Marci Krass, MS, is passionate about growth of all kinds. Having spent a significant portion of her life outdoors, she has substantial knowledge of horticulture and sustainable food production. Her training at the GSE has helped her translate those skills into encouraging growth and development in students. Marci leads students at Mt. Hood Community College in the Project YESS program, teaching them to garden organically, grow native plants from seed, and identify native plants in the forest. These skills overlap with her more complex visions, including cultivating leadership skills and exploring solutions to build community and revitalize ecosystems. In both her personal and professional life, Marci is always looking for ways she can ‘stack functions’ to achieve new and greater goals, like creating a world she wants the next generation to inherit.
How did you break into the field? Or how did your work at the GSE help you reach your professional goals?
Prior to graduate school, I had a passion for protecting and restoring natural areas and connecting people with places through environmental education. The GSE program allowed me to explore how I could more effectively blend these passions. Motivated by a passion to learn more about local native plants, I spent time during graduate school volunteering and working at Metro’s Native Plant Center scouting for target plant species, collecting native seeds from the wild, and then growing the seeds to develop locally sourced plant material for restoration projects. This experience helped me to gain new relevant skills, apply concepts I was learning in the classroom to the real world, and also build my professional connections. Graduate school helped me to become more articulate in the topic of sustainability, a more effective non-traditional educator, and more adept at building community partnerships to achieve common goals.
What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?
Understanding more about Permaculture Design Principles helped me to develop thinking tools to redesign my environment and behavior to achieve more and use less. For example, I constantly look for ways that I can ‘stack functions’ to achieve multiple goals with tasks or projects in both my personal and professional life. I also learned that understanding myself and taking care of my own needs energizes me to inspire and help others achieve their educational goals.
What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?
Through my work with Project YESS, I am reviving a defunct greenhouse to create a thriving native plant nursery and learning garden on the Mt. Hood Community College campus. I am most proud of knowing that I am having a positive impact on young adults who are on an alternative path. I am helping students feel empowered by offering them hands-on opportunities to garden organically, identify native plants in the forest, and grow native plants from seed. I also feel very proud in knowing that our conservation work is helping to restore the long-term health of local riparian forests to support diverse wildlife species.
The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?
Cultivating a sense of community where everyone feels like they belong, like they have a purpose, and a role to play in making our neighborhoods better places. Creating a world we want our children to inherit. Focusing on slow and small solutions can make an impact by building more resilient and cohesive communities.
How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?
I am constantly working to build community among diverse groups of youth who participate in my conservation crew with Project YESS. I strive to help students understand they all have strengths and talents they contribute to our learning community and that they each play a vital role in our community’s success. I provide students with time to reflect and learn more about themselves so they understand how they can best make a positive impact. Through my work with Willamette Riverkeeper, I am working to build partnerships among different organizations to have a more effective coalition of community members working to protect and restore the Willamette River so it is swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for us all to enjoy.
Did you have a favorite course/professor/project while at the GSE?
Ecological and Cultural Foundations of Learning taught by Heather Burns was a transformational course. The course embodied a philosophy of sustainability education which helped me to better understand how to convey what sustainability education may look like in a classroom setting. Through hands-on activities during class, we developed a strong learning community. Class time was engaging and fun, because students were primarily learning from one another.
What advice would you give students currently enrolled or recently graduated?
There are so many amazing programs and projects that embody sustainability education principles around Portland. Experience as many as you can to build your toolbox and to be inspired by the myriad of educational models and projects in our community. I also recommend traveling if you have the time and resources to take a class abroad or to pursue an internship in a far away place. I traveled to Italy for a Geography course and to Chile for an internship and found it incredibly inspiring and eye opening to experience local food systems and other aspects of sustainability in another part of the world.