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Spotlight on St. Olaf student naturalists

Student naturalists Izzy Istephanous and Henry Henson plant trees in the Natural Lands.
Student naturalists Izzy Istephanous ’20 and Henry Henson ’20 plant oak seedlings in the Natural Lands last fall.

At St. Olaf College, students love to get involved with nature and the environment. With the Natural Lands — 350 acres of forests, prairies, and natural habitat — right on campus, there are many opportunities to get outside and explore the natural spaces that we call home. And though the Natural Lands are accessible to all members of the St. Olaf community, we’re especially lucky to have the student naturalists to help increase Oles’ engagement with the natural world.

The student naturalists are juniors and seniors who raise awareness of the Natural Lands as a space for student exploration and promote good stewardship of the environment. To do so, the naturalists organize events and field trips, such as phenology walks or the annual holiday wreath-making, in which students can learn more about the Natural Lands and get creative with their friends. They also perform restoration work in the Natural Lands and organize activities such as tree planting to include other students in these initiatives. Working as naturalists allows these students to gain hands-on experience researching and interacting with the environment, and this role prepares them for future careers beyond the Hill.
Here, we feature the student naturalists and share their reflections on their work in the Natural Lands and with the campus community.

Portrait of student naturalist Ella Doud in front of mountains.
Ella Doud ’20

Ella Doud ’20Aren’t we lucky to have a little piece of wilderness to explore in our time at St. Olaf? I keep being surprised by the beauty, the wildlife, the growth, and transformation the Natural Lands have to offer.

Portrait of student naturalist Henry Henson doing a controlled prairie burn.
Henry Henson ’20

Henry Henson ’20I think that this work is crucial to the long-term sustainability of St. Olaf. Besides the restoration of this area, the Natural Lands serves as an important refuge for students to learn about the natural world and escape into nature in the way that we can.

Portrait of student naturalist Izzy Istephanhous on a swing in front of flowers, grass and mountains.
Izzy Istephanous ’20

Izzy Istephanous ’20I have been shocked by the sheer amount of species we have on campus — we have hundreds of plant species alone! All of these species are able to cohabitate and flourish with one another. There’s so much that goes unnoticed when you’re walking on a trail; if you stop and look you can see just how rich the space is, and you can notice little details that may have slipped past you if you hadn’t taken the time to stop, look, and listen.

Portrait of student naturalist Matt Hallahan near trees.
Matt Hallahan ’21

Matt Hallahan ’21The natural lands provide a highly accessible place to feel connected with nature, improve mental health, and get away from the academics for a little while. This contrast from the rigorous classroom environment is very valuable, and I’m happy to be able to help keep the Natural Lands healthy.

Portrait of student naturalist Denver Link holding a duck outside.
Denver Link ’21

Denver Link ’21The biggest thing I have learned working as a student naturalist is that not everyone has the same background in natural settings. I grew up fishing and hunting, where I was constantly figuring out patterns in nature. I have learned that although people may have spent just as much time in nature, it may have been in a different way. I am learning how to communicate my perception and knowledge of nature to others.

Portrait of student naturalist Allie Raduege next to a dog and near a waterfall.
Allie Raduege ’21

Allie Raduege ’21We do our best to make sure that the Natural Lands are available to everyone, because that’s really important to all of us. We do this work anyway, but we organize events to try to get other people out there, and it matters a lot to us when people show up and are actively trying to be involved. We have 350 acres of natural land, and we want to make sure people know it’s there and that they use it.