Westmont Magazine Taking Science Education Outdoors
Pam Johnson ’81 began her outdoor education early, camping and hiking with her family and biking extensively as a high school student. She even rode her bicycle through the Canadian Rockies. For eight summers she worked at Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp on Bass Lake.
At Westmont, she participated in the Urban Program (now Westmont in San Francisco), where she served at an inner- city school. She studied for a semester at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and traveled to North Carolina for the one-month Appalachian Program during Interterm. “We stayed at Mars Hill College as well as with a local family for a few nights,” she says. “A highlight was going down into a coal mine. I loved exploring New England and North Carolina.”
Pam majored in education at Westmont, earned her elementary credential at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and taught at Bethany Christian Academy in Westminster for three years before leaving the classroom. She found a better fit with Inside the Outdoors, an experiential learning program focused on environmental science through the Orange County Department of Education.
Beginning as lead naturalist, she taught a group of 10-16 students on field trips to the foothills, the beach and local wetlands. In time, she integrated teaching with supervising and training other naturalists. After earning a Master of Science and administrative services credential at Pepperdine, she rose to administrator of Inside the Outdoors in 2000, eventually expanding it to 150,000 students a year, 200 employees and 12 field sites.
The organization operated entirely with money raised from donors, sponsors, grants and fees, and she secured a major 15-year grant for teaching environmental science
to low-income students. The hands-on instruction in wilderness settings (including two residential sites where students
stayed overnight) received two Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards.
“Schools are required to teach science, and a lot of teachers don’t have a science background,” she says. “Not only is environmental literacy important, but it’s fun, and students enjoy the outdoor activities. My work has combined my love for education and the outdoors with my interest in developing creative and experiential models for learning.”
When funding got tight, Pam started a traveling science program that took scientists and a portable lab to school campuses to avoid the cost of field trips. She spent 29 years with Orange County before closing down the outdoor residential science program. Inside the Outdoors continues today with the traveling program and some field trips.
Pam found a way to continue outdoor environmental science education. The people who own Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp also offer Emerald Cove Summer Camp in Running Springs with offices in San Clemente. Pam approached them about creating something similar to Inside
the Outdoors, and she helped establish Emerald Cove Outside Science (ECOS) , which contracts with agencies required to provide environmental education and with some schools. She now serves as director
of educational partnerships for ECOS (ecosinstitute.com).
Pam learned something about herself through her work. “I discovered that I truly enjoy building relationships with school districts, with donors and with corporate partners like Boeing and Disney,” she says. She also worked closely with the Orange County Parks and Recreation Department to identify sites for outdoor education.
Pam still camps in the High Sierra with her husband, Bill Murphy, and her daughter, who plans to major in environmental science at a college in Colorado or Oregon. They do an annual windsurfing camp at Lake Lopez and love visiting national parks. “I love all kinds of outdoor experiences,” she says.