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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Western welcomes first-ever mountain program

By Vanessa Murphy

Western’s Mountain Environments Research Institute (MERI) has introduced a new certificate program that has never before been offered in the United States.

The mountain research skills certificate program is set to begin this winter quarter. The program extends outside the typical classroom setting into the outdoors.

It gives students the hands-on experience of learning safe mountaineering skills. Additionally, they will conduct research in the wilderness to effectively preserve and manage ecosystems. Students will also become comfortable with the digital systems for analyzing data from samples collected.

The courses for the program are overseen by director and founder of MERI, environmental science professor John All. All also teaches some classes in the program and leads outdoor excursions.

One purpose of certification that students can obtain professional undergraduate work experience.

“Students can have something professionally that they can take to potential employers showing they are capable of working in the outdoors safely,” All said.

MERI’s pamphlet explains this program will benefit anyone interested in working outdoors professionally. The mountain research skills certificate has already paired with multiple professional agencies such as the National Park Service, US Forest Service and outdoor medical groups.

Sophomore Western student Timber Lockhart is the MERI program coordinator. Lockhart has transitioned from being coordinator to also being one of the first students to enter the certificate program.

“MERI found me, in a sense, as I took the position of coordinator before having enrolled in the certificate program,” Lockhart said. “The prospect of working closely with Dr. John All, processing samples, and working with other professionals in the field drew me in.”

Throughout the courses, students will have the opportunity to work alongside forest rangers and other professionals in the field.

MERI team collecting snow samples. Photo courtesy of MERI’s Facebook page.

“This quarter, we are going to be sampling in Olympic National Park and helping [the National Park Service] with monitoring their snow with monthly snow sampling,” All said.

There are a total of five courses to complete for the certificate, with each course building on what was taught in the previous course. The final course requires students to go on an extended excursion and gain research experience, All said. Locations vary from local wilderness areas in Washington, such as the Cascades, to other countries like Costa Rica, Nepal, or Peru, according to the MERI pamphlet.

The excursion offered this summer is located in Peru. All will lead a group of students for a little over one month in the Peruvian Andes. Students will backpack using pack animals and camp in National Parks all while working on research projects, according the MERI website. Additionally, students will get the chance to explore local mountain villages and have local cooks prepare their food.

The program, which can be completed in as little as one year, is open to both Western and non-Western students. Due to the class schedules, these courses work well for various types of people such as nontraditional students, All said. Classes meet once weekly with

Research professor John All Wednesday, April 19. // Photo by Jonathan Pendleton

excursions on weekends.

“The certificate program is bringing a unique learning perspective and opportunity to Western Washington; it is such a fabulous culmination of resources to further science in the mountains and the growth of climber-scientists,” Lockhart said.

Although a strong science background is preferred, All says the program is willing to work with any student interested in joining and find ways to aid them dependent upon their academic background.

The last day to sign up for the courses this quarter is Tuesday, Jan. 16. Further information can be found through contacting All at John.All@wwu.edu or found online at ee.wwu.edu/mountain



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