Youth Education Intern Spotlight: Erika Cook

Erika Cook has been around The Environmental Center for quite some time, so you may recognize her! Last winter, as part of her final semester at OSU-Cascades, she shadowed our youth educators during classroom EarthSmart lessons. Here, she learned the ins and outs of working with students and really enjoyed the experience. Later in the year, she became our fall Outdoor School Days intern, working with kids in an outdoor classroom. We are so glad that Erika has returned in a similar position, supporting our winter ecology program at Skyliner Lodge where kids play in the snow, explore the forest, and connect to nature.  

Erika and her husband moved from Corvallis to Bend in 2019. She graduated in December with a degree in Social Sciences. While in Corvallis, Erika fell in love with astronomy. So it’s no surprise that she first volunteered, and now works, at Sunriver Observatory. Erika shared that she loves finding new places to stargaze, from hiking up Bessie Butte to camping at Scout Lake! 

During our first conversation, I was asking Erika a little bit about how she arrived in Bend. I can’t resist sharing that Erika spent many years of her childhood in North Pole, Alaska — which sounds just as magical as you’d imagine. She described reindeer, light posts decorated like candy canes, lots of snow, and dark school days (where recess was timed with daylight). She grew up on 2 acres of forested land, and her father used to freeze tarps to create an ice-skating rink at home. It’s easy to see where her reverence for nature was first sparked.

 Later this year, Erika plans to leave Bend so that her husband can pursue a Masters in Engineering. We feel so lucky to have met Erika and for the chance to work with her! Thanks to Erika for the impact you’re making at TEC and in the lives of local youth. Feel free to reach out to Erika and our youth education team if you have any questions about our programs, or if we can support your student’s connection to our natural world!

Fun Q&A to get to know Erika

What do you appreciate or enjoy about living in Central Oregon?
One aspect of Central Oregon that I love is the snow! After leaving Alaska I lived in Corvallis, Oregon, where we received very little to no snow (pretty much rain all year long…). Moving to Central Oregon and being able to experience snow during the winter has been amazing! It adds a layer of magical comfort to be surrounded with snow.

What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this year? (either through work at TEC or otherwise)
I’m looking forward to applying my personal passions to a job that I love doing. Interning at the Environmental Center has been something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and I still need to pinch myself to make sure it isn’t a dream! I love helping kids learn in different and nontraditional ways, and finding an organization such as the Environmental Center that provides a method of teaching for kids through outdoor learning has been amazing so far, and I can’t wait to use my passions to become a better teacher, a better leader and a better friend to the kids I work with.

What book are you currently reading, or what show are you binging?
I love reading fantasy books. Any book that contains a new universe that provides an escape from reality is my kind of book. The book I’m currently reading is called Gods of Jade and Shadow. This book follows a Mexican myth where a Myan god of death uses the help of a mortal girl to take back his kingdom which his brother overtook. The girl is named Cassipoea, which is a circumpolar constellation, also known as the Queen (another reason I really like this book). It’s been a fascinating adventure to read about!

If you were to facilitate a discussion on one topic you’re passionate about, what would it be?
Surround yourself with people you love! While a cliché phrase, I believe it wholeheartedly. Friends and family can help you become the best version of yourself. Going through hard experiences with a strong support system can help you become a happier person.

What’s a destination or experience you’ve had your eye on once COVID-19 is behind us?
I would love to go to an amusement park. I’m not picky as to where, just any place with roller coasters! I love riding fast and twisty rides, and it just sounds like a ton of fun! I’ve been to a few amusement parks before as a kid, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to one. I have great memories of hot summer days waiting in line for the rides with my family, and I would really love to one day soon go on some rides!