College Possible is grateful to every volunteer who partners with us to empower college admission and graduation for Oregon students! This month, we’re introducing Erin Cathcart, a College Possible Oregon ambassador board member and Project Manager at ELSO (Experience Life Science Outdoors) Inc. Thank you, Erin, for sharing a bit about what inspires you to volunteer with College Possible.
How long have you been a part of College Possible Oregon’s ambassador board, and what inspired you to get involved?
I joined the ambassador board back in October 2020. I had just been laid off due to the pandemic and was in the midst of re-evaluating my career path. Looking for opportunities to support organizations doing good work locally, I was referred to College Possible by a friend and was immediately drawn to the mission and impact this awesome program has. I especially appreciate how College Possible centers community as one of the strongest ways to support folks on their journey through higher education and beyond! I have seen firsthand the impact that intentional mentorship can bring to someone as they navigate their transition into adulthood, so joining the ambassador board to help make college possible for students in Oregon was a no-brainer!
Please tell us a little bit about your work at ELSO. What drives you or excites you, day-to-day?
Since 2015, ELSO has invited Black and Brown youth to Experience Life Science Outdoors through a multicultural approach to nature-based education that is rooted in environmental justice and cultural history. My official job title is Project Manager, which means I get to support all of our amazing programs. Our programs offer something for all ages and interests, from our Spring and Summer Wayfinders Days Camps for kindergarten through 8th grade youth, to our programs focused on high school and early college-aged young adults, which includes the Tappin Roots Nature Black Educator Internship and Youth Design Cohorts.
My joy at ELSO comes from supporting an outstanding group of people doing powerful work. ELSO’s mission is to teach and frame STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), nature-based education through a lens that centers and elevates the stories, ways of knowing, individual needs, and lived experiences of Black and Brown communities. After years in white-led environmental education programs, I had never been able to say that my organization was able to truly show up for Black and Brown learners in a meaningful way. At ELSO, the experiences of our youth are at the center of everything. I love being proud of where I work and cannot wait to see where we are going next.
How does the work at your “day job” complement your volunteer work on College Possible’s ambassador board?
For those who find purpose and inspiration in pursuing higher education, especially first-generation college students and those who are seeking financial support to see their goals become reality, a network of support and community is deeply important. Founded nearly 8 years ago, ELSO is just now seeing some of our earliest campers embark on their post-high-school journeys. Many have been with us since the beginning and continue to be a part of the ELSO family, working summers as camp guides, participating in Design Cohorts, and sharing their successes and aspirations with those they have known since childhood. Knowing there is a program like College Possible that we can share with these students is yet another way we can continue to provide growth and mentorship to those who have grown up with ELSO. In turn, many of our programs, as well as annual events such as the Harvest Party held each October, are a great place to network, learn about different career pathways, and connect with not only ELSO but other STEAM and nature-centered organizations around Portland. We are looking forward to seeing College Possible out and about at some of our events this year! For folks interested in learning more about ELSO and what we have planned for the upcoming year, you can visit our website to join our newsletter, see our impact, and support our work.
What goals or hopes do you have for your time on the ambassador board? In your opinion, what is the value of volunteering in this capacity?
One of my favorite parts of being on the ambassador board, other than getting to know my fellow board members, has been participating in panel events where I get to connect directly with the folks out there doing the work! Sharing my own college and career journey, which had its share of twists and turns, and hearing from the next generation of leaders and change-makers is revitalizing and inspiring. Coming from a background in non-profit work, I also know the value of storytelling in sustaining this work for years to come, and I enjoy being able to share the College Possible story with others so we can continue to grow and thrive as an organization. I look forward to being able to connect at more events this coming year, and to think about how ELSO and College Possible can work together to expand our impact!
The College Possible Oregon ambassador board is a volunteer group of young professionals under the age of 40 who raise support and awareness for College Possible to help students in Oregon achieve their college goals, while advancing educational equity. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, email Christina Carl at CCarl@CollegePossible.org.