Gaspar Ramos, 16, strides confidently to the edge of the Quillayute River where he drops a hydrolab datasonde into the flowing water. Ramos, a tribal member, has quickly mastered the device, which measures water quality parameters. He looks like he’s been doing it for years.
Ramos might one day have a job providing similar services if the introduction he’s being given by the Quileute Natural Resources and the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center Natural Resources program generates a further interest in pursuing the education needed for natural resources work.
The Skills Center offers project-based field science classes and work on real-world projects in local ecosystems. The Quileute Tribe provides the jobs for two tribal students who shadow the professionals and participate in the project tasks.
“The ideal pathway is that the next step is an internship — that provides paid education awards through AmeriCorps, followed by college or a job,” said Dan Lieberman, the coordinating teacher for the Skills Center Natural Resources, headquartered in Port Angeles.
The students spend half a day a week, outside of regular class hours, working with the tribe and the Skills Center Natural Resources program. Ramos and Jonah Black work on water quality and job skills assignments with Nicole Rasmussen, water quality biologist for the Quileute Tribe.
“We’ve always had a core mission to attract tribal students to working in natural resources jobs,” said Frank Geyer, assistant director of Natural Resources for the Quileute Tribe. “We’re happy to have the Skills Center Natural Resources program as another partner in our effort to have tribal students learn about the available jobs and how the work applies to their treaty rights.”
The Skills Center Natural Resource program has been working in the Forks area for less than a year, but began in Port Angeles five years ago. It now serves all five school districts in Clallam County, providing students with opportunities to obtain high school and sometimes college credit by working with a variety of natural resource organizations, including the tribes, Olympic National Park, Olympic National Marine Sanctuary and area timber companies.
For students like Ramos, the work provides an opportunity to design their own scientific questions and methods to answer them on the job. He has been measuring the salinity levels of various spots in the Quillayute River system and making predictions based on the results.
“It’s interesting. When I was little, I would always see people on the river doing experiments, so I asked them what they were doing. They told me they didn’t like sitting in the office much and that their job allowed them to be outside a lot,” Ramos said. “That sounded like a good idea to me, too.”
For more information, contact Frank Geyer, Quileute Natural Resources, assistant director, at 374-5695; Dan Lieberman, North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center Natural Resources program, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Debbie Preston, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Coastal Information Officer, at 374-5501, email@example.com.