The world is her classroom

While most students her age are preparing to take on the world one way or another, she is busy trying to save it.

Holly Faulstich is a

Sequim High School graduate, class of 2005, but already her studies and interests have taken her to Costa Rica, Tasmania and most of the way to the Siberian Arctic.

Now working for the summer at Mount Rainier National Park monitoring forest vegetation in the back country, Faulstich says she couldn't be happier.

"It's pretty ideal," Faulstich writes from her living quarters near Mount Rainier. "I can't think of a better way to spend my summer than hiking around in the woods at Mount Rainier ... and getting paid for it."

Faulstich made a smooth transition from high school to college, earning a 3.97 grade-point average while at the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham.

A participant in Western's Rainforest Immersion Conservation Action biology research program in Costa Rica in 2007, she also was one of two students selected to participate in the Polaris Project, a field course and research experience in the Siberian Arctic for undergraduates. The project saw students from seven different universities and other climate experts studying the effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems

Unfortunately, an illness kept her in Moscow and forced a return trip home before she ever saw Siberia.

"It was a bummer because I would have been fine if I had been able to continue to Cherskii (the research station)," Faulstich writes, "but since it is so remote and has limited medical facilities, it just wasn't safe."

In Bellingham, Faulstich served as the student representative for the university's Academic Technology committee, volunteered for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association to improve salmon spawning habitat and helped researchers understand canopy ecosystems in the Quinault Rain Forest.

After backpacking two months in Tasmania, Faulstich returned to Washington to work as a biological science technician at Mount Rainier National Park. She works for the natural and cultural resources division of the park.

Her job? It's conducting forest vegetation monitoring in the back country to assess forest health and tree mortality. The data collection, she reveals, is part of a long-term study looking at the effect of climate change on forests.

"These projects allow me to meet interesting people, as well as develop better research skills and field methods, which I hope will one day benefit me in my chosen profession," Faulstich writes.

But choosing a profession ... that's another matter. At the moment, Faulstich writes, she's enjoying her work in the field.

"I suppose that might change one day when I decide I would rather be the one designing the project instead doing the 'grunt' work," she writes, "but at this point I am perfectly content to spend my days hiking though the woods and collecting data. I am very interested in forest canopy research and imagine that combining my love of botany, research and rock climbing would be pretty ideal."

Faulstich takes her studies seriously, too. She was named one of Western's seven Presidential Scholars, an award honoring Western graduates for their exceptional scholarship and service to the university and community.

In 2008, she presented her research on rare plant community biodiversity at the Ecological Society of America in Milwaukee, Wis. Her project was so impressive that she was offered a position as a graduate student at a professor's laboratory at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

"My plan is to start researching and applying to grad schools when I finish this job," Faulstich writes. "I haven't decided whether to work toward a master's or Ph.D., but I am fairly certain that I will be keeping my sights aimed on something involving botany and scientific research. At this point, I'm keeping my options open."

Faulstich is the daughter of Dale and Heather Faulstich of Sequim.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

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