Making the outdoors accessible

Student finds community and purpose in outdoor education 

Elizabeth Ross started on a path of environmental and outdoor education in her junior year of high school with a job working for Boundary Water Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail. Through planning trips, outfitting people with gear and working to facilitate an outdoor experience for all backgrounds, she realized she wanted to continue to bring access to the outdoors to everyone.

Ross hopes that this improved access will not only give people a better appreciation for the outdoors; through education, it might also lead to greater protection for the environment. 

Field Experience

Elizabeth ross holding fur in front of a sign that reads "Naturalist programs Superior National Forest"
Ross carrying black bear fur for a naturalist talk on bears for the US Forest Service.

During the last two summers, Ross has had some influential field experiences. The first was working with the National Forest Service as a park ranger, traveling to resorts along the North Shore.

Her most recent summer job was at the Grand Portage National Monument, where a large part of the mission is to preserve the monument’s fur trade history and heritage of the Anishinaabe people. The park is co-managed by the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa and Elizabeth lived within their reservation during her time there. She described it as a “very immersive, inclusive, and friendly environment,” as well as being a beautiful place to spend the summer. 

Ross learned a lot during this experience, including how to integrate Indigenous history into her curriculum. “I think that it’s imperative for any outdoor educator to be able to relate to all cultures of people and to have skills to integrate Indigenous culture and knowledge into your programming,” she says, emphasizing the connection that those at Grand Portage are aiming to form between the monument’s historical past and the present day. “A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same … they’ve found a way to continue cultural traditions but in the light of modern-day society.” 

She received a National Park Service STAR award for her work “revitalizing and running Grand Portage National Monument's social media account.” This was no small feat, as this performance award is rarely presented to seasonal rangers. 

Preparing for the future

Elizabeth Ross teaching
Ross giving a naturalist talk about moose for the US Forest Service. 

Ross would enthusiastically recommend jobs like this to students in the field. “These experiences are the best things I ever did for myself … Once you get into the field, it’s a very close community.” She went on to say that this type of hands-on experience allows for many different opportunities, such as working with people from many different backgrounds, getting practice in the field, writing lesson plans, networking, and—perhaps most valuable—building a network of support and connections. 

Ross has also found a close community within the environmental and outdoor education program at UMD, and her studies have been very helpful in preparing her for work in her field. 

Although she’s not entirely sure what’s next after graduation, Ross knows what her long-term goal is. Through her work, she’s observed that students from lower-income families have much less access to the outdoors, and wants to work for the National Park Service to integrate outdoor education into the curriculum of Title I schools, which have a larger percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“There are students in West Duluth who have never been down to Lake Superior … you’d be so surprised by how much a socioeconomic class affects this.” Ross also hopes that, along with integrating environmental lessons into the curriculum, she may be able to help facilitate field trips to national parks as well.

Feature photo at top: Ross with coworker Sofia at Grand Portage National Monument. This story was written by UMD student Jax Wilder, who is majoring in psychology. Jax assists Lissa Maki with communications for the College of Education and Human Service Professions.