the NPS.

Julie Hower

Hower sizes up a wolf track in Yellowstone.

This year marked the 19th winter of observations. From the beginning, one of the project leaders has been Rick McIntyre, a biological technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who’s been involved with monitoring the park’s wolves since 1996. McIntyre is famous for the countless hours he’s invested in these observations, at one point logging more than 3,000 consecutive days heading out to look for wolves. The survey crews who work with him don’t quite have to match that standard, but they don’t fall too far off that pace.

Each volunteer is assigned to follow one specific pack. Hower and the other members of her crew—which included two graduate students, one from South Dakota and another from Wisconsin—were charged with tracking the seven wolves of the Junction Butte Pack.

For 30 days in March, their weekly schedule involved six days in the field and one day off. Using radio telemetry, they’d drive through their pack’s territory along the main park road and try to locate the wolves, and then hike out for a closer view when they zeroed in on the pack. Their job was to record a number of behaviors, including monitoring interactions with elk, bison and bears, as well as predator-prey encounters: the chase and the attack, noting which wolves did what, whether it was a pup that initiated or the alpha took the lead. They also performed field necropsies of prey to determine the age, sex and condition of the individual.

Julie Hower

Her crew once spotted a grizzly and a wolf in the same area, and Hower says they were jumping up and down with excitement—albeit from a safe distance.

They’d routinely put in 13-hour days, topped off by some paperwork at the end of it. “It’s not a glamorous job,” says Hower, “and the days get very long and tiring. But it’s an awesome and rewarding experience seeing these amazing animals in the wild.”

Of course, finding the wolves in the first place was no easy task. “A lot of people have this ideal that you’re going to see wolves every day,” she says. Yet you’re talking about tracking 80 or so wolves—or actually seven, in the case of this one pack—ranging through Yellowstone’s nearly 3,500 square miles.

Numbers aren’t the only challenge, either. During Hower’s first week in the park, the temperature was about -22 degrees, and the wind was howling with 50-60 mph gusts. Toting their equipment, her crew spent hours hiking to the top of a ridge in pursuit of the wolves, and they didn’t get their first glimpse until the third day. They set up their tripod and spotting scopes, hands shaking in the bitter cold, bracing against the wind and hoping they weren’t blown off the mountain—but they had finally located the pack. “It was a grand introduction,” she says.

From then on, Hower never got tired of seeing the wolves. The excitement was fresh each day, because during the undisturbed quiet of a Yellowstone winter, you never know what’s lurking around the next bend.

“On my very last day, I was getting ready to leave the park and drive back to Seattle, and I decided to reminisce with a drive out to the Lamar Valley,” she says. “Right as I made the turn out of the Tower Ranger Station, a wolf crosses in front of my car about 10 feet ahead of me.”

Julie Hower

After a winter of surveying the wolves from a distance, Hower got to see 889F saunter across the road right in front her on her last day in the park.

It was a female, 889F, that used to be part of the Junction Butte Pack but had separated in February to go with a lone male, 755M. “I was just in shock and laughing,” says Hower. “I couldn’t believe it was happening as I was ready to leave the park.”

That was a fine send-off after five incredible weeks in the park, and she’s now back on campus wrapping up her final quarter before graduation this June. Graduate school might be down the road, yet for now she wants more field experience. In fact, she just accepted a position as a Wildlife Biological Sciences Technician with Helena National Forest, where she’ll be surveying wolverines, Canada lynx and snowshoe hares. She’ll be living in Lincoln, Mont., and can’t wait to get started shortly after graduation.

Given her many field courses and hands-on research training, as well as field tech jobs and internships at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park, Hower has put herself in an excellent position to thrive as a wildlife researcher—and she’s already well on her way!

“I’m so happy I came up here,” she says. “It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Photos © Julie Hower.

Julie Hower

Spring Comes to the Cascades

Last week, Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley led his famous “Spring Comes to the Cascades” (ESRM 401) class on a snowshoe hike out to Spring Lake. Their object was to learn about two new species—mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir—and understand the effect of avalanches and snowpack on ecological and ecosystem processes. The Thursday section of the class got battered with rain, sleet and the threat of avalanches, while the Saturday section, pictured below, had much better luck!

Joining the students were Professors Hinckley and Iain Robertson from Landscape Architecture. In the back row, left to right: Jaime Yazzie (ESRM), Jin Nam (PoE), Lisa Day (ESRM), Carolyn Foster (CEP), Tom Hinckley (SEFS), Kyla Caddey (ESRM), KC Christensen (LARCH), Shelby Upton (LARCH), Tyler Caulkins (BIOL), Rebecca Leafmeeker (SOC WF), Andrew Shuckhart (ESRM), Jordon Bunch (SEFS – PCMI), Zach Williams (SEFS – PCMI).

Front row, left to right: Iain Robertson, Crescent Calimpong (SEFS – MEH), Jingya Chen (ESRM), Ashley Imhof (ESRM), Mary Diamond (ESRM), Tom Jenkins (PoE), Tabatha Rood (SEFS).

Photo © Tom Hinckley.

Spring Comes to the Cascades

Conservation Catwalks: Strut Your Environmental Stuff!

For many first-year students, freshman orientation can be an overwhelming experience. They’re confronted with so many new faces and personalities, so many different responsibilities and places to navigate, and on top of everything is the challenge of meeting and making new friends.

For Ava Holmes and Olivia Moskowitz, though, they cut right through all the haze. They weren’t even in the same orientation group this past summer, but they picked each other out of the crowds and instantly connected over a shared love of dancing, conservation and fashion. The latter two passions became the basis of a dynamic partnership, and the two even organized a new student group, “Conservation in Style,” which focuses on eco-friendly fashion to raise awareness and funds for endangered species.

Ava and Olivia

Ava Holmes, left, and Olivia Moskowitz connected instantly during freshman orientation.

Holmes, who grew up Ithaca, N.Y., was involved in fundraising for all sorts of environmental causes in high school, and during her sophomore year she specifically started working with The Gabby Wild Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes wildlife conservation through the intersection of science and art. Her dad is president of Primitive Pursuits, a wilderness school in Ithaca, and her mom has been involved in performance arts. “So it was my heritage to incorporate them both,” she says.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Moskowitz had similar interests in high school, and she spent a lot of time working at a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. She’s now enrolled as an Environmental Science and Resource Management major with SEFS, while Holmes is majoring in Environmental Studies with Program on the Environment.

Outside of class, Holmes and Moskowitz quickly built up their ranks in “Conservation in Style.” They serve as co-presidents and already have more than 60 members, and they got The Gabby Wild Foundation to sponsor the group. The timing was perfect.

In 2012, Gabby Wild introduced the “12 in 12 for 12” campaign, which involved her wearing 12 animal-inspired outfits—one for every month of the year of 2012—to raise money and awareness for the conservation of 12 threatened species around the planet. Designers from the Lifetime TV show Project Runway designed the collection, and that successful collaboration helped kick off a broader commitment to pairing fashion with conservation. As a result, one of the foundation’s big promotions now is a cross-country series of eco-fashion shows, called “Conservation Catwalks,” that raise money and awareness for conservation issues.

Holmes and Moskowitz saw a tremendous opportunity to organize their own “Conservation Catwalk” on the UW campus this winter. To prepare for such a major undertaking, they collaborated closely with a number of other student organizations, including ASUW and the Student Health Consortium, in their production of the Everybody Every Body Fashion Show; they coordinated with different university departments, from business and marketing to drama and architecture; they recruited student models around campus; and they also engaged in a wide range of sponsor and partner outreach, including choosing which designers to work with and some of the styles to feature, and emailing with the CEOs of companies and Project Runway designers.

Conservation Catwalk

A Sumatran tiger-inspired dress at the UW Conservation Catwalk on February 28.

In the end, they managed to pull together $10,000 in raffle prizes and completely packed the Husky Union Building for the show on February 28—all, it’s worth remembering, in only their second quarter as undergrads. They directed all the proceeds through The Gabby Wild Foundation to support wildlife conservation efforts for specific endangered species, including African elephants. “We want to make sure our money is going to the best cause and is really directed to animal conservation,” says Moskowitz.

The concept behind the catwalk—showcasing environmentally responsible fashion—takes many forms. Most of the outfits on display were produced by local designers, and all were made from sustainable materials. Eco-fashion includes using only eco-friendly materials, such as organic hemp or cotton, sustainable silk or recycled items that would otherwise be wasted or thrown away. “We had one designer on the catwalk use soda pop tabs to make chainmail dresses,” says Moskowitz. “Some really unique things come from using sustainable materials.”

If can tabs aren’t your aesthetic, don’t worry. There are plenty of more wearable, everyday designs, including some beautiful dresses made from vintage tablecloths, says Holmes, not to mention some eye-grabbing leopard- and tiger-inspired dresses.

Conservation Catwalk

A dress inspired by the critically endangered Amur leopard. Some estimates have fewer than 30 of these leopards remaining in the wild in Russia and China.

Whether through those designs or through the concept of the show, a big part of what motivates Holmes and Moskowitz is the chance to connect with people. They want to make conservation issues more accessible and personal, and really resonate with younger audiences. The catwalks are a perfect medium for that, because students get to see and wear high-fashion outfits and take part in a campus social event, all while raising visibility for critical conservation areas and extreme population decline in endangered species. “It’s a really fun way to make sustainability exciting,” says Holmes. “We encourage people think about where their fashion is coming from and how it affects the world.”

Some of the takeaways from the show are easy—like avoiding ivory products and fur, or new clothing whenever possible—and Holmes and Moskowitz are also trying to cultivate a deeper passion for conservation in as many people as they can reach. “I love getting people involved and getting people excited about a cause I’m passionate about,” says Moskowitz. “It’s really rewarding.”

It’s also a ton of work, but the hugely positive response to their first show made it all worth the effort. “It’s just really, really awesome when the event is over and everyone is saying, ‘I can’t wait for the next one,’” says Holmes.

They’re already mapping out the Conservation Catwalk for next year, in fact, and their calendar is hardly empty in the meantime. For the month of April—which they describe, without a hint of irony, as fairly “low-key”—they have an ongoing art exhibit at the Odegaard Library featuring the “12 in 12 for 12” collection and photos, and they had an exhibition on Earth Day. For May, they’re organizing a conservation dinner, an Animal Art Walk on May 22, and then at the end of the month The Gabby Wild Foundation is flying them to New York City for Elephantasia, the largest eco-fashion show at the Central Park Zoo to benefit African elephants.

One could reasonably ask, given their school and extracurricular obligations, how they have time for it all. “We don’t,” they’ll answer you, smiling, in unison. But somehow that hasn’t slowed them down or tamed their energy yet.

After all, these two classmates are forces of nature—or rather, forces for nature—and their mantra is pretty clear on this point: Stay Wild!

Photos courtesy of Ava Holmes and Olivia Moskowitz.

Alumni Spotlight: Cassie Gamm

Last week, we caught up with SEFS alumna Cassie Gamm, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2012 and is now in her first year as a master’s student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She had taken a year off school to research graduate programs, including options in Montana and Colorado, but she had always wanted to live in Alaska. So when she found an exciting opportunity to work with Professor Patrick Sullivan and study ecosystem CO2 exchange in the Arctic—a position fully funded by the National Science Foundation—she jumped at the chance.

Gamm, who grew up near Snohomish, Wash., drove up to Anchorage this past August and spent the fall taking classes. She had never been to Alaska before, and she’s loved exploring the trails that snake throughout the city, as well as the proximity to the mountains.

Cassie Gamm

Cassie Gamm motors back to her field site in Greenland.

At the university, working with the Sullivan Lab in the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, Gamm’s current research focuses on the dynamics of plant respiration in three dominant Arctic species in Southwest Greenland.

In the context of climate change, in particular, she’s investigating how warming temperatures and longer summer growing seasons will impact the ecosystem. Will increased leafy area with expanding shrub growth lead to more photosynthesis, making the region a carbon sink? Or will the thawing permafrost release more carbon than the new greenery will store? Great questions, and they’ve launched her down a new and challenging scientific path.

“Going to UW and the forestry school, we focused on big trees and studying ecosystems on a landscape scale,” says Gamm. “Coming up here to the Arctic, I’m now studying ecology more on a molecular level with respiration and photosynthesis. It’s been a big learning curve, but it’s also been really interesting to study a whole new ecosystem!”

In the Field
As for that new ecosystem, Gamm already completed her first field season in Greenland last summer. The field camp, made up of 8 to 12 researchers in tents, is about a mile from the Greenland ice sheet, and about 20 miles from the nearest town. There’s no running water, and they use water from a nearby lake for drinking and dish washing. The team shares a car to drive into town about once a week to access the Internet, take showers and buy any food they can find. Most of what they eat—lots of pasta and oatmeal, for instance—gets prepped and mailed out in boxes beforehand. And there’s not much locally in the way of fresh produce—maybe a potato or onion every once in a while—so cravings for fruits and veggies can get overwhelming.

“Oh man, it takes a toll on your body,” she says. “We’d talk about making gigantic salads all the time!”

Still, despite the stresses and privations of remote field work on the tundra, Gamm has taken to the research with gusto. “I’d never been to Alaska, let alone the Arctic,” she says, “and it’s awesome!”

Cassie Gamm

Here’s one way you’ll know you’ve arrived in the Arctic: signs alerting you to musk ox!

In fact, in case the Greenland experience sounds equally intriguing to you, Gamm is currently looking for a field assistant to join her out there this coming summer for roughly two months from late May to late August. You have until March 1 to apply, and there are quite a few perks, from the incredible hands-on research experience to getting to live in and explore a stunning Arctic ecosystem. That said, Gamm doesn’t soft-pedal the field conditions and expectations, so make sure to read the official posting and description below as carefully—and honestly—as possible before applying!

Ecosystem Ecology Field Assistant, Southwest Greenland
A field research assistant position is available for the summer of 2014 in Southwest Greenland. The field assistant will be working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to study the differential responses of grasses and shrubs (i.e. cycling of carbon and nitrogen) to a changing climate. The project is a collaborative effort between the University of Alaska Anchorage (Sullivan Lab) and Penn State University (Post and Eissenstat Labs). I am seeking a motivated and enthusiastic student with previous field experience. The research assistant will work one-on-one with me on my project examining both above and belowground carbon fluxes in grasses and shrubs. Duties will include taking accurate baseline measurements such as soil moisture and soil temperature, processing plant samples, data entry and operation of a Picarro isotopic gas analyzer. Experience with gas analysis is not required, but willingness to learn and troubleshoot technical issues is preferred. The field season will run from late May through late August. The fieldwork is based out of a tent camp about 20 miles from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Visits to town, which offers a wide range of amenities, will be made approximately once per week. Due to the remoteness of the tent camp, extensive camping experience and willingness to endure periods of poor weather is required. We are particularly interested in hiring college juniors or seniors who may be interested in pursuing graduate research in Arctic or Boreal ecology.

Travel from upstate New York to Kanger via the Air National Guard will be covered, as well as basic camping gear such as a tent and sleeping pad. The summer will be spent camping with a small group of researchers at a scenic site on the tundra about one mile from the ice sheet. Applicants should be physically fit and willing to learn and work as a team. A weekly stipend will be provided and compensation is dependent on experience level.

Please email a resume and cover letter to Cassie Gamm (cmgamm@alaska.edu). Review of applications will begin March 1 and will continue until the position has been filled.

Photos © Cassie Gamm.

Cassie Gamm

Undergrad Spotlight: Ross Kirshenbaum

At the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), our students bring all sorts of backgrounds and interests—in and out of the classroom—and you’d be hard-pressed to put an easy label on any two of them, let along the whole bunch. But if you had to pinpoint a common thread or shared passion, you could pretty safely assume that most of our students come armed with a healthy sense of adventure.

Ross Kirshenbaum

After a year-long internship in Nicaragua, Ross Kirshenbaum is back in Seattle for his final quarter of undergraduate study.

That spirit of exploration, of testing comfort zones and extending boundaries, is definitely a driving force for Ross Kirshenbaum, a senior Environmental Science and Resource Management major at SEFS.

Kirshenbaum, who grew up in Bellevue, recently returned from a year-long internship in Nicaragua. He kept a detailed blog, called “Aventurero,” of his projects and travels, including one of the highlights of his experience—a solo bus trip home through Central America. He’s back in Seattle with one more quarter to go before graduating, so we caught up with him a couple weeks ago to learn more about his time abroad! (You can catch him yourself this Thursday, October 17, at 2:30 p.m. in Anderson 22, where he’ll be giving a presentation about his Nicaragua experience.)

How It Started
“I knew I wanted to study abroad, and I’d always wanted to travel and learn Spanish,” says Kirshenbaum. So one day during his junior year he walked into the UW Study Abroad office and met with one of the advisors, Shannon Koller, for a drop-in meeting. The first position she showed him, as it happened, was for an internship working with two non-governmental organizations: AsoFénix, based in Nicaragua, and Green Empowerment, based in Portland, Ore.

Ross Kirshenbaum

Except for when he was in the office in Managua, Kirshenbaum spent most of his time in rural communities, working hands-on with small-scale farmers.

The internship would place in Kirshenbaum with AsoFénix in Nicaragua for up to a year. He wouldn’t take any classes; it would be largely self-directed, and he’d be diving right in to projects in local towns and villages, or working in the office in the capital city of Managua. “That’s how I learn, hands-on, so much more than in the classroom,” he says. And the more he learned about the program, the more he was hooked.

Through technology assistance and education, AsoFénix works in rural communities around Nicaragua to help them develop renewable energy sources without sacrificing the environment. These projects, ranging from building solar-powered irrigation systems to installing a wind turbine to provide basic electricity to a small village, have a strong empowerment angle. AsoFénix provides materials, initial costs and technical training, but the community decides which projects they want to implement, and they elect leadership to manage and maintain the infrastructure afterwards. Also, the community eventually pays back the cost of the equipment and investment, so they end up owning and having a full stake in the project.

“This is perfect,” Kirshenbaum thought. He kept looking and considered a few other options, but it didn’t take long to realize he was sold on Nicaragua. Koller then pointed him to several scholarship opportunities that could help cover the expenses for the internship, which would actually be cheaper, he learned, than most study abroad programs. He applied for three scholarships—and ended up getting awarded all three—and together they funded his full year, including his flight, lodging and even Spanish immersion (he would end up coming home nearly fluent).

In Country
What he discovered in Nicaragua—from the people to the culture to the work—truly captivated him. “It was a dream job,” says Kirshenbaum. “I was working more than I would for a job here, but I absolutely loved what I was doing, and I just felt like that was such a good way to immerse myself in a culture.”

Ross Kirshenbaum

Kirshenbaum says it was an incredible experience to make friends in a different country, and in a different language and culture.

Thanks to strong guidance and support from his mentors at Green Empowerment and AsoFénix, Kirshenbaum says he was able to maximize his opportunities and tackle all sorts of projects. “Half the time I was in rural Nicaragua working with farmers, making compost, planting, sowing, weeding—very physical, manual work,” he says. “The other half, I was in the office in Managua, developing partnerships with other organizations teaching organic agriculture, and developing a curriculum with an agronomist to organize workshops with farmers. If I got stir crazy in the office, I’d go out to the countryside. If I missed taking a shower with running water, I was back in the city.”

One of the biggest challenges of being so immersed and isolated in a foreign culture, though, was the separation from friends back home—and having one personal relationship fall apart while he was abroad. “It was hard to be away from friends and family, and it made it so much more intense when you have no support network,” says Kirshenbaum. “But again, I felt like the connections and friendships I made with friends in Nicaragua really helped me through it. That was a really beautiful experience, to call on friendships you’ve made in another language, in another culture—and people are there for you. It made me want to be a kinder person, here and there. You really see the value of going out of your way to make someone feel comfortable, that there’s somebody there for you.”

From those friendships to all the time and projects in rural communities, Kirshenbaum says it’s hard to quantify everything he gained from the internship. “I don’t where to begin,” he says. “It was one of those experiences where the whole time I was thinking, ‘I’m doing the right thing.’ This is what my life needed, and I just feel so fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Ross Kirshenbaum

Kirshenbaum is organizing a return trip to Nicaragua for this spring, when he hopes to bring a group of UW students down with him for an intensive week of work in the field.

Not all of his takeaways were so intangible. Kirshenbaum also came home with a few bottles of the famous Nicaraguan rum, as well as a real taste for buñuelos, which are basically friend dough balls made from yucca and grated cheese. “You mash them up and fry these little dumplings,” he says, “and you dump them in a honey you make from water, brown sugar and cinnamon, and you boil that until it turns into a syrup. It has a distinct smoky flavor, and you have this savory and sweet combo. It’s so good!”

What’s Next?
“I’ve been asking myself that nonstop,” says Kirshenbaum. “Ultimately, I want to farm, and this experience drove that home. I want to produce food for people, and I’d love to have educational components around it. I kind of have a dream of starting a nonprofit around that concept in a city. The next step for that professional goal would be to intern on some farms and start learning the ropes really well. I have a lot of hands-on experience now, but I need to spend a couple years working on a farm in the United States.”

Kirshenbaum also wants to do more traveling in the next few years. But he knows that as soon as he starts working on a farm—and especially if he has his own farm—that’s where he’s going to be, and straying too far will be a lot more difficult.

In fact, he’s already angling for a return trip to Nicaragua this spring. He’s hoping to organize a group of 10 to 12 other students to spend about seven days working with small-scale farmers in the rural communities he got to know during his internship. It would be an intensive cultural learning experience out in the rural communities, and Kirshenbaum has been working with the study abroad office to try to get some course credit attached, and possibly some help with fundraising and scholarships for interested students; you can send Kirshenbaum an email for more information.

After that, he says he might spend a few months with his sister in Brooklyn. She has a young daughter, and Kirshenbaum says he’d love to babysit his niece in exchange for free rent in the spare bedroom—at least until he nails down his next move!

Photos © Ross Kirshenbaum.

Ross Kirshenbaum

Undergrad Writing Internship!

Are you itching to interview your classmates and professors, and eager to write about exciting research projects and events here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)? Do you love the challenge of exploring and translating complex scientific issues for a general audience, and helping spread the word about all of the incredible work going here with students, staff and faculty? Most importantly, are you keen to sharpen your composition skills and become a better communicator in your personal and professional writing?

We sure hope so, because this fall we’re looking for one (or possibly two) undergraduate writing interns to help our office cover and promote the SEFS community!  

This internship offers quite a bit of flexibility—in terms of hours, workload, issues covered and course credit earned—but there’s one central theme: There will be nothing hands-off about the projects you’ll tackle. You’ll dive right in with pitching, researching, writing and editing several stories, and also have the opportunity to photograph events and activities. Revision and fact-checking will be fundamental aspects of your work, and you’ll earn bylines for everything you produce.

If that strikes you as a fun side project this quarter, then check out the full advertisement below. And if you think you might be interested, please email Karl Wirsing, director of communications for SEFS, to explain your interest—and, if possible, please include one writing sample. 

ESRM/BSE 399: Undergraduate Writing Intern: Autumn 2013

Responsibilities:
* Research and write stories for the “Offshoots” blog and other SEFS publications/media, with potential stories ranging from short news items to longer features, and covering student and faculty profiles, research highlights, seminars, reports from the field, breaking news, etc.;
* Cover SEFS events on campus, such as poster sessions or other student activities, for the blog (including taking photos);
* Provide images and content for SEFS social media, including blogs, Facebook, Flickr and other platforms ;

Desired Qualifications:
* Strong interest in writing and editing, and a desire for more experience in covering scientific topics for a general audience;
* Willingness to edit and be edited;
* Available at least three hours per week;

The purpose of this internship is to gain experience with science writing and help promote the SEFS community. You will report to the Director of Communications, and your hours can be extremely flexible to suit your schedule. The goal is to produce three or more blog posts during the quarter, with special attention on writing and revision, as well as pitching ideas, research, interviewing, editing and fact checking. Upon completion of the internship, you will be required to submit a written report on your experiences and accomplishments.

Course credit is available, and registration for ESRM/BSE 399 requires a faculty code (contact Michelle Trudeau to inquire). This internship is restricted to ESRM and BSE minors and majors, and can also be tailored to satisfy up to 5 credits toward your writing requirement.

Faculty Advisor: SEFS Director Tom DeLuca,

Alumni Spotlight: Randi Adair

An oft-used metaphor for graduating students is seeds scattering to the wind, and the comparison is certainly apt: We wonder where they’ll land, and where they’ll take root. At the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), our students develop an enormous range of interests and specialties, and they often branch into dozens of disciplines around the country—some going on to graduate school, others beginning their careers. Wherever they end up, though, one of our greatest rewards is hearing from them and learning about their growth.

Randi Adair

Randi Adair, center, with two friends from graduate school on a recent visit.

One such update recently came from Randi Adair. She graduated in 2005 as part of the first class with an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) degree, and later earned a Master’s in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Originally from Portland, Ore., Adair is now working in Napa Valley as a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “We’re midway up the Napa Valley, surrounded by mountains and vineyards,” she says. “It’s pretty nice.” (Their office was originally part of a game bird farm, hence its somewhat unlikely address in the heart of wine country.)

Adair has now been with CDFW for three and a half years, has just bought a house the next valley over in Sonoma, and despite being accustomed to Pacific Northwest greenery has gradually fallen in love with the sun-roasted hillsides and oak woodlands of California. Through it all, she’s thoroughly enjoyed her work and been thankful for the classes and professors who’ve helped her achieve along the way.

She says her background in forest resources has definitely served her well with CDFW. In her first role, Adair wrote Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements (a type of permit) and California Endangered Species Act permits for development projects, participated on the technical advisory boards for a couple of regional conservation plans, reviewed environmental disclosure documents, and dealt with public inquiries on a range of topics from creek restoration to burrowing owls. With her office chronically shorthanded, she says she was kind of a “one-man band” for a large geographical area, and she spent long hours writing letters and filling out paperwork. Yet she still got to spend some time in the field reviewing projects with engineers and planners, and the end result was worth it.

Randi Adair

Adair’s Napa Valley office oversees the Bay Delta Region.

Adair later moved into her current position supervising the Bay Area Timberland Conservation Program. She heads out as part of a review team—which includes members of the departments of forestry and fire protection and other state agencies—for pre-harvest inspections. She helps evaluate the harvest plans for a range of factors, such as trails, roads, wildlife and creek crossings, and then makes management recommendations. She also supervises other permitting staff and works on a range of department policy issues.

“I did a lot of that in my undergraduate degree,” she says. “From the survey classes, I got a pretty good background in a wide range of topics—water quality sampling, stream flow, things like that that I use all the time in my current job.”

Adair also credits her course and field work through the Urban Ecology Program (UrbanEco), which was funded through the National Science Foundation as a training grant. It lasted for about 10 years and is no longer running at SEFS, but at the time UrbanEco gave students tremendous hands-on opportunities to shape community and environmental planning. Some of the lead professors included John Marzluff and Clare Ryan, and Adair’s research group looked at the Seattle Shoreline Master Plan, focusing on areas where public access to the shoreline was or should have been provided pursuant to development permits (she received a small tuition stipend and a Mary Gates scholarship for taking part in the program).

Other professors who made a big impact on her time at SEFS were Gordon Bradley and Tom Hinckley, and she says Kern Ewing’s restoration class was one of her favorites (even though she had walking pneumonia for nearly the whole quarter!). “I’m very grateful for the excellent education that made it possible for me to be where I am today,” she says. “I feel pretty lucky.”

Nicely done, Randi, and thanks for the update!

Photo of Adair and friends © Randi Adair; graphic of Bay Delta Region © California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Undergrad Spotlight: Haley Lane

It’s not easy to get a close-up of Haley Lane. Between her sailing and surfing and skiing, you’d wear out a good GPS unit just trying to keep up with her. True, some of her passions are more earthbound—gardening, for instance—and Lane doesn’t consider herself a thrill seeker (you won’t find skydiving on her to-do list). But whether she’s taking a year off school to live in Maui and sell shave ice and surf every day, or bobbing in the waves off Westport or Port Angeles, or knifing through the Columbia River in her sailboat, one thing is abundantly clear: Lane is rarely at rest.

Haley Lane

Lane rips along in her Tasar sailboat.

So as she approaches her final quarter at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), we thought we’d share what she’s up to before she slips away to the next adventure!

When School is In
Lane is majoring in Environmental Science and Resource Management at SEFS, and her favorite courses have involved field trips, including tree identification with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley. Four or five days a week this summer, as well, Lane has been squeezing in a few hours working for Professor Stanley Asah in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management Lab. She’s helped with a few projects, and at the moment she’s involved in assessing and social acceptability of wood-based biofuels.

She started out transcribing conversations from focus groups and working on surveys to find out what community members and family forest owners think about biofuels. Having grown up around Seattle, Lane says you can feel somewhat insulated from strongly divergent perspectives, particularly when it comes to political and social issues. The biofuels project, though, has provided an unvarnished education in the state’s regional and ideological variances. “It’s been really interesting to hear different sides to the story and really see where people are coming from,” says Lane.

Haley Lane

Unless she’s in class or in the lab, you will almost certainly find Lane, left, somewhere outdoors.

The survey work has also inspired her senior capstone project. Lane hasn’t finalized the scope of her research yet, but she definitely wants to focus on responses to the first question community members answer with each survey: What do you think about biofuels made out of wood? It’s purposefully broad and open-ended, she says, to let participants share their unfiltered thoughts and interpretations. As a result, the responses capture a wealth of information about preconceptions, emotional and economic stake, and other reactions to biofuels.

When School is Out
“I first started sailing when I was little kid on my dad’s boat, and then on my own at 10,” says Lane, who grew up on Bainbridge Island. She loves the physical and mental challenge of sailing, especially in small boats, and pushing herself in friendly competition. “Plus, it makes the beer taste better at the end!”

These days, she races a 15-foot Tasar sailboat, and starting this weekend, in fact, she and her boyfriend, Anthony Boscolo, will be competing in the 2013 Tasar World Championship. Hosted by the Columbia Gorge Racing Association, the weeklong racing competition takes place August 10-17 in the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore. It will be Lane’s first time racing in this regatta, and she’s expecting about 60 boats from around the world to be there. It’s a spectacular setting, if a bit windy, and they’ll be sailing three hour-long races a day.

Haley Lane

Lane has been gardening for two years, and this year she hopes to expand into more flowers and ornamental plants.

As a final tune-up, Lane and Boscolo headed down to the Columbia Gorge this past weekend for their last regatta before the Worlds—and they won! Not all of the competitors had arrived yet, but quite a few international teams were already down and testing out the waters. “The out-of-towners will start to figure out the local conditions this week,” she says, “but it was a very satisfying win nonetheless, no matter how we place at the Worlds!”

Next Up
This fall, Lane plans to finish up her coursework and graduate. She’d like to find a job related to her major, but she admits her career future still looks pretty hazy—and isn’t likely to sharpen too much before she’s out of school. Far more tangible on her horizon, though, is a February trip to Mexico for a wedding. A friend down there has a few extra boards, she says, so she hopes to sneak in a little surfing!

Photos © Haley Lane.

Haley Lane

Lane, in sail #505, turns a corner in first place during a Tasar race in the Columbia Gorge.

 

 

ESRM Capstone Presentations: Spring 2013!

This Thursday, June 6, from 2 to 4 p.m., stop by the Forest Club Room to check out the fruits of a wide range of undergraduate research projects!

It looks like we’ll have at least 17 senior Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) majors presenting posters, and they’ll be on hand to talk about their research—covering everything from endophytic yeasts to barred owls and storm water. Which is to say, there will be something for everyone!

Check out the poster below for specific presentations and student presenters:

ESRM Capstone Posters