Kate Schafer embarks on a ‘new adventure’ teaching biology and environmental science

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With a lively smile on her face, Kate Schafer ’92 shows me a bright blue notebook she started filling out last year – her entries are filled with neatly annotated hand drawings illustrating her examinations of nature. One entry that she is particularly passionate about documents the changing height of the tide – the result of hours of careful observation.

Schafer’s hobby, nature journaling, began last year at the start of the pandemic as a way to get away from his computer.

“It transformed my experience of places and what I see,” Schafer said of nature journaling, which allows her to appreciate nature in a new way.

“It transformed my experience of places and what I see,” Dr. Schafer said of nature journaling, which allowed her to appreciate nature in a new way. (Photo: Courtesy of Kate Schafer)

Starting to keep a nature journal isn’t the only result of Schafer reflecting on his passion for environmental science. In the next school year, she will begin a new teaching position at the Sequoyah School in Pasadena, California, specializing in interdisciplinary, project-based education focused on environmental stewardship.

While she described the job change as “exciting” and “a new adventure,” the defining moments that shaped Schafer’s career began in Woods Hole, Mass., where she took a marine biology course. ; fittingly, Schafer returned to the same city to conduct our interview.

Between snorkeling sessions and studying the organisms that inhabited the waters of Woods Hole, Schafer discovered the mysterious world of marine biology.

“I’ve always loved the ocean,” Schafer said. “But I never really thought about what was actually in the water, which really sparked my interest and excitement in learning more about ocean ecosystems.” Guided by her interest and enthusiasm, Schafer was drawn to Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, which allows undergraduate students to take advanced courses in marine biology.

Schafer’s second moment of discovery occurred in Jamaica, where she helped set up a marine protected area. Jumping into the coral reefs of Jamaica’s warm, clear waters, she was struck by their beauty – but also sought to learn more about the reefs and seek out more.

This experience, coupled with the dramatic “before and after” comparison of coral reef bleaching in Belize, inspired her to research coral reef ecology for her doctoral dissertation.

After receiving his doctorate. at the University of California, Berkeley, Schafer held several jobs, including teaching on a boat in San Francisco Bay. Throughout the process, she discovered her love for teaching – her “third moment”.

“I really missed the long-term relationships I developed with the students,” she said. “I really missed getting to know people in a more substantial way.” Besides her love for teaching, Schafer has credited high school student energy as another reason she became a high school teacher.

The opportunity to realize his love for education and science came in the form of a job offer from the Harker School in San Jose. During her 15 years there, she taught and developed several courses including Biology, Marine Biology, AP Environmental Science and a research class. As part of a summer ecology course offered by Harker, Schafer traveled with his students to Southeast Alaska.

“There are things [in Alaska] reminiscent of Northern California, but in a bigger and deeper way. said Schafer. “I feel that tug and that need to be there.”

Having called Northern California home since her time at Stanford, Schafer said she’s ready to embark on a new adventure in SoCal.

As California wildfires reddened the skies of the Bay Area in 2020, the urgency of the climate crisis had Schafer thinking about what was most important to her and how she could have the greatest impact. The result: the start of a new teaching position at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, California.

Students at Sequoyah School, a K-12 day school, embark on multiple camping and hiking trips each year. Locations range from the Grand Canyon to Costa Rica to the Colorado River. These interactive and hands-on learning opportunities spoke to Schafer.

People are more “connected to nature and more likely to … improve conditions in the world if they have these experiences,” she said.

In addition to off-campus trips, Sequoyah School also hosts a Social Innovation Program, in which students pursue extensive research and social projects to support one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Sequoyah School also offers five-week and 10-week interdisciplinary elective courses that allow students to explore environmental protection through the lens of science, English, history or a other department.

These interdisciplinary electives, Schafer said, remind him of Stanford programs.

“One of the amazing things that Stanford has done is create these cross-disciplinary programs that really draw on the expertise of many different departments.” said Schafer. “Having these experiences in college where people from different backgrounds come together sets students up for success when they step out into the real world.”

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