Alumni: Kaija Gahm


Kaija Gahm spent her gap year as field tech for an ongoing research study on the social dynamics and cooperative breeding biology of Acorn Woodpeckers at the Hastings Natural History Reservation in California, counting hawk migration  at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota, and then went to Belize to tromp around the rainforest recording bird sounds with audio equipment from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Newton North Envirothon Team, 2012-2015

Now: Yale University, New Haven, CT, class of 2020, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Did Envirothon influence any your life choices regarding college or career? If so, how?

I think Envirothon was one of many factors that cemented my interest in birds and environmental science. The more I do something, the more I like it in general. Then that got me to do more birding, and then more environmental science.

Envirothon was always a really positive experience for me. It was a way of engaging practically and intellectually with environmental science. It made me feel more like an “expert” in environmental science. It’s my thing I know about, and it’s easier to take that expertise and apply it to new situations.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time on Envirothon?

I really liked getting to form relationships with adults in the community — teachers, politicians, and people involved in the community in different ways. You’re used to interacting with teachers and parents, but it’s very unusual to get to know an adult through their expertise or their role in the community that doesn’t directly involve students. Always cool to get to know these people. 

Joe the forester took us under his wing and set up times to meet with us and give us practice tree things. We learned how to use a gauge to take out a core; learned how to calculate the density of the trees in a woodlot. Instead of seeing Joe as an inaccessible adult, we saw it as, ‘We’re just going to hang out with our friend Joe and learn about trees!’

What does Envirothon mean to you?

Envirothon pushed our boundaries and helped us learn practical skills we weren’t so familiar with. And, at Envirothon, there would be such a wide range of high schools represented — 4H teams, and technical schools, etc. that had totally different exposure and could come at Envirothon from a different angle but can still practically learn the stuff. 

Envirothon has awards for community engagement, but there’s also the project and the Current Issue and ways to engage different skills — it kept appealing to a wide range of different people. I hope it continues doing that. Everyone comes to Envirothon with something different and they get something different out of it.