I spent two years working in national parks before teaching at Gunston. I led hikes, explained local history, confiscated food containers, and dispensed trail advice. A good day for me meant clear skies and a woodpecker sighting; a bad day meant quarreling campers and long lines.


I enjoyed teaching park visitors about wildlife and geology, but all of those interactions ended the same way: they smiled, thanked me, and left. At best, their contact with me was a pit stop, 90 minutes crammed into a packed vacation. I didn’t get to see ideas grow, to teach and then build on that momentum the next day--so I came to Gunston.


At first, working here threw me for a loop. I felt unmoored from the familiar landscapes of California and frankly unsure if I deserved the exciting opportunity of the Watershed Semester. I did not know if I would belong.

Yet I quickly found a home at Gunston: the faculty supported and encouraged me; the students surprised me with their sincerity, passion, and desire to learn. Most importantly, CWS allowed me to teach in the field. I could transplant lessons I had learned in the parks and adapt them for high schoolers.


Among those lessons is the urgency of environmental education. I believe we are more detached than ever from the landscapes that make us American. We have the luxury of choosing, in 2019, a comfortable disengagement from the environment, relegating land and water to background noise or something only outdoorsy people care about. The promise of CWS is to help repair that connection, to offer agency and hope to the leaders of tomorrow--hope for science, hope for policy, hope for the environment.

- Owain Heyden