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Graduate Naturalist Training


Live, learn & teach in a community of over 30 skilled environmental educators and naturalists. Join the broader community of 1000+ alumni scattered across the globe.

Graduates of the Wolf Ridge Naturalists Training program serve as educators at K-12 schools, state and national parks, nature centers, and universities, and work as leaders in their field as natural resource professionals, nature center and camp directors, scientists, writers, adventurers, medical professionals, and artists.

Deadline: March 6, 2022

Reach out to Danielle or Joe if you have any questions as you consider applying.
Both would love to share stories with you.

About the Program

Wolf Ridge is dedicated not only to teaching school children; we are also committed to teaching teachers.

Through an intense experiential graduate program, we train “student naturalists” to be effective environmental educators. For 10 months these student naturalists live and learn environmental education.

It’s tough, but participants emerge from the experience with the skills needed to excel as a naturalist and to be effective as an educator.

Timeline 

Application deadline is March 6, 2022.

Program runs late August 2022 to early June 2023. Graduates may have the opportunity for paid work in the summer of 2023.

Cost

Your total out-of-pocket cost is $2,400.

Naturalists receive a private dormitory room, meals when schools are in residence, all necessary materials for teaching and learning, and scholarships from Wolf Ridge and Antioch University New England.

Student Teaching Naturalist

Option to Complete a Practicum

Practice teaching in and out of the classroom. Wolf Ridge is committed to bridging the gap between formal and non-formal education. Undergraduate education students can gain experience by both teaching at Wolf Ridge and also completing a teaching practicum to earn their teaching license.

In the fall or spring, student teachers join a formal classroom for the time required by their university. When they are not in the formal classroom, they are participating in the Naturalist Training Program as described above with the rest of the cohort. This creates a rich experience for both the student teachers and the graduate naturalists as they share stories and learn from each other blending formal and non-formal education.

To begin the conversation between your university and Wolf Ridge, contact Joe Walewski.

Our partnerships thus far include:

  • Gustavus Adolphus
  • University of Minnesota – Duluth
  • Winona State University
  • Your school – we are willing to work with new schools to expand our partnerships

Earn Graduate-Level Credits

Accredited through Antioch University

Learn how to teach while teaching outdoors. The graduate-level Certificate of Environmental Education and Sustainability (managed by both Wolf Ridge and Antioch University New England) serves as the core of our program. You will teach children and adults, track lynx, develop lessons, explore north shore geology, and much more.

In addition to gaining 10 months of practical experience, you will earn 12 graduate credits that can be applied to Master’s programs across the nation.

  • ESC 5501 Natural History of the Northwoods (3 credits)
  • ESE 5470 EE Methods (3 credits)
  • ES 6960 Environmental Education and Sustainability Internship (3 credits)
  • ESE 5020 Foundations of EE (3 credits)

You will receive a Certificate of Environmental Education and Sustainability with 12 graduate credits that can be applied towards a Masters program at Antioch University New England or any other program in the nation.

Everything you do here is connected to a credit. Whether you’re teaching, attending a seminar, or walking through the woods looking at plants, you’re receiving credit. The entire program is interdisciplinary and will put you in direct contact with professionals in education, wildlife management, storytelling, business administration, organic farming, live animal care, and more.

The program is designed to serve those interested in pursuing a graduate certificate and lends potential to complete a Master’s Degree at (but not limited to) Antioch University New England with a reduced cost for Wolf Ridge Training Program Alumni.  For more information or to apply, contact Joe Walewski.

A Typical Week 

Each week you might teach six classes, participate in workshops/field trips/seminars covering education and natural history, serve as a liaison for a visiting group, go on an adventure with other naturalists, and more. Though the schedule will be filled, if you enjoy a little chaos and love the outdoors, Wolf Ridge might be worth looking into.

All of our naturalist positions include teaching, working with school groups, and graduate coursework in natural history, environmental, and sustainability education. We value learning by doing, so there are opportunities to work alongside staff members in farming, animal care, curriculum development, non-profit management, and more.

Your Community

Graduate Naturalists come from different backgrounds and career paths and go in many different directions after the program. Spending time at Wolf Ridge you’ll be working and learning alongside fellow Naturalists from around the country who might have recently been studying science, art, writing, education, or psychology.

Other participants come to Wolf Ridge part way through their career to deepen their understanding of environmental education. They may have been managing a nature center, practicing law, or teaching in a classroom; looking for an enhancement or new perspective to weave into their practice. The richest form of learning at Wolf Ridge happens within the cohort of graduate naturalists that join each year. We hope each cohort is full of different lived experiences and perspectives.

Your Teachers at Wolf Ridge

  • Seasoned naturalists
  • Antioch University New England professors
  • The school children that attend Wolf Ridge
  • Your peers
  • The natural world
  • The surrounding community of Finland, MN
  • You

Your Roles as a Naturalist

After the initial two weeks of staff training, you begin teaching. An average week consists of six half-day classes from Monday through Friday, plus an average of one weekend a month. The classes cover topics in cultural history, natural history and adventure education. Your students will typically range from 4th grade to 12th grade.

Evaluations of your teaching, observing natural phenomena, discussions with peers, creating lesson plans, attending seminars, adventuring in the woods, and participating in a mentored study of your choice related to environmental and sustainability education … all of these things will help you learn about the field of environmental education and how to be effective as an educator.

As a student, you take courses all year, yet those courses could be bird banding, plant identification hikes, equitable learning environments, tapping maple trees, place-based education, food systems, and more. You will be surrounded by learning opportunities and directed towards many. It is also up to you to take advantage of those that inspire and challenge you.

Evaluations of your teaching, observing natural phenomena, discussions with peers, creating lesson plans, attending seminars, adventuring in the woods, and participating in a mentored study of your choice related to environmental and sustainability education … all of these things will help you learn about the field of environmental education and how to be effective as an educator. As a student, you take courses all year, yet those courses could be bird banding, plant identification hikes, equitable learning environments, tapping maple trees, place-based education,food systems, and more. You will be surrounded by learning opportunities and directed towards many. It is also up to you to take advantage of those that inspire and challenge you.

Evaluations of your teaching, observing natural phenomena, discussions with peers, creating lesson plans, attending seminars, adventuring in the woods, and participating in a mentored study of your choice related to environmental and sustainability education … all of these things will help you learn about the field of environmental education and how to be effective as an educator. As a student, you take courses all year, yet those courses could be bird banding, plant identification hikes, equitable learning environments, tapping maple trees, place-based education,food systems, and more. You will be surrounded by learning opportunities and directed towards many. It is also up to you to take advantage of those that inspire and challenge you.

Wolf Ridge Training Program Students & Alumni

Tasha Holifield

Graduate Naturalist 2021-2022

I was drawn to the program due to the essence embedded in the description of the program. It gave hints of words used to describe concepts I was already experiencing but hadn’t yet developed a language for.

As I have gotten older, I’ve recognized the value of language and its influence over ways you perceive and process the world. “Words matter,” a common phrase we use here at Wolf Ridge. Besides the language speaking to me, I began to develop a strong sense of community.

Even through the application process, I was building a relationship with someone, which made me feel valued as a human, an experience I had not felt in other application processes.

Prior to Wolf Ridge, I had started working on my Master’s in Counseling and Psychological Services, developing an affinity for ecopsychology.  I am learning there are significant parallels between ecopsychology and environmental education.

I plan to apply my Wolf Ridge experience in emphasizing the common language and purpose of both of those fields while continuing my Master’s in Counseling and Psychological Services.

Rhea Mehrkens

Rhea Mehrkens

Graduate Naturalist 2009-2010

I can hardly believe it’s been over 10 years since immersing myself in that beautiful place. I currently live  a few miles out of Northfield, Minnesota. I am a public school educator, lucky enough to be on leave for the past four years with my four year old and one year old. 

Before my time at Wolf Ridge, I was an elementary teacher for nine years.  I LOVED teaching however I needed some time to step away from the formal classroom to focus my values as a teacher and learner.  I had gone to the Ridge with my students for several years, and it was always my favorite week of the entire school year. It made me curious, what would it be like to live and teach at Wolf Ridge for an entire year?   

I was lucky enough to get a whole school year to answer that question. I truly feel that I transformed both personally and professionally during my time at the Ridge. Not only did it change my thoughts on teaching, but it reignited my own love of learning. I felt alive!    DISCOVERY, PLAY, POSSIBILITY: these words empowered me to return to the middle school classroom for another eight years.  The outdoors as a classroom became a normal for my students. 

Today, as a full time stay-at-home parent, I cherish the time I spend outside with my kids. Sharing my passion for the outdoors is one of my favorite parts of being a mom.

Caroline Urban

Caroline Urban 

Graduate Naturalist 2018-2020

I currently work as an Environmental Education Teacher at North Shore Community School in Duluth, MN.

I decided to participate in the Graduate Naturalist Program after I graduated college, starting in 2018. I had done some informal teaching and knew I liked it, and was interested in improving my teaching skills while using my biology degree to learn more about the ecology of the North Shore.

Along with being a naturalist I focused on the bird banding program at Wolf Ridge and now have a sub-permit to band birds.

Three years later, I cannot imagine where I would be if I hadn’t spent two years at Wolf Ridge. My work experience set me up for many incredible experiences, including spending a summer bird banding in New Mexico, and in my current role as the Environmental Education teacher at North Shore Community School.

I am lucky that my professional interests align so well with the Wolf Ridge program, but it’s the community that immediately comes to mind when I remember Wolf Ridge. I know the memories and friendships I made will be with me forever.

Hannah Edstrom

Hannah Edstrom

Graduate Naturalist 2016-2019

I live in Port Angeles, Washington where I am currently a “future teacher” which for me looks like substitute teaching and enjoying the adventures of the Olympic Peninsula!

I learned about the Naturalist Training Program and Wolf Ridge from my college advisor and dear family friend, Kris MacPherson (she knew I would love it before I ever did!) The other reason I really knew I wanted to learn and grow at Wolf Ridge was because I had spent so much of my early years adventuring in the outdoors with the Red Wing ELC where I gained an unfathomable appreciation for nature.

The Naturalist Training Program felt like a perfect meld of ideal location, personal growth opportunities, and a place to fill my desire to give others’ nurturing outdoor experiences. The skills and experiences I gained from the program are innumerable but a few highlights include: 

  • becoming someone with the confidence to lead people of any age through quite literally any activity
  • having a passion for gaining a deeper understanding of the landscape around me through plant and animal identification and appreciation 
  • building community through adventure, cooking, and games. 

I now spend my time using these same skills and experiences to navigate my way through the public school system and formal classroom with a goal of helping students discover new ways of learning about content and themselves.

To learn if our program could be a good fit for you, contact Joe Walewski (joe.walewski@wolf-ridge.org) prior to starting your application.