Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life Outdoors Inspires Career Teaching Environmental Science

I was born and raised in Northern NH – I mean north, as in, north of the notches. I was raised in the small towns of Milan and Dummer, graduated from Berlin High School, spent seven years working through post-secondary education to attain my Masters degree and am now living and working back in the North Country. I am fortunate to be associated with the NH EPSCoR Ecosystems + Society network because “Ecosystems + Society” pretty much describes the life that I want to lead. It is deeply important to me to protect our ecosystems (particularly those in Northern NH) AND to be a positive contributor to my society! 

My name is Rachel and the North Country is very important to me for many reasons. One main reason originates from my Father’s choice of profession. He is a self-employed logger and since he was 16 years old, he has put in many long days working with his John Deer cable skidder and a Husqvarna chainsaw as his only company. We have also worked away at his business as a family doing over a hundred cords of firewood a year for many years! Where most families have marked their children’s growth with professionally done family and school photos, my parent’s photo albums of the 80’s and 90’s have pictures of my sister, brother, and I sitting in the skidder with blankets and teddy bears in tow, using our Snow & Nealley axes (which were a Christmas gift one year) to clear boundary lines, and backing our one-ton dump truck up to a pile of firewood about to be split and loaded. 


Now, you might be thinking that this childhood sounds a little, shall we say, rugged. Do not worry! Growing up we also managed to find plenty of time to hike and bike, hunt, fish, and camp – we worked hard and played hard together, as a family. One theme throughout the pictures of my child and early adulthood (whether we were doing firewood or fishing) is that we are all smiling! I think one reason for this is that my parents were constantly taking moments to teach us something new. We would take time to do a nature walk at lunch to look at lady slippers in June, or to save a yellow spotted newt or frog from the woodpile, or learn how to tell the difference between a red maple leaf and a sugar maple leaf. My Father was also constantly doing things to teach us about ecosystems and the importance of preserving them. He would re-route an entire skid trail to avoid a ground-nesting bird. If he saw a tree that was marked for cutting that had signs of nesting flying squirrels, he’d wait until these had fledged before cutting that particular tree. When his skidder work involved crossing a stream, he spent significant time setting up bridges to decrease as much potential runoff as he could. PLUS, when he did these things, he brought our attention to them. He would tell us how he loved his job, but that he loved the woods too and wanted to be able to do his job for a long time by conserving the forest in the process.

 As a result of my upbringing, I have spent a substantial amount of time outside throughout my entire life. My parents have given me an incredible appreciation for our natural world, which has followed me through my college and professional careers. I was recently hired as an assistant professor at White Mountains Community College (WMCC) in Berlin, NH – this is literally one of two dream jobs of mine! I have worked as a member of the adjunct faculty at both WMCC and Plymouth State University and I am so excited to be teaching full time starting this fall! One thing that I am most excited about is to incorporate my love for the North Country outdoors into my teaching. Because of the way I was raised and the many opportunities that I’ve had since high school, I have an incredible network of loggers, foresters, wildlife and fisheries biologists, and many other professors that I can access to give my students opportunities for learning outside of the classroom. This, coupled with the opportunity to collaborate with members of the EPSCoR team to increase research opportunities for my students, results in a dream job. I am so excited to be living, working, and contributing to conservation in Northern New Hampshire!

Posted by Rachel E. D. Whitaker, Spatial Information Technology and Environmental Science Department, White Mountains Community College, Berlin NH

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