By JESSE DAVIS
For the 111th time, graduate already.
Goshen College will hold commencement ceremonies for its class of 2009 graduates Sunday, the 111th class to graduate from the school. Of the 236 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, 220 will walk during the event, as well as three graduates of the new Environmental Education master’s degree program.
Nayla Jimenez of San Ramon de Tres Rios, Costa Rica, Mallory Kuhn of Spencerville, Ohio, and Todd Weston of Columbia, Mo., were the first students to complete the one-year program. The three lived at, studied at and taught classes at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Wolf Lake.
“It’s been a different experience,” Kuhn said. “I graduated as an undergraduate with 4,000 people, and then going to a class of three people and living out in the country in the middle of nowhere by myself, so it’s been a lot different.”
Kuhn earned a degree in wildlife and conservation biology at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She found out about the GC program while looking online for a school offering a degree in environmental education.
“I think it was good,” Kuhn said, “It was the first year, so there were a lot of growing pains for them and us, but they really worked with us well and it was worth it, we learned a lot.”
She particularly appreciated the opportunities they had for real-world experience. During the course of the program, the students attended conferences, including one in Indianapolis, met with several people who are “really big in the environmental education field,” and wrote a grant application to the EPA.
So, what was Kuhn’s favorite part of the experience?
“Meeting Nayla,” she said with a laugh.
“It was a good experience,” Jimenez said. “I think the guy who’s been running the program is doing a really good job, and for someone who wants a one-year degree and has the ability to focus one year of their life on it, I think it’s a good program.”
The class is run by David Ostergren, who joined the program in 2008 after almost 30 years of experience in outdoor education and recreation in Minnesota, West Virginia and Arizona. According to Jimenez, however, it took much more than a good teacher and administrator to get her through her college experience. This will be her third time graduating from GC, where she has also earned two undergraduate degrees.
“I keep telling people there’s that saying that it takes a village to raise a kid, and for me, I feel like it took a village to get me graduated all three times,” Jimenez said. “Everything from super-supportive classmates to involvement of family — my grandparents, my aunt, my friends, my housemates, my brothers — so it kind of took this whole web of support to get me through here every time.”
Her plan now is to try and find a job.
The third and final member of the program’s initial year is Todd Weston. He also discovered the program while searching online for schools with environmental education courses.
“This program had a really intensive K-12 teaching program involved with the actual schools, and I wanted to actually be able to teach kids while getting my education, so I thought that just looked pretty super and it’s been great the whole time,” Weston said.
For him, much of the joy in the program came through working with kids.
“You get a lot of freedom to teach kids — with supervision — but there’s not someone over your back the whole time, so you learn what you can do and what you can’t do, what you’re best at, what age group you like the best,” Weston said. “Some kids are good with kindergarteners, some people are better with high-schoolers. I was given the opportunity to really flesh out my teaching ability here.”
Weston’s new goal is to get his teaching certificate so he can work in the classroom.
“I want to be an environmental educator in the classroom so I get 100 percent kids,” he said. “No off time, just pure kids all the time.”