Category Archives: Spotlight Story
Jana Grote is a retired fish and wildlife biologist. She worked for 32 years with the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Jana has been a longtime Salmon Watch supporter, trainer, and volunteer educator.
How did your interest in biology first develop, and how did that lead to your chosen career path?
My interest in biology can be traced back to a couple of really special teachers and mentors. My 6th grade teacher did lots of science demonstrations which I always enjoyed.
But when I got to college, I started out as a drama and psychology major. But I had a friend who was going into nursing, and so we visited the biology department and met with a professor. And that professor contacted me afterwards and said, “I noticed you didn’t sign up for one of my biology classes.” And I said, “No, I don’t like biology.”
But he continued to encourage me to take one of his classes. So I took his class, and the rest is history. He really encouraged hands-on, experiential learning. We took field trips around the country. We went to Oregon, the Florida Keys, and Colorado. We did projects and experiments. And it got me hooked, and that’s how I became a fish and wildlife biologist.
Shivonne Nesbit is Acting Assistant Branch Chief with the Portland Branch of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, as well as a Fish Biologist/ESA Permit Specialist with the NOAA Protected Resources Division. Shivonne also serves as President of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.
How did you gain your interest in science and biology, and how did that interest lead to your chosen career path?
I grew up on a lake in eastern Canada. Growing up in a lake ecosystem, I was always connected with water, seasons, and ecological changes. As a kid, you don’t usually think about these connections. But we always swam in the summertime and built forts on islands, and in the winter we’d ice skate and you could look and see all the vegetation and fish under the ice. I think growing up so connected to nature is how I became interested in science and biology. I spent pretty much all my time outside. We didn’t have a TV or electronic gadgets, so the outdoors was our playground and our best toys.
How and why did you get involved in Salmon Watch?
Throughout my career as a biologist, I’ve always been involved as a volunteer with outdoor education. When I moved to Portland, one of my colleagues with the US Fish & Wildlife Service told me about Salmon Watch. So, I got involved as soon as I moved to this area in 2010.
Alex Whistler is a retired forester with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In fall 2016, he was a star Salmon Watch Volunteer Educator, teaching on a total of six field trips in the Riparian Zone Observation field station.
Why did you first get involved in Salmon Watch?
I started participating in Salmon Watch because years ago, a mentor of mine thought it was important for folks with Native American heritage to get involved in our local communities. I’m a member of the Sac & Fox tribe and my mother was Choctaw. My mentor convinced me it was important to do something with education and kids.
Can you elaborate on why your mentor thought it was important to get involved in environmental education in particular?
Native youth living in urban environments and urban kids, period, just don’t get out in the woods enough. My mentor grew up on a reservation that was fortunate to have 4-H programs available. 4-H is a rural organization that has programs on forestry, bees, wildlife, soil, etc. He said his early involvement in 4-H was enlightening because once you learn the science behind what’s going on in the soil or why bees are important, then you might want to come back to that field for a career. Kids need to know their options. They need to know there are more options available than playing basketball or being a rock star.
Issues related to ecology, watershed health and salmon don’t just belong in a biology or environmental studies class. They are pertinent to a wide variety of subjects, and connect many themes throughout science, social studies, history, and language arts.
That’s why 7-8 grade science teacher Alfonso Garcia Arriola and 7-8 grade social studies and language arts teacher Heather Kelly-Siegfried at ACCESS Academy make such a wonderful interdisciplinary teaching team!
Alfonso Garcia Arriola has been a science educator for 19 years, including 14 years at ACCESS Academy. In 2016, he was honored with the NSTA’s Robert E. Yager Excellence in Teaching Award. Heather Kelly-Siegfried has been teaching middle school language arts and social studies for 16 years, including 4 years at ACCESS Academy.
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Above: Laurie participates in a discussion about the Salmon “4-H’s” (Habitat, Hatcheries, Harvest, Hydropower) at a training this summer along with Rick Martinson.
Laurie McDowell wears many hats in our Salmon Watch program– initially as a teacher, now as a volunteer educator, trainer and steering committee member.
She first became involved in Salmon Watch in the mid 1990’s as a 6th grader teacher at Kellogg Middle School. Her fellow colleagues registered for the program and she too wanted to involve her students in the experience.
She says the multi-faceted program was an excellent way to incorporate valuable lessons while meeting education benchmarks.
“From a teacher’s point of view, having the curriculum aligned with educational standards already in place was wonderful. I was able to manipulate the lessons to fit my classroom learning objectives. Then the culminating experience of going out on the field trip and seeing why these things were occurring worked to tie everything together.”
In addition to the learning that took place, Laurie found it was a great common experience that not only students but also many parents were able to relate back to for the rest of the year.
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For the second year, World Salmon Council has partnered with Mt. Hood Community College to train eight Project YESS Youth Conservation Corps members, aged 16-21, in the four Salmon Watch content areas: salmon biology, macroinvertebrate sampling, water quality testing, and nature awareness.
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At our Salmon Watch training session this past August, there were many new teachers and volunteers learning best practices for teaching kids science in nature. Joining the adult participants was Maria Fuentes, a bright and motivated junior from Centennial High School in Gresham.
With a strong passion for environmental science and policy, Maria had been attempting to start an Environment Club at Centennial, working with Joel McKee, who teaches 12th grade biology and integrates Salmon Watch into his classroom. When that didn’t pan out this past spring, he suggested to Maria that she consider getting trained as a Volunteer Educator for Salmon Watch, and then teach a field station for his class.
After completing the training session this summer, in September Maria joined McKee’s biology class on the Salmon River, serving as a field trip instructor and teaching her schoolmates about macroinvertebrate (aquatic insect) collection and identification, and how their presence or absence can be an indicator of stream health.
Although Maria said she was at first nervous that she wouldn’t be able to answer all of the questions students might ask her, she found that it got easier each station rotation. She said, “I really enjoyed being able to share with my friends what I had learned. They were really interested to find out that you can do this type of work for a living and get paid to work outdoors!”
From the Classroom to a Career
Emi Ikeda had opportunities from an early age to get outdoors with her family and explore the Pacific Northwest. Her first experience though of witnessing our region’s iconic spawning salmon took place in the fall of 2003 on a Salmon Watch field trip.
Emi’s class at Winterhaven K-8 in Portland had been studying science using salmon as a focal point. Her teacher, Wendy Archibald, was a long-time Salmon Watch participant (and current field trip Volunteer Educator).
As part of the Salmon Watch program, her class traveled to the Salmon River in Mt. Hood National Forest for a day in the field to monitor water quality, determine the health of the river by what aquatic insects they collected, learn about salmon biology, observe their surroundings, and through writing and art tell the story of what was happening in that specific place.