Blending two loves: teaching and the outdoors
Erin Cole wants to teach — but not in a traditional classroom. She’s most at home teaching outdoors, whether it’s at a tide pool in Half Moon Bay, as a docent at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, or aboard a research ship in the San Francisco Bay.
She’s been interested in environmental education ever since she was a teenager volunteering as a guide at Monterey Bay Aquarium. During her time at Stanford, she has also explored the ways outdoor experiences can build community. Active in both Stanford Pre-Orientation Trips (SPOT) and the Stanford Outdoor Outreach Program (SOOP), she’s led incoming Stanford students on a trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park and teamed up with other leaders to take high schoolers to Año Nuevo State Park to see elephant seals.
Cole has also worked at the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City, engaging children from kindergarten through eighth grade in marine science exploration. Onboard a 90-foot research vessel, the Robert G. Brownlee, children assist Cole and others in using a trawl net to pull marine life onboard to see up close. “They’re really excited to see what we caught,” Cole says, “and so proud of themselves. When their parents come to pick them up, they’ll get in the car and say, ‘We got three bat rays today!’”
Cole majored in earth systems as an undergraduate, and minored in education at the GSE, where she took some of her favorite classes. As a grad student in earth systems in the Doerr School of Sustainability, she has continued to take GSE classes, including Moral, Civic, and Environmental Education and Introduction to Learning Sciences.
After finishing her master’s, she will be working for the environmental education nonprofit NatureBridge, where she’ll be based in the Marin Headlands. She hopes to continue to see the joy — and the heightened awareness — that an outdoor experience can arouse in a young person. “Outdoor education can be a powerful force for inspiring care for the environment,” she says, “in a way that can last long beyond a single experience.”