CBS people: Emily Schilling

Itasca’s new associate director brings a background in biology and a passion for field education, research and public engagement to the role.
November 15, 2023
Emily Schilling headshot

What's something unique about your role that you enjoy?
Field station jobs are akin to being a human Swiss army knife. To be successful you have to have a lot of tools and skills at your fingertips. I really enjoy the wide range of things that I think about and work on in a given week: mentoring students, curricular work, facilities and budgetary management, engaging with the public alongside state park naturalists, getting my hands dirty in the field. There is also a really interesting phenology to the job - with summer being the season of high contact and engagement with students and faculty from across the college and beyond and the academic year focusing on laying the groundwork for the year to come.

Is there a project you're looking forward to over the next year?
We are developing a program that will bring together scientists and craftspeople/artists in a workshop format: no course designator, no credits, no grades. Science is central to the theme, but these workshops will branch out into a more interdisciplinary space. It will be like a science-based folk school. We have some awesome CBS faculty who are interested in helping us launch this program next summer. 

What are some of the ways you see programs or efforts at Itasca growing or changing in the next few years?
I expect to see growth in our field biology session, adding more courses that are regularly offered and expanding our enrollments. This will be enabled, in part, by the curricular work that we are doing to make sure our courses are embedded in majors and the work we are doing to remove barriers that prevent students from enrolling. I also expect that our community engagement work will expand, building on relationships that we have been cultivating with our neighbors to share different ways of knowing and caring for the natural world.

Where's your favorite spot at Itasca and why?

That’s a hard question, because the list is long and it depends on the time of year and even the time of day! This is going to sound cliché, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be the headwaters. Specifically, it would be the headwaters early in the morning, late in the evening, or in the heart of winter when no one else is there. I love to stand on the rocks and dip my hand into the flowing water and think about the long journey it is about to take down to the Gulf of Mexico. If I could pick a second favorite spot, it would be the top of the fire tower on the Wilderness Loop Drive, facing west at sunset. From this vantage point you can see a sea of trees and the Height of Land continental divide, visible proof that we are at the top of the Upper Mississippi River watershed. 

What things do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Not surprisingly, I like to spend time outside! I love cross country skiing in the winter and canoeing in the summer. We make sure to take time for a Boundary Waters canoe trip every year. We’ve also gotten really into foraging and seasonal foods. I love berry-picking and making jam! I get kind of obsessed with collecting/harvesting when it’s time. Spending time with our two teenage kids (when they have time for me!) and taking long walks with our dog are at the top of my list.