By Ben Baumgartner
One lesser known facet of Goshen College is the Masters available in environmental education at Merry Lea, a program which is currently in its second year. David Ostergren, the environmental education director, helped explain the program in addition to briefly chronicling his journey to Goshen during convocation on Monday.
Throughout Ostergren’s talk, he stressed the importance of knowing what motivates you–what inspires you to get through each day. For Ostergren, the two loves that have helped shape his journey are that of wilderness and education. Ostergren’s love for wilderness began at an early age, inspired in part by a 42-day canoe trip to the Northwest Territories in Canada as a teenager. His love for the outdoors has continued to manifest itself throughout his life in faraway places such as Peru, Malaysia and Russia.
Throughout his academic career, Ostergren has continually sought to make a difference in the world, while also satisfying his interests in wilderness and education. After getting a doctorate in Forest Resource Science from West Virginia, Ostergren became an associate professor at Northern Arizona University, where he both taught undergraduates and did research, publishing dozens of peer-reviewed articles. However, Ostergren said that it felt like a system that was just concerned with getting people through into the work force. So, when a position opened up at a college with values of peacemaking and justice similar to his own in the same town in which his in-laws lived, Ostergren seized the opportunity.
Ostergren described coming to Goshen College as being “very rewarding, in many respects,” despite it being a scary and challenging decision to make at first. At Goshen, he and a few other “excellent faculty” prepare a handful of students in the field of environmental education. The program takes place at Merry Lea, on what amounts to a 1,200 acre lab, where students can encounter ecosystems as diverse as wetlands, shorelands, swamps, prairies and forest. In addition, nearly 7,000 elementary, middle and high school students go through Merry Lea each year, providing an excellent opportunity for students in the graduate program to get practical experience.
By working in environmental education at Goshen College and training people who will have an even wider impact, it has been possible for Ostergren to not only fulfill his own interests, but also to help in the care of creation.