December 2020 Newsletter

Dear friends of WRFI,

As we slow down and settle into this season of rest and reflection, all of us at WRFI feel enormously grateful for our ability to do work that we wholeheartedly believe in. We believe in the power of place to be one of the very best teachers. We believe in the value of history in helping us navigate our future as a species. We believe that our students are stronger than they might realize, and that they have the power to change the world.

We've been blown away by the support we've received this past year—everything from $5 to $1,000 donations—from those who believe in our work of getting students outside, engaged with real places and real people and the interactions between them.

This year has been unlike any other in so many ways. Many nonprofits and small businesses have been challenged like never before. For the first time since 1995, WRFI has not been in the field with students. We took this time instead to focus on our internal operations and to look at ways in which we could expand and evolve. We are ready and eager to get back into the field in 2021, and we know we're not the only ones.

We've been hearing from a lot of students who are struggling after nearly two semesters of virtual and hybrid learning modules. Understandably, they're eager for experiences that don't require a computer screen, and we're certainly trying hard to make sure they have those opportunities with WRFI next year.

We also know that we can’t do this work alone. Without revenue from tuition in 2020, we are relying more than ever on charitable donations. If you would like to help ensure that WRFI courses are available for generations to come, you can make a gift directly on our website.

We also have another fun way to support WRFI this holiday season through Amazon’s Charity Wish List program. If you'd like to take a look at our holiday wish list of gear and supplies for our field courses next year, please visit our AmazonSmile Charity List. Whether it's a book or a camp kitchen knife, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your gift is being put to good use!

Regardless of whether you're in a position to give this season, please know that we appreciate all of the well-wishes and support that has come in so many different forms this year.

Thank you, be well, and happy winter.

Keri McWilliams
Executive Director
Wild Rockies Field Institute
THINKING AHEAD: COVID-19 and our 2021 field season

This year has given us a lot to think about, and we're feeling good about all of the preparations we've been making for our upcoming courses. With the help of our rockstar Safety Committee (composed of some of our amazing board members who are healthcare professionals and attorneys), we've been hard at work organizing all of the gear, policies, and protocols that we'll need in order to safely run our courses in 2021.

Right now, we're keeping a close eye on travel restrictions and public health guidelines, as well as hospital capacity and search and rescue availability in the areas we visit on our courses. We'll need to consider all of these factors in order to responsibly run courses. We'd be happy to discuss any and all of these considerations further—please feel free to contact us if you have questions!

Last month, we told you a bit more about our Cycle the Rockies course. Next up: Restoration Ecology, our only course focused solely on the spectacular Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the unique bioregion including and surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Over 3 weeks from late June to early July, students on this course earn 3 semester credits in Natural Resource Science & Management while exploring this one-of-a-kind landscape.

From the trails of Yellowstone National Park to the ranchlands of Southwest Montana, our Restoration Ecology course examines how human land use affects ecological communities, exploring the role of restoration in repairing damaged ecosystems and watersheds. Over two backpacking trips, hands-on restoration projects, and a variety of meetings with restoration practitioners, public lands managers, and private landowners, students on this course become well-acquainted with the field of ecological restoration in an exceptional part of the world.

"My WRFI Restoration Ecology course was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. As a student studying Art History and Government, I was unsure if this type of course would be something for me. I recommend this to anyone—your major doesn't matter. The experience is 100% worth it and you'll leave a more well-rounded and mindful person."

-Elsa Coughlin, Restoration Ecology '17
ONE MORE INFO SESSION: Join from anywhere!

WRFI will be hosting one last information session in 2020, and we hope you can make it! Join us from the comfort of your living room this month, and learn how to take your college education outside next year. Staff and alumni will be available for any questions you might have. We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 16: 11:00-12:00 (Mountain Time)

Meet WRFI's newest board member, Nerissa Koehn. Nerissa was born and raised in Missoula. She joined the WRFI Board in 2020 and currently works as a family physician at Western Montana Clinic. She is also pursuing a Master of Public Health degree through Johns Hopkins with a concentration in maternal-child health and global health. Previous to that, she worked for the Indian Health Service in Zuni, New Mexico for eight years. She then moved back to Missoula in 2011 and worked for six years as a founding faculty member and the Associate Program Director of the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana.

Nerissa became a firm believer in the value of experiential learning after spending a transformative five months on a field-based study abroad program to Kenya during her junior year at Lewis & Clark College. She loves traveling and recently took some time off with her husband and three daughters to live and work in New Zealand as well as travel to several countries in Africa and Europe. She enjoys many outdoor pursuits, including rafting, skiing, and camping with her family.

We are thrilled to have Nerissa's skills and expertise on the WRFI board, especially when it comes to advising us on the health and safety of our students and instructors!
Check out our WRFI goods

2021 WRFI calendars have arrived! WRFI's first-ever calendar features the winning entries from our 2020 photo contest, including this stunning cover photo from Conservation Across Boundaries alumna Ernesta McIntosh. Check out these new arrivals, along with the rest of our WRFI clothing and gear for some great holiday gift options!
Meet Kory Kirby
As an undergraduate student at Montana State University, Kory Kirby was already an avid outdoorsman who was passionate about ecology and the natural world. When he heard that a good friend of his was about to earn 15 credits while backpacking and kayaking across the state of Montana with WRFI for two months, he was beyond intrigued. Eager for experiences that would help him find his place in the world, Kory applied for WRFI’s desert semester on the Colorado Plateau, and soon found himself preparing for two months of learning from desert canyons, rather than textbooks.

As he prepared to leave his friends, family, house, showers, laundry, kitchen, possessions—essentially, his whole life—behind for a semester, Kory was understandably nervous. He hadn’t spent that much time in the backcountry before, and was simultaneously anxious and curious/excited about the experience. What would life look like without regular access to technology? Without regular access to a shower? How would it feel to be carrying everything he needed on his back for extended periods of time? He told himself to start his course with an open mind, to not stress about the details, and to look forward to returning as a new version of himself.
The impressions left on Kory from his time in the field with WRFI were nicely summed up in his first—and frankly, epic—post-course journal entry. Looking back now, Kory finds it fascinating that this journal entry didn’t focus on the ecology, geology, natural history, or Native American history that he had learned during his course, but rather the things he learned about being a good, moral, grounded human being. He still revisits this journal entry often in order to remind himself of what he believes are the most important aspects of life.

To this day, Kory believes that he learned more about himself during those sixty days on the Colorado Plateau than he has in all his twenty-six years on this planet. He firmly believes that he found himself in the deserts of Utah. With a stronger sense of self after his WRFI course, Kory’s personal and professional trajectories had the opportunity to blossom. He returned to Montana State University where he became a TA for three different classes, worked in a soil lab, helped launch a sustainability club at MSU (SNOW), got really into public speaking, and pedaled a bicycle five hundred miles around Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. He graduated with honors with his B.S. degree in Land Rehabilitation and subsequently biked down the entire West Coast of the United States with a trailer and a surfboard.
After working as an environmental educator for a nonprofit organization and then Washington State University, Kory then started his own freelance business offering book design and publishing services. He also launched his own publishing company, Little Cabin Press, where he has published books about both of his extended bike tours (Make it Real and Why Do You Exist), and where he hopes to help others share their ideas with the world.
Today, Kory is focused on growing his businesses while trying to remember what it means to live courageously: to celebrate more, and hurry less; to live in the moment, for the moment; to love more. One day, he hopes to return to outdoor education, to inspire another generation like his WRFI instructors did for him.

Perhaps now more than ever, we believe that it is incredibly important to identify those organizations and businesses that make our communities vibrant, and to support them however we can during what has been an extraordinarily challenging time for small businesses and nonprofits. As you’re considering gift giving this holiday season, we encourage you to check out Kory’s services:

1.     Books and Journals at Little Cabin Press—particularly, the Dust Jacket Journals for some beautiful writing inspiration during the winter ahead.

2.     Publishing services for any loved ones who might have a book to share. Kory would love to help them share it!
Wild Rockies Field Institute is a 501(c)3 organization. Your gift is fully tax deductible. Our Federal Identification Number is 81-0487425.