“It feels really powerful to come back to a program that meant so much to me. I see in my own life the impact of this type of learning experience, so it feels great to be part of the team that’s delivering that kind of learning for others."
Looking out her window, Déana Scipio (PhD ‘15) can see fourth through sixth graders playing in the grass. When she visits the garden, kids are learning about plants and planting things ー though they won’t get to see them sprout. It’s part of the stewardship work they do, planting for other kids to harvest later in the year.
But it’s the experiences of the graduate students, those teaching the children, which are even more exciting to her.
Scipio is director of the Graduate Program in Education for Environment and Community (EEC) at IslandWood, an environmental education organization with a campus near Seattle. The EEC program partners with the University of Washington’s College of Education in combining a year-long IslandWood residency with the completion of graduate degree requirements at the UW.
During their ten months at IslandWood, graduate students learn through a combination of theory and practice. They teach for roughly 17 weeks in a mentored practicum designed to allow them to receive feedback and see their evolution as an educator.
The residents facilitate learning experiences in environmental science, sustainability and collaboration for the fourth through sixth graders who participate in the organization’s overnight program. They are both teachers and learners, taking academic classes that connect directly to the work they do with the younger students.
“That’s one of the things that drives layered learning environments,” Scipio said. “It’s that people have an opportunity to learn something, apply it directly into practice with young people, and then bring the things they’ve learned from that practice back into a learning space to debrief and learn from that experience.”
The program aligns with Scipio’s interest in multi-generational layered learning environments where different types of people learn a variety of things while engaging in a rich, complex and rigorous activity connected to science learning.
Scipio completed her MEd and PhD at the UW and worked in two postdoctoral research positions, one a fellowship with TERC in Massachusetts. Her work generally focused on broadening participation in science by changing what it means to engage in as well as create more access points to science practices and learning spaces.
“I was taken by the approach to working with community,” she said of the UW, “to thinking about science as more than a set of knowledge in a book that’s unchangeable. Design-based research as a methodology really appeals to me.”
The suggestion to work with IslandWood’s EEC program came from the previous director, who served as Scipio’s mentor when she went through the program herself.
“I honestly hadn’t been thinking that I was going to leave academia,” she said. “And this isn’t leaving academia, but it is a non-traditional way to continue to participate in an academic space.”
As she approaches the one-year anniversary of taking over the program’s leadership, Scipio reflects on her experience and the future.
“It feels really powerful to come back to a program that meant so much to me,” Scipio said. “I see in my own life the impact of this type of learning experience, so it feels great to be part of the team that’s delivering that kind of learning for others.”
She focuses on design and decides what changes to the program will advance IslandWood’s mission and vision while connecting to the needs of a larger world. She says the graduate students themselves ask for more culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogies in their environmental education.
The organization continues to shift in directions Scipio finds personally meaningful and connected to community in addition to remaining scientifically rigorous.
“It feels important to me to hold onto that thread while creating a future for the program that feels connected to broadening participation, justice, equity, diversity and inclusion while we’re building upon the things that make this place really special and important.”
Story by Olivia Madewell, marketing and communications student aide.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications