Two new certificate programs from the College of the Environment prepare students for careers in salmon recovery

The College of the Environment’s Environmental Sciences and Environmental Studies Departments have collaborated with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) to create two new certificate programs to help prepare students for careers in salmon recovery.

A male sockeye makes its way upstream.

Salmon are an essential part of our ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. They support our economy, provide food for orcas and other wildlife, are a keystone species, and are an integral part of many local tribal traditions. Recent reports have shown that salmon populations are struggling due to urbanization and the effects of climate change. Habitat protection and restoration is one of the best things we can do to help salmon recover. 

These certificates combine academic learning, hands-on training, and paid internships to give students the training and experience to apply various skills to critical work in watershed restoration and community education and engagement. NSEA is a community-based, non-profit organization focusing on reversing the trend of declining salmon runs in Whatcom County. They work to enhance river, creek, and riparian habitats while educating people of all ages to provide Pacific salmon & Steelhead the best chance at survival.

WWU Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Rebekah Paci-Green will be the faculty advisor for one of the certificates, and she said the need for programs like these comes from a very personal place for her.

"As the child of a commercial salmon fisherman, I grew up connected to salmon as a source of food, livelihood, beauty, and fascination. Later, I came to understand how important salmon also were to the ecology of this place and the cultures of Lummi, Nooksack and other indigenous people here. I am so excited our department can begin offering these certificates this fall," she said.

"I see the certificate as a way for Environmental Studies students to gain deeper knowledge of this sentinel species and to support and learn from NSEA’s expertise. Teaching young students about salmon life cycles and supporting work parties to enhance salmon habitat is such an important way to foster community connection to place," said Paci-Green. "So many different livelihoods, hobbies, and cultures here are intertwined with the Nooksack and salmon. We need more people participating in conversations about how to protect, share, and wisely use these natural resources."

Teaching young students about salmon life cycles and supporting work parties to enhance salmon habitat is such an important way to foster community connection to place.

Rebekah Paci-Green

Throughout the two-year program, students will engage in courses to learn about current environmental issues in fisheries habitat and how best to design research, education, science, policies, and community action while participating in hands-on practicum work through paid internships with NSEA.

The Salmon Enhancement: Community Education Certificate is offered through the Environmental Studies Department and is for Environmental Studies majors interested in community education and engagement in environment and sustainability.

The Salmon Enhancement: Habitat Restoration Certificate is offered through the Environmental Sciences Department and provides the training and experience needed for Environmental Sciences majors interested in doing critical work in watershed restoration and community education and engagement. 

NSEA Director (and WWU alumna) Rachel Vasak said partnering with Western made sense for the organization on a number of levels, first and foremost being the number of Western grads and interns that end up with NSEA.

"We are so excited to expand our long-standing relationship with Western to offer interns an opportunity to earn a certificate to add experience to their job skills and credibility to their resumes. NSEA has been offering internships to WWU students since the mid-1990s," Vasak said. "NSEA’s internship program offers paid internships and is focused on providing meaningful skill building and work experience in the salmon recovery field.  We have been listening to intern alumni say that they want to this experience to stand out on their resumes more and believe that this certificate will help meet that demand."

"Historically the majority of interns have been enrolled in WWU’s College of the Environment. We work closely with a number of faculty members with the Environment Studies and Environmental Science departments, so it made sense to start this partnership there.  We hope to expand to other colleges in the future," she said.

Healthy habitats support healthy salmon, which in turn supports a healthy environment for other wildlife and for humans as well. Western's College of the Environment is proud to partner with NSEA to help match students who want to make a difference with career-ready programs that help preserve wild salmon for future generations.

Learn more about both certificates at