Doug Fisher, PhD candidate

Environmental Studies
"I got the Charter High School science teacher interested in attending a Wyoming Stream Team program at TSS in June," Doug said. "Now he's hooked, and so are his students."

Service Project Leads to New Horizons

When people at the Teton Science School (TSS) in Jackson, Wyoming, want to know something about their neighbors on the Wind River Indian Reservation these days, they ask Doug Fisher.

Doug, an instructor at the school since 2008, is also a PhD student in environmental studies at Antioch University New England (AUNE). During his service learning project, he got to know members of the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes on the reservation, working with elementary and high-school students and with the reservation’s Native Field Science Center.

The Go-To Guy

His original goal was to learn how the Fort Washakie Charter High School incorporated Native American beliefs with education. He has yet to realize that goal but, meanwhile, he’s established relationships with the indigenous people and become a resource on how to work with Native Americans for TSS, whose staff often seek out his advice. “Since doing the service learning project, now I’m the go-to guy when Wind River Indian Reservation folks come to TSS,” Doug said. “I learn a lot every time a group comes here or I go to the reservation.”

During his project, he helped Fred Groenke, director of the Native Field Science Center, scout out sites for field trips and plan after-school programs for students in the Fort Washakie, Arapahoe, and St. Stephens schools. He taught students and provided curriculum and training for teachers in the after-school program, and he organized and conducted a three-day training session for potential Native mentors for the program.

When Fort Washakie Charter High School students visited the TSS campus in Kelly, Wyoming, Doug was the instructor. “I got the Charter High School science teacher interested in attending a Wyoming Stream Team program at TSS in June,” Doug said. “Now he’s hooked, and so are his students.”

Apart from his service learning project, Doug has taken indigenous students on a camping trip in a portion of the reservation that belongs to the tribes, team-taught with a Shoshone graduate student at the University of Montana who wants to reintroduce free-ranging bison to the reservation, and taught environmental studies, education, and GPS.

Doug learned much about the Arapaho and Shoshone culture from Gene Meier, a Lakota Indian who started the Fort Washakie Charter High School, and from some of the teachers in the area, including a sixth-grade teacher who is Shoshone and who coaches and competes at pow-wows.

All that experience has made him an authority of sorts. Since his service learning project wound down, Doug has taught the Fort Washakie Charter High School students again, and also consulted with TTS’s science education graduate program to help them to engage their students as instructors for Native students. He’s also helped with a weekend program with future elementary teachers from the Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal College.

A Westerner Comes East

Doug grew up in Cavalier, North Dakota, and has ranged widely around the West. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Great Falls, in Great Falls, Montana, and a master’s in botany from the University of Manitoba, in Canada. He’s been a secondary-school teacher in his hometown of Cavalier, in Great Falls, and in Soldotna, Alaska. He also worked summers in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest in Alaska, and for state and federal natural resource agencies in North Dakota and Montana.

Then he came to AUNE. “I wanted to mix it up a bit,” he said. “I was right. The culture is different from where I’ve lived.”

When he went looking for a doctoral program, he put a lot of weight on the opinions of the environmental science/education faculty at universities that he contacted. “I asked them where they would get a PhD in environmental studies if they were in my position. A number of them said, ‘Antioch.'”

After Doug earns his PhD from AUNE in a couple of years, he has a few things in mind. He’d like to become a faculty member at a college or university, where he can prepare students to enter the field of education, as well as conduct professional development for current teachers-work he’s currently doing at TSS. “I have a strong place-based education interest, and I want to liberate teachers and students into exploring their local cultural and ecological places.” One of the valuable lessons he has learned is the incredibly strong sense of cultural/community place of the Arapaho and Shoshone people.