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WWU Graduate Students Honored With United States Forest Service Award

Western Today Staff

Western Washington University graduate students Justin McWethy (Virginia Beach, Va.), David Strich (Irvine, Calif.) and Teresa Mealy (Seattle) were recently awarded the 2011 Urban Communities Conservation Award by the U.S. Forest Service for their work with the North Cascades Institute.

The award is part of the Forest Service’s Wings Across the Americas program, which works to conserve birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies.

“I think the most important thing with this award is that the North Cascades Institute and the Forest Service are being recognized for one of the amazing programs they are involved with,” said McWethy.

The North Cascades Institute is a private nonprofit organization that partners with Western’s Huxley College of the Environment to offer a master’s degree in Environmental Education. The Institute’s mission is to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education, and the program for which it received the Urban Communities Conservation Award involved partnering not only with the Forest Service, but also with the Seattle International District Housing Alliance. The Institute also partners with the National Park Service and the graduate students involved serve a year-long residency at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park.

One example of the partnership with Forest Service and the Housing Alliance is an annual field tripdesigned to teach residents of Seattle’s inner-city International District about the value and conservation of the Skagit River ecosystem and to have the youth and elders of the community become more involved with each other.

Mealy said the field trip was a great experience for the partnership and the students they were teaching.

“I would say one of the most rewarding experiences in working with International District Housing Association group was teaching the students about eagles and salmon, seeing their excitement when they saw the wildlife and in turn, their enthusiasm for teaching their elders about these two species in the Skagit ecosystem,” said Mealy.

The partnership serves as a model for other outreach opportunities in Seattle and in other urban areas of the U.S. because it provides quality environmental education opportunities to youth throughout the year and has provided paid students internships during the summer.

Strich said the partnership succeeded in upholding its mission to conserve Northwest ecosystems and educate the community.

“Successful partnerships paved the way for a strong program and provided me with an opportunity to teach about eagles, salmon and old-growth forest,” said Strich.

For more information contact John Miles, WWU professor of Environmental Studies, at (360) 650-2896 or

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Monday, May 23, 2011 - 12:17pm