Name: Melissa Eckstrom
Graduation Year: 2014
Education: BA Sustainable Agriculture
Current Hometown: Flagstaff, Arizona (a mountain town that right now is snowy…just so you aren’t picturing a cactus)
Employment: Education and Outreach Coordinator at Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
Other Interests: I serve on the Colton Community Garden Leadership Team, a wonderful garden space that is part of the Museum of Northern Arizona (Volunteer Position); hobby artist, operating under the name Vermicontent (@vermicontent on Instagram); known locally as the Worm Lady due to my vermicomposting habit; returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Jamaica 2015-2017…directly after graduation from Sterling)
Can you tell us about your current work?
The mission of Willow Bend, in Flagstaff, Arizona, is to provide education outreach services that build environmental awareness and an ethic of responsible stewardship of our natural and cultural resources. Our small, three-person staff delivers classroom and field trip programs to over 25 public, regional and charter schools (K-12). This makes my job fun because every day is different! One day I may visit a school and do a lesson on insects for first graders, and the next day I could be taking fourth graders on a hike. We also offer adult education programs, teacher workshops, and community tours (such as at the Recycling Center, or“Downtown Geology,” a walking tour around downtown that gives folks a history on the rock type of the building, as well as some local history).
We have been offering more teacher workshops and classroom/community programs on climate change, renewable energy and waste reduction. Right now we are gearing up with local partners to put on the 3rd Annual Youth Climate Summit. I could go on and on. It is a rewarding job!
What is your most memorable “out in the field” story?
It’s not any one particular moment, but I think back fondly of working in all of the garden spaces, like the fields by the lower dorms, to the apple trees, berries, or the hops behind Pearson building. Working with other students, the garden crew, or often by myself, I love those spaces dearly.
I completed my Sterling College internship at Growing Power Inc., an urban farm in Milwaukee, WI (which sadly closed in 2018). Over that summer I learned how to keep honeybees, oyster mushroom cultivation, and large-scale vermicomposting techniques. It was where I had my first experience doing environmental education programs with kids! A Sterling faculty member recommended Growing Power to me, and to this day, that was one of my favorite summers.
Any words of wisdom for current Sterling students?
John Zaber once told our Bounder I class to always remember to “advocate for yourself.” Simple but important advice that I have reflected on over the years, in both my personal and professional life. If possible, take at least one class that isn’t related to your major. Also, I’m an AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alum, so please contact me if you have any questions about these opportunities.