Stories from the Field

Staff Spotlight: Amelia Otto Cutting

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I didn’t remember that I remembered this much until I got here and then I was like, wait, I know I did this!” For current Environmental Science Educator Amelia Otto Cutting, leading student groups at NatureBridge Yosemite is a dream come true—as well as a bit of déjà vu. Although she’d been visiting Yosemite National Park with her family for her “whole life,” Amelia's first visit to NatureBridge came via Girl Scouts, which organized a summer camp that included five days at Yosemite Institute (now known as NatureBridge Yosemite) in 2009. Eleven-year-old Amelia explored the Spider Caves, climbed Lembert Dome, marveled at the Tuolumne Grove and hiked up to the Crane Flat fire lookout (“They even let us in the helicopter!” she recalls with excitement).

Amelia’s favorite part of returning to Yosemite as an educator—after having experienced NatureBridge programming as a student—is “taking kids out into the field…and sharing my love of nature with them.” She notes that her family spent lots of time outdoors when she was growing up, and her childhood was filled with camping and scouting experiences. These were normal activities for her family, Amelia notes, and she enjoyed them all while “not really realizing that was something extraordinary.” Today, Amelia recognizes that many young people do not have the opportunities to explore and develop comfort in nature that she had, and she relishes being the “contact point” for students who are having their first experience with nature at NatureBridge Yosemite. 

Amelia recalls one eighth grader from last winter who initially seemed quiet and a bit shy, and who was the slowest hiker in the group. It turned out that the entire experience being in nature was “completely new for her,” and Amelia observed the student taking everything in and growing in her confidence. Although upon her arrival in Yosemite it had been the student’s “first time ever seeing snow in her life,” by the end of that week Amelia remembers her playing in the snow with abandon, building snowmen and throwing snowballs with her classmates.

“There’s a huge impact” that comes from learning to be comfortable in the outdoors and discovering the enjoyment that can be derived from spending time in nature, Amelia says. Even if students don’t make an immediate connection, Amelia views the initial experience as an opportunity for young people to realize “This was fun and I enjoyed this”—a recognition that may influence their future choices and career paths. That was certainly true for Amelia; when she was considering changing her college major from engineering to Environmental Science and Management at Cal Poly Humboldt, she recalled her experiences at Yosemite Institute and even Googled the NatureBridge website looking for more information on environmental education careers! (She did in fact wind up making the switch, graduating with an emphasis on Environmental Education and Interpretation.)

I think it says something that I am not the only person I know of on staff at Yosemite who was a NatureBridge student.
Amelia Otto Cutting, Environmental Science Educator

Today, Amelia cherishes immense gratitude for her own NatureBridge educator—“whoever it was all those years ago!” His excitement and enthusiasm for learning and sharing experiences with students made a lasting impression on Amelia, and she remarks that the same excitement and enthusiasm thrive among current NatureBridge staff. “There’s planning and preparation and thought that goes into the work that we do here,” Amelia says, noting how much she appreciates the opportunities she has at NatureBridge to share ideas with her fellow staff members and learn and grow together. “You’re not just on vacation,” Amelia affirms, countering a common misconception of what environmental educators do. “I’m still teaching, I’m still educating. My classroom just looks very different, but my classroom is still important.” It’s truly a craft and a skill as well as a labor of love, particularly for Amelia, who emphasizes, “Regardless of the location, get kids outdoors!”

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