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Graduate Naturalist Training Program

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Earn Graduate Credits Training as a Naturalist

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 on our 2,000-acre campus in northern Minnesota. 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. We’ve trained over 1,000+ naturalists during our 50-year history as an organization.

Teach at Wolf Ridge

Learn how to teach while teaching outdoors. You’ll gain 10 months of practical experience teaching children and adults, tracking lynx, developing lessons, exploring north shore geology, and much more.

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Earn Graduate Credits

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. At the end of your time at Wolf Ridge, you’ll leave with 12 graduate credits that can be applied toward a Masters’s program at Antioch University New England or any other program in the nation.

 

How It Works

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.

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Courses

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

As a Wolf Ridge Graduate Naturalist, Your Roles Will Include:

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 from visiting schools will typically range from fourth 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 toward many. It is also up to you to take advantage of those that inspire and challenge you.

Your teachers a Wolf Ridge include:
  • Seasoned naturalists
  • Antioch University New England faculty
  • The school children that attend Wolf Ridge
  • The surrounding community of Finland, Minnesota
  • Your peers
  • The natural world
  • You

 

Every day you’ll be outdoors teaching about trees, beavers, aquatic critters, mammals, etc. You won’t be able to help yourself by learning the natural history of the area.

You’ll also attend seminars on specific subjects such as botany, aquatics, tracking, weather, birds, astronomy, geology, cultural history, amphibians, etc. Our intention is to wave goodbye to a confident naturalist at the end of the year. These seminars, workshops, and field trips speed you on your way.

We are a community of 90+ staff who live and work on the Wolf Ridge campus. We lean on each other often. We are responsible to and for each other. Part of the program is experiencing the challenges and highlights of being in a community. Personal growth can be tremendous.

We have recently built new naturalist housing designed to Living Building Challenge standards – a building certification program, advocacy tool, and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today – the building will provide you with total-immersion learning on the topic of sustainability in the community

Program Timeline

Our program typically runs from late August through early June. Graduates may have the opportunity for paid work in the summer.

Applications for 2022 are now closed, but please contact us if you’re still interested in applying or would like to know more about the application timeline. We love hearing from prospective applicants.

Price

The out-of-pocket price for the 2022-2023 school year is $2,400. Naturalists receive a private room in our new Lakeview Staff Housing, meals in our dining hall when schools are in residence, and necessary materials for teaching and learning from educators at Wolf Ridge and Antioch University New England.

On campus work-study experiences are available to offset the entire out-of-pocket price.

Alumni of our program have gone on to work as educators in K-12 schools, state and national parks, nature centers, and universities around the world.

A Typical Week at Wolf Ridge

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.

Group of People Outside Wearing Blue Jackets at Wolf Ridge

In environmental education, the outdoors is your classroom – and ours is spectacular.

We’re located four hours from Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport and two hours from the Canadian border. Our 2,000-acre campus in Finland, Minnesota is an easy drive to some of Minnesota’s most popular State Parks, including Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche. 

Located on a high ridge overlooking Lake Superior, Wolf Ridge is bordered by the Baptism River and features creeks, two lakes, two high peaks, 18 miles of hiking and ski trails, and a mixed forest of maple, birch, and spruce. Wildlife is abundant and includes pine marten, eagles, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, fox, wolves, beaver, peregrine falcons, and loons. 

Facilities include four classroom buildings, two dormitories, a dining hall, a working organic farm, a raptor aviary, a library, two auditoriums, two rock-climbing walls, two outdoor ropes courses, and an administration building.

Wolf Ridge Naturalist Students & Alumni

Our 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 careers 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.

 

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.

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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.

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Caroline Urban

Graduate Naturalist 2018-2020

I decided to participate in the Graduate Naturalist Program after I graduated from 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.

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Hannah Edstrom

Graduate Naturalist 2016-2019

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.

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Request More Information

Thinking about applying? Curious what winter in northern Minnesota is like? Are you trying to understand how this program would fit into your work or school schedule?  Fill out the form below and we will reach out to you.

Or contact Danielle Hefferan and Joe Walewski directly. We love sharing stories and hearing from prospective applicants.

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