Stories from the Field

Alumni Spotlight: Andrew West

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Andrew West attended Yosemite Institute in 1997 as a high school junior with a group of students from the Redding Area. The trip was funded by the McConnell Foundation. 
Andrew almost didn't make it on the trip at all. Students had to apply for the opportunity to visit Yosemite and he was originally the 4th alternate. In the weeks leading up to the trip, other students had to remove themselves from the list for health reasons or other conflicts, until Andrew became the first alternate. Then the night before they were scheduled to leave, Andrew got a call that another student was sick. He hurried to pack and boarded the bus to Yosemite the next morning. 
Looking back, it must have been fate that took Andrew from 4th alternate to sitting on that bus as it pulled into Yosemite.

My whole mindset shifted, the experience defined who I've become.
Andrew West

Andrew comments that the trip was life-changing for him. At the center of that experience for the week was Andrew's NatureBridge educator Shirley Spencer. Andrew was hooked by the combination of an awe-inspiring setting, as well as Spencer's passion for the natural history of Yosemite and her commitment to making a difference for the environment. Although the trip was just  five days, Shirley and Yosemite had an outsized impact on the values and dreams that influenced Andrew through college and well into his career. Andrew calls the Yosemite experience a core memory. 
"My whole mindset shifted, the experience defined who I've become," he said. 
Andrew had planned to study physics in college, but the memory of Yosemite drew him instead to a geology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This evolved further, and Andrew graduated with an Environmental Studies degree. During his college summers, Andrew took any opportunity he could to work in Yosemite, first at Wawona in guest services and later as intern with the Yosemite Association. 
After graduation, Andrew worked in Yosemite Valley for a decade. He realized he wanted to inspire a love for learning and discovery in youth the way Shirley had inspired him. He worked for much of that time with the Interpretive Services division of the park guest services operator.  He often led guided talks and nature hikes for visitors around Yosemite Valley, taking many opportunities at the end of those programs to share the story of his transformation when he discovered Yosemite as a NatureBridge student.

Andrew left Yosemite in 2013, as he considered the next phase of his life, he reflected back to his experience with NatureBridge once again. Andrew went back to school to earn his science teaching credential and eventually got a job teaching science in Las Vegas. While he enjoyed teaching, he found the urban setting was not for him. A few years later, he relocated to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in west Alaska to teach science and raise his family. 
Today, Andrew's life's work is in perfect alignment with the NatureBridge mission as he instills the love of nature and learning in his own children and his students. 

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