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Wilderness Certification Program
Student Bios

Here's a sampling of biographies of past students and graduates of the Wilderness Certification Program in their own words:

Scott Dorsch, Student
Why did I come to Alderleaf? Well, it depends on who is asking the question. If I were to tell my parents why I moved across the country to attend a wilderness college, I would simply say, “Education and future jobs.” If it were you, I would say it was because I have been feeling a tug towards the wilderness my whole life. I have been an advocate of wild America and its well-being (along with its human friends) for as long as I can remember. I became disenfranchised and felt disheartened when I was involved with the “mainstream” environmentalists, and have been searching for a fulfilling practice, culture, and community ever since. My philosophies and interests developed hand and hand until they were looking each other in the eye. The only way to get across the canyon of purpose was to reconnect with the wild places-- to reconnect with home. Alderleaf is a place for me to do that and much more. To gain confidence in a lifestyle I understood but had yet to practice and develop an awareness and consciousness that used to be common place on this Earth but is now shrouded by a mechanical world. I first planned on coming here and charming myself into a position as an instructor, but now that Fil and Michelle have introduced me to the naturalist world of tracking and bird language, I may put my teaching aspirations to the side for now and pursue a life as a naturalist and field researcher working on efforts to preserve the earth’s fragile ecosystems and their species that hang in the balance. The ‘Yellowstone to Yukon’ project interests me as well as the ‘Wildlands’ initiative. We’ll see where this wild life takes me.

Caitlin Jones, Student
My name is Caitlin. I’m 22 years old and from Seattle, Washington. My bachelor’s is in Early Childhood and Family Studies from the University of Washington. I’m attending Alderleaf’s Wilderness Certification Program because of its comprehensive curriculum and because of the community of people attending and supporting this program. My interest in permaculture began when I started thinking about social change and how to get at the roots of issues in our society. I believe that improvement comes best from preventative measures, and that the deepest level of prevention is societal structure, such as subsistence patterns. Our current industrial, capitalist structure is what leads to both social and environmental injustices, such as inequality and unsustainable resource use. The permaculture design system can be used to develop a societal structure that would create social and environmental balance. Rather than attend a permaculture design certificate alone, I chose to attend this program because it offers knowledge and skills that lead to a more comprehensive and well-developed skill base, such as tracking, which is helpful in permaculture design, and medicinal herbs, which is helpful in leading a natural lifestyle. I’m hopeful that one day I can live off the land, using permaculture, with a community of people. If I’m lucky, I’ll eventually be able to help others attain the same thing.

Sean Sweikow, Student
Hey - my name's Sean Sweikow. I enjoy writing and cooking and creative endeavor. I love the woods and I love humanity, and Alderleaf is a beautiful place to be. Being here has been a tremendous blessing. There is a lot of love and a lot of support. It is truly a special place.

Hannah King, Student
As an environmentalist looking for a new outlet, I knew I needed to surround myself in a place which intrinsically and extrinsically did their role in protecting the Earth while showing me how to be a better eco-steward. Alderleaf has brought my environmental knowledge and background to a level I never imagined. In only the few months that I have been with the program, I am more open-minded, have broadened my eco-conscious, and practice skills I thought were once lost in time, not to mention meeting some of the greatest people I have ever known. The connection to the natural world is powerful, pure, unlike anything else one can experience. Alderleaf connects you to the greater spirit of the Earth, which is the true meaning of life. I am a proud Alderleaf student, and will become a proud graduate in the near future.

Kristian Boose, Student
The daily grind of 22 years owning and operating my very own retail business led me to feel really disconnected from the natural world that I had been introduced to as a younger child. The never-ending drive for expansion and consumption increasingly widened a chasm and dissonance in me to the point where my soul yearned for changes to be made. I didn't know it at the time, but these changes would lead me to Alderleaf. I sold the business and moved from my hometown in Central Pennsylvania all the way across the country to start a new chapter in my life. The traditional skills and knowledge that this school offers really speak to me. The small class sizes and the chance to get out of the books and classroom to really experience the natural world make this a special place. To feel it, breathe it in, bring it into your body...this is what the world needs more of right now. If I could've been here 22 years ago, I probably would've been. I'm here now though, and I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be. And this is just the beginning...

Celina Chadwick, Student
I came to be at Alderleaf due to a sequence of random events; an adventure cut short, a snow storm, a dead car battery, and a laundry mat. Long story short, I was at the Sultan laundry mat talking to my friends about the idea of going to a community college when I met Jessica, a 2011 graduate of Alderleaf, who was working there. She told me she came all the way from Michigan to go to Alderleaf Wilderness College and that it was right in Monroe. I had never heard about a school that taught wilderness skills. To my surprise it was in the town that I grew up in. Jessica invited me to come and spend a day with the certification class. The next week, after about 8 miles of a gorgeous drive on Ben Howard, I drove up the school driveway and the first thing I saw were people practicing archery at 9am in the morning! Soon we were walked down a path into the forest and gathered in the outdoor classroom around a fire. We learned about cottonwood trees and their medicinal value. Later in the day we traveled to the Skykomish River and harvested buds from the cottonwood trees and made a salve which I use all the time now. The following Thursday I went to their community potluck and absolutely fell in love with everything the school was about and all the people involved. Now as a student of Alderleaf I look forward to school every day, to learning ancient knowledge, while experiencing an accepting and inspiring community. I have grown a lot as a person and feel there was not a better gift than finding out about the school. I came to Alderleaf to learn the things that each human being has a right to know, but that has got lost and forgotten by most.

Torin Tindongan, Student
The paths that have revealed themselves to me have inspired me to search for the knowledge and skills to help care for nature and teach others the same. I want a family of all life working together, for each being to be able to play their notes in the song of life. I have a deep and still growing love for all of these skills being learned but especially tracking and bird language. Thankfully every skill flows perfectly with my wandering and martial artists dance with the Spirit. Intrigued by indigenous culture and my ancestors, I know that the wisdom from the past can provide solutions for the future. Change is constant and humans will change to care for the planet, and therefore ourselves, or we are the apocalypse... When I think of Alderleaf the ideas of Inspiration, Growth, Community, Knowledge, Skill, Healing, Love are ever present. It's places like these that are fountains of wealth. Wealth for the Soul.

Joanna Wright, Student
I chose to attend Alderleaf Wilderness College because I wanted to develop what I believe to be fundamental knowledge for being fully human, fully alive: awareness and understanding of ecological relationships. David Abram writes, “We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” I wanted to know that not just intellectually, but through experience. I knew that I loved the outdoors. I had already worked on small farms, created gardens, and been exposed to permaculture, but found that I was missing the foundation for that work, an intimate connection to the wild within and around me. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I had a deep love of this place, the mountains, waters, forests. But I wanted to be able to say more than, “that’s beautiful!” Alderleaf offers the very beginning – of a life-long process! – of learning about the natural world, and how to participate in it with a sense of capability, wonder, and respect. I feel very fortunate here to have the support of mentors and a group of peers who are like an extended family. Of all the (interrelated) topics we study, I’ve found that my focus is on naturalist skills, bird language, tracking, and ethnobotany, and how these skills apply to human livelihoods. After Alderleaf, I’d like to continue to hone these skills, and share them with others, so that we can cultivate a more ecologically literate society, and form human communities that live in balance with the larger community of the Earth.

Nick LaVelle, Student
As my increasing interest for the outdoors grows, I’ve needed the means to create a wholesome experience and a foundation for a lifetime of learning. What Alderleaf has introduced to me is what I have been missing. Thus far I have been taught how to approach nature, and life itself, with confidence in my skills and my ability to expand them. I have been guided in the direction of accurately observing the ecology, having respect for all things and practicing self-reliance. Along with awareness and precaution, an understanding of the natural world is vital for my plans to lead a life of outdoor recreation, adventure, and to hold a career in which I can thrive.

A sampling of biographies, in their own words, of several past students in the Wilderness Certification Program:

Gianna Torres, Graduate
I am a rather wild person and you might encounter me as I explore and roam around the Red Rock canyon country of Sedona, where I currently live or some other wilderness where I work during the summer. I attended the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program from 2011-2012 and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I constantly look back and think of the things I learned in the program as I am out in the backcountry. Often, I like to go foraging and experiment with things at home. I also do a lot of tracking in my free time and am often consulted about tracks by many people at the ranger station where I work. I work for the Forest Service during the summer and fall, either as a trail crew or as a Wilderness ranger. I truly enjoy my job as it allows me to be outside in the wilds all the time where I belong. I am now attending Northern Arizona University and working towards a B.S. in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis on Wilderness management and law enforcement and a minor in Criminology. I would love to return to Alderleaf for another program if I ever get the chance!

Chris Pearson, Graduate
Since graduating from Alderleaf I've been working in a variety of teaching positions. During the school year I’ve worked for Sylvan as a tutor and SAT prep math teacher. In the summer I work for the BOLD (Boys Outdoor Leadership Development) program through the YMCA. I led trips to the North Cascades and hiking trips on the Olympic Coast. It gets adventurous at times, managing the risks for a group of teenage boys with 40-50 lbs on their backs – I caught a kid from falling off a cliff once. In the guiding world, my Alderleaf background separates my skillset from others. Many people have hard skills for rock climbing, alpine mountaineering, etc… while few have the naturalist background. I'm generally called upon to teach and make most fires, and I share plant and animal sign knowledge. A short list of the creatures I saw last summer: bear, otters, whales rolling 15 feet offshore, seals, sea lions, coyote, eagles, hawks, and falcons. On my few days off I volunteer at the Tacoma Nature Center for their summer camp programs teaching about birds, survival, fire building and shelters.

Georgieann Lilgreen, Graduate
Georgieann Lilgreen, Tlingit Artist and Instructor, was born in Ketchikan Alaska but raised in a small Haida village on Prince of Whales Island called Kasaan. There, living the ways of the hunter-gatherer were just a part of life. At the age of 18, she decided to see what the rest of the world had to offer. Living in a place where there was no electricity, roads, stores, or hospitals and not being exposed to much media or western ways, the rest of the U.S. seemed like the whole world to her. After traveling around awhile, attending the Art Institute of Seattle, and working the corporate ladder, she realized that none of that really felt "right”. A series of events led her to Alderleaf where she remembered who she was and her responsibility to become a positive representation of her people. Her passion is in assisting others in finding their path as individuals, to restore the sense of the sacred, and making things the old way by utilizing the supplies our earth mother provides.

Steve Nicolini, Graduate
I grew up in the town of Novato, California hiking the hills and riding bikes on the deer trails. I have always been intrigued by the natural world, but influenced in other directions. In 2007, I was lucky enough to go on a journey into the Amazon rainforest. There I witnessed a nation of indigenous peoples living within their environment. My desire to study the natural world began then, and enrolled me in the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. The doors that are opened through this education seem endless. Since graduating in 2009, I have worked for an outdoor youth school and professionally designed/planted edible landscapes. I have begun a positive and rewarding career in outdoor education and land stewardship at Alderleaf. Aside from occupational and career opportunites, my personal life has benefited tremendously from the training. I grow much of my own food, have hundreds of thousands of girlfriends (all whom are honeybees), and have had success hunting wild game. The Certification Program taught me how to teach myself. I continue my education to this day, building my skills as a designer, builder, and tracker. My long term goals are few but worthy, in my opinion. I intend to purchase raw land, design it, build a cottage, and raise lots of crops (including children). I intend to achieve a senior tracker certificate from Cybertracker International as well.

Alexandra Vita, Graduate
After completing the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program I stayed on for another year to be an intern for the school. Being an intern made me realize that what I really want to do is teach and share all of the things I have learned, but also made me understand that I still have a lot to learn about how to be a good and effective teacher--so this fall I will be returning to college to finish a degree in outdoor education. Currently I am working at the Puget Sound Community Co-op and am continuing my education in herbalism as an apprentice at Cedar Mountain Herb School. I still live on the Alderleaf Farm with some of the school’s interns and staff, and spend a good deal of my free time harvesting and preserving plants for medicine, food, and other uses.

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