Last week, we (the graduate students in the Urban Environmental Education or UEE program) spent two days together for a retreat at the beginning of our third quarter. This may not seem like a monumental milestone, but these days spent together outside of regular classes were vital as we focused on moving forward, strengthening our cohort community, and understanding how to better relate to the communities in which we are living, learning, and working.
During the course of our studies, we have realized (and are continually reminded of) how our cohort is a microcosm, or a small example of communities in Seattle and society at-large. We are a group that is diverse in every sense of the word, from race to religion, personalities to professional experience, from language to learning styles. Everything we do as a cohort has an application to the bigger picture of our learning and work as urban environmental educators. This has given us an amazing opportunity to practice and implement the theories that we are learning among ourselves in the city.
During this retreat, we spent time as a community continuing to build on the knowledge that each of us bring and the relationships that have been formed over the past six months. Dr. Carl Sagan once said, “In order to understand the present you must understand the past…In order to create an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” So as we grow towards the ‘apple pie’ of being urban environmental educators, these two days saw us continue to invent our cohort’s ‘universe’, by sharing individual stories that connected our present strengths and assets with our personal history. There was also a night of karaoke that added to our cohort’s personal connection, complete with singing, rapping, and dancing!
As participants in a cultural competency workshop led by Dr. Caprice Hollins, we were able to explore personal connections to race and ethnicity, engage in open conversation about what that meant for us as a group, and come away with several tools to use in our work in the various communities we serve.
And finally, as members of the first cohort of this UEE program, we have the opportunity to participate in shaping how the program adapts moving forward. As we put on those hats, we spent time brainstorming and discussing the aspects of the program that would be communicated to YOU, as onlookers and even prospective graduate students. Having conversations on the mission and goals of the program allowed us to put what we have learned so far into perspective and also plan for the future, our next three quarters, and the cohorts to come.
The word retreat can be defined as “an act of moving back or withdrawing.” But it can also be defined as “a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest or relax.” Last week, our cohort was able to spend dedicated time together (retreat), while having conversations and doing work on several levels that will undoubtedly contribute to our growth as urban environmental educators moving forward. We explored personal strengths and stories, connection to self and communities at-large through cultural competency, and the bigger picture and goals of our program.
So stay tuned! We will continue to share our growth and what we are learning on this journey!
CJ Goulding is an alumni of the Urban Environmental Education program.