This summer, Western Washington University sent 16 students to the Methow and Okanogan Valleys to participate in the Campus Sustainability Planning Studio, a 10-week program combining climate-focused coursework with a paid internship.
Joshua Porter, an adjunct professor at Western’s College of the Environment, piloted the program in the summer of 2020 through the Sustainability Pathways program. Before that, all projects done through the class were based in Whatcom County.
For the first time, Sustainability Pathways was funded through the Career Connect Washington grant, which was created by Governor Inslee with the goal of getting students involved in paid work that relates to their area of study.
All the students in the Methow Valley cohort worked on different projects ranging from food security to youth advocacy to habitat restoration and more.
Porter said the students in the cohort felt that their presence and work was greatly appreciated by the people in the Methow Valley.
“The takeaway is that there is a real message of reciprocity in that student work,” Porter said.
Porter said the Planning Studio is where students from Sustainability Pathways, the Climate Leadership Certificate and the Sustainability Studies minor intersect.
In addition to the students getting experience in hands-on work in sustainability, the Planning Studio also allowed students from different environmental programs on campus to come together into one cohort.
Maia Heffernan, staff ambassador for Western’s Sustainability Engagement Institute, got connected with the Planning Studio through the Sustainability Pathways program.
Through the program, she was able to work in youth advocacy at the Foundation for Youth Resiliency and Engagement, while also assisting Porter as he worked with Career Connect Washington to help people in the Methow Valley area get work experience.
“It was really powerful to see the work that I was doing have direct tangible effects,” Heffernan said.
Libby Taylor-Manning, a fourth-year at Western studying Environmental Science, participated in the Methow Valley Planning Studio as part of Western’s newly-created Climate Leadership Certificate, which is a year-and-a-half-long program that consists of three quarters of coursework, the paid internship over the summer and an independent study project. Manning is one of 13 people that make up the first cohort for the certificate.
In the future, Porter would like to have even more students from different educational backgrounds participating in the Planning Studio.
“The goal really is to have students from all the other colleges at Western being able to participate,” Porter said.
A small group from the Planning Studio, including Porter, Western student Zoe Hemez and one of the program partners, Kelly Edwards, had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Governor Inslee about the work they were doing in the Methow Valley.
Inslee was visiting the area to support the community as they were dealing with horrible air quality due to forest fires.
Manning said the forest fires greatly impacted their experience in the Methow Valley and created a toll on her mental health.
“I lived with two other people in the program, and we all had to be evacuated because the fire was coming right for the cabin, and it went within 20 feet,” Manning said.
Heffernan said the fires represented why the work they were doing in the Valley was so important.
“It was a reminder of the impending doom of climate change,” Heffernan said. “It gave me hope to do this kind of work, to feed the good side of things.”
The Campus Sustainability Planning Studio class can be taken as part of the Sustainability Studies minor or through the Sustainability Pathways program, whose applications will open at the end of the quarter.
Katie McNabb (she/her) is a senior reporter for The Front this quarter. She’s a fourth-year double-majoring in English and journalism. Her past reporting has focused on science and the environment. In her free time, she enjoys reading, exploring Bellingham with friends and experimenting with plant-based cooking.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org