As a senior in the Outdoor Education program, Olivia interned with True North Wilderness Program in Waitsfield, Vermont, gaining direct experience in her Therapeutic Wilderness and Adventure Programming (TWAP) concentration. This experience led to employment at True North when she graduated — as the first Northern Vermont University Outdoor Education major with a concentration in TWAP graduate!
“I feel really lucky and special that I was able to graduate with that concentration,” Olivia said. When she began the Outdoor Education program at Northern Vermont University’s Johnson campus, the wilderness therapy concentration wasn’t an option — yet it was just what she wanted to do. “The timing of everything lined up perfectly,” she said.
The Opportunity to Make a Living Doing Something She Loved
A Massachusetts native and 2011 high school graduate, Olivia had previously attended two other colleges and tried three different majors, including art therapy, but none felt quite right. Then she “took some time off and fell in love with the outdoors — and I realized I could make a living with outdoor work,” she said. And then she found NVU-Johnson. “Community is something I value highly,” she said, “and Johnson — the NVU-Johnson campus and the town —is like a blanket I wrap around myself.”
Today, Olivia is the lead teacher at Premier Northwest Kids Forest School in Camas, Washington. She teaches pre-school through 5th grade with an outdoor hands-on curriculum, the lessons reflecting seasonal changes and the flora and fauna in the area. With a base camp set in a public park, the children take part in self-guided learning, with Olivia and her two assistant teachers “teaching them as we go,” Olivia said.
In the long-term, Olivia wants to open her own forest school, one that combines therapy, education, and working with animals. Although Forest School is a new turn on her career path, it pulls directly from her focus on wilderness therapy since graduation — first with True North and then with New Vision Wilderness in Bend, Oregon.
“So much growth and learning came from working as a team with the clinicians and staff,” she said. “All of the mind-body work I’ve been practicing and implementing is so helpful in working with small children, especially at this time [of Covid-19]. I have come to believe that any time you spend in nature is therapeutic.”
Returning to her NVU-Johnson experience, Olivia shares that the community and connections she made in the program “positively impacted my learning as well as my overall wellbeing as a student.” Outdoor Education is, by nature, a hands-on experiential program, and “much of my learning came through experiences with my classmates and professors,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”