Meet New VetsWork Coordinator, Rebekah Rafferty!

by | Field Notes

“I knew I wanted to work in natural resources when I was 15 and my mother took my little sister and me on a trip to a guest ranch in Moose, Wyoming. The landscape, it’s wildlife, and it’s people hit me as hard as anything ever has. My life from then on was always going to be about natural resources and I’ve never looked back.

I grew up in central California and graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a double-major in modern literature and environmental studies. I was fascinated with human systems (the social sciences and the humanities and the underlying forces that drive people to do what they do) and ecological systems (the natural sciences of places, their inhabitants, and the interactions among them). Since then, I’ve strived to bring those two interests together.
That led me to get my master’s in social science in a program called Environment and Community at Humboldt State University. I went back to the Rockies in 2011 for my thesis project studying how cattle ranchers in western Montana are mitigating depredations by wolves. I stayed there and worked for five years at Northwest Connections, which later became Swan Valley Connections, as a place-based natural resource educator and field technician. I taught college students in wildlife, forestry, and other environmental science majors from all over the country, immersing them in the realities of natural resource conservation in working landscapes via experiential field programs. I also did wildlife work on wolves, wolverines, and Canada lynx. Before moving to the Columbia Gorge, I worked for the University of Montana researching social-ecological resilience to wildfire in western communities that have experienced catastrophic wildfire events. For the last year, I’ve served as the education director for the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, using the wealth of teaching resources there to provide enriching learning experiences about the natural and human history of the mid-Columbia region for K-12, college, and adult students.

I was drawn to the Mt. Adams Institute because it embodies my core value that humans and ecosystems are part of the same whole and benefit immensely from one another. All of our programs are designed to nurture the connection between people and the natural world at various spatial scales – locally with Cascade Mountain School, regionally with our Public Land Stewards and VetsWork GreenCorps programs, and nationally with VetsWork Environment – the program I’m dedicated to. I get to work with military veterans serving in 45-week internships on public lands across the nation, providing them with career development training while enhancing the capacity of natural resource management agencies and non-profits. It brings together my interest in working with people with my love of the natural world and I’m very happy to be here!”