Patrice Nielson was born in central New Hampshire. She had four older sisters and they all spent as much time as possible outside in both the summer and the winter – hiking and swimming in the summer and snowboarding and other winter sports were where their parents could find them. When Patrice was in her teens, the local ski area offered a night student pass season costing only $150. Patrice’s mother would drop her off at 4 or 5 p.m., often with a couple friends, and come get her at 9 or 10 p.m. for bed. This was before cell phones and nobody thought there could be any problem with leaving your kids to enjoy night skiing. In an emergency, there was always a pay phone.
When I asked Patrice about her unique given name, she explained it was a “family affair.” “My parents wanted to engage my four sisters in choosing a name for the baby (me) before I was born,” Patrice explained. They went through numerous baby names in a baby book, letting each sister weigh in on whether they liked or disliked the name. As she remembers the family story, “When they came to Patricia nobody really disliked it but no one really loved it. My dad had a friend in college named Patrice, and when he suggested that everyone liked it,” so Patrice it was.
Patrice’s college degrees are all in the environmental field: she has a B.S. in biology from Brigham Young University-Idaho; a M.S. in Wildlife and and Wildlands Conservation from Brigham Young University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland College Park. She is currently Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Trinity Washington University in D.C.
When and how did you become interested in nature and the natural world?
“As children, my sisters and I were always outside, including me even before I could walk.” Patrice said her first word was “flower” and she never outgrew it. She remembers finding tadpoles, snails and salamanders in a small pond on their property. It was really just a depressed area along a stream that formed a shallow pool that attracted animals. She had a terrarium in her bedroom where she kept some of the animals she found. Her love of animals and nature led her to pursue her degrees in the environmental field, where she developed her teaching philosophy that focuses on student success. It is centered on four core values:
“My hope is that students leave the classroom not just with more knowledge, but also inspired and enriched to foster lifelong learning and accept their global citizenship,” she explained.
Patrice sees a strong synergism between what she hopes for her students and what the Old Rag Master Naturalist chapter envisions for its volunteers. “ORMN recruits members from the community to become lifelong learners and to use that learning in order to help to restore and preserve the natural environment,” she explained. “It’s all about getting people involved in nature and to recognize the priceless gift it is to our society.”
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in nature?
“When I was a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho, I had to take one GE physical science class to complete my degree,” Patrice explained. The choice was between astronomy and physics. “Since physics wasn’t my strength and astronomy sounded a lot more fun, I chose astronomy.” Patrice drove to a nearby hilltop outside of town to observe moon phases. “All of a sudden the sky was filled with ribbons of color – yellows and greens filled the whole sky,” she described. She was seeing the Northern Lights at a time they were not usually visible. “It only lasted a few minutes and it was surreal. I have never seen anything like it since.”
Describe what you do on your own property (house, farm, woods, etc.) to support a healthy ecosystem.
“My husband and I found this delightful community of homes that had been built in the 1970s. The developers constructed each house on 1/5 of an acre, as opposed to the standard ¼ of an acre. They then set aside that excess land not dedicated to each home to create a large central natural area as well as mature woodland strips behind each row of houses. The natural areas have 24 miles of walking trails, springs and a large stream. “We often walk these trails“ Patrice stated. “I have seen owls, red-tailed hawk nests, toads and fireflies, so it has the feeling of living out in the woods while being a DC suburb.”
When she and her husband bought the house, there was only grass surrounding the house with one lone maple tree in the backyard. “There were no flower beds, no shrubs – just a turf landscape.” Patrice and her husband have added several flower beds, a vegetable garden, a small orchard, and many native trees including eastern redbud, black locust, tulip poplar, pawpaw, and a spruce tree. “As a result, we have attracted a variety of wildlife to the area. I have seen a bumble bee nest in one of my flower beds and box turtles regularly travel through.”
Their big challenge now is that bamboo has grown up in a nearby spot of in the wooded area across the walking trail from her vegetable garden. “We have successfully killed one of the two bamboo cores by chopping it down to the ground and repeatedly pouring boiling water over it.” Patrice touts that this is an excellent way to get rid of bamboo. “But you first have to cut everything down to the core.” Their aim is to remove that second bamboo core this year.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.