Located only five miles from Seattle’s downtown metropolis, the residents of Seward Park present a unique fusion between wilderness and civilization. Nestled at the southern end of Lake Washington, two pairs of bald eagles, several species of owls, a pack of coyotes, and at least three non-native parrots, thought to be escaped pets, all call the park home.
The renovated Tudor-style house built at the entrance of the park in 1927 is now the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center. Adults and children alike are beckoned to the center to examine this juxtaposition between society and nature through lectures, youth programs, and a citizen’s science project that monitors how urban living is affecting the water quality of Lake Washington.
As Seward Park’s environmental events coordinator, University of Washington senior Marina Pita explores a much deeper and personal connection with nature. Her family is from Argentina and her heritage is an essential part of her education. “I was majoring in Latin American Studies and wanted to get into non-profit work,” she states, “but when my grandfather died last year, I started Environmental Studies as a minor to honor him.”
Pita and her grandfather bonded through a concern for the environment, as he raised her awareness of human impacts on natural resources and the importance of recycling. After graduating from Edmonds Woodway High School, she was accepted into UW’s Honors Program – which combines rigorous study with experiential learning opportunities – and though she felt challenged academically, Pita says, “I worked at Starbucks my freshman year and just wasn’t making the kind of community impact that I wanted.”
“Then I found out about the Carlson Fellowship and started working at Seward Park,” she remembers. Through the Carlson Center for Leadership and Public Service – a program in Undergraduate Academic Affairs that supports students merging academic study with public service work – and her volunteer work at Seward Park, Pita melds her Argentinean roots with a passion for environmental stewardship.
With a bilingual background, Pita is able to connect with English and Spanish-speaking kids from local inner-city neighborhoods by facilitating programs like Toddler Tales and Trails, where she reads to toddlers about animals then leads walks through the park to observe them in their habitats. She knows from experience that teaching children about wildlife and the environment will plant the seeds for a lifetime commitment to nature.
“My community work has changed the direction of my studies,” she explains. “Teaching kids about the environment really clicked with me.” Also a volunteer teaching assistant at John Stanford International Elementary, Pita helps prepare students for success in the culturally-diverse global village by teaching academic subjects like mathematics and science to children in the Spanish Immersion Program.
Pita graduated in spring 2009 and continues her work at Seward Park. This fall, she’ll begin a master’s degree program in Elementary Education at UW. Being involved with the University, Seward Park, and Hispanic communities compels Pita to reach out to people while making a positive impact on the environment because “the most important part of doing community service is seeing a need in your community and doing something.”
About Husky Tales
Husky Tales was created by 2009 graduate Crystal Chiechi to spotlight undergraduates bringing their education beyond the classroom, aided by programs and resources in Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The students featured in Husky Tales enrich their education through UAA opportunities and they impact the UW and Seattle communities in significant ways that linger long after they graduate. What’s your Husky tale? Every UW student has one! Send your story to a firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Crystal D. Chiechi (’09, English major, history minor) fulfilled a writing internship in UAA during winter and spring quarters of 2009. A Washington native, she transferred to the UW from Edmonds Community College in 2007. She has been published in Between the Lines, the literary magazine of Edmonds Community College, and Bricolage, a literary magazine at the UW. After graduation, she plans on becoming a freelance writer, best-selling author, and founder of her own non-profit organization to rescue and rehabilitate dogs. Her dreams of achieving a first-rate education by attending the UW like her father were made possible by the Husky Promise.