Meet Jordan Katcher (she/her), who joined the Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program team at the University of Utah’s Wallace Stegner Center in August 2022. Jordan supports the oversight and facilitation of the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) Initiative and other major EDR Program initiatives/projects.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m a wanderer; I was raised by a wandering, single mother that poured every ounce of love she had into me. Growing up we spent many of our years in rural, northwestern Pennsylvania where my mother’s foster parents lived. We’d spend each of my childhood summers on their rented property, fondly called “the farm,” where the abundance of nature and love for others surrounded me.
Over the years I’ve lived abroad in southern Germany and in several other states, including: Florida, Iowa, Virginia, New Mexico, North Dakota, West Virginia, Oregon, Idaho, and currently, Utah. Each of these landscapes has shaped me and influenced how I understand myself and the world around me.
My previous work includes almost a decade of community development work with students, tribes, non-profits, and rural communities. I served through AmeriCorps promoting indigenous food sovereignty efforts and I’ve led volunteer programs both locally and nationally. For the last four years my role involved supporting rural communities across the state of Utah. My educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology & English from the University of Virginia and a Master of Community & Regional Planning from the University of Oregon.
What attracted you to join the EDR team as the Initiatives Facilitator and what do you enjoy most about working on environmental and natural resource issues?
Danya Rumore, the director of the EDR Program, has been such a massive mentor for me over these last four years. We have intersected in our work over several occasions, and when the opportunity arose for me to join her team, I didn’t even blink an eye. This is the exact kind of work that I’m drawn towards and I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity!
My relationship to the outdoors is rooted in my childhood experiences. Growing up, I never had the opportunity to visit national parks (I took my mother to her first national park, Yellowstone, in 2016. How beautiful it is to share sacred places with those who raised us!), never went to a campsite, or wore hiking boots. I grew up sledding down a hill on plastic-wrapped mattresses, wrapping my feet in zip-lock bags to keep out the snow, floating in a plastic kiddie pool placed in a nearby creek, and riding on the back of my mother’s bicycle strapped in with bungee cords.
I mention these memories because they are my core. The foster parents who took in my mother and I also took in over 200 foster children, and their abundance of love and care for others has been ingrained in us so beautifully. As I grew older, I came to understand the expansiveness of the outdoors and belonging and I’ve always asked, who else is missing out on all of this? How can we preserve those sacred spaces while also ensuring that others feel welcome there, too?
What lessons have you learned about dispute resolution, collaboration, and/or dialogue?
I’ve come to realize that through taking the EDR Program’s Collaborative Certificate Course, conflict is no longer this giant monster that I need to avoid. Conflict “just is,” and instead of avoiding it, I could actually utilize it to foster meaningful change. This has completely transformed not only my professional world, but my personal world as well.
When I’m facilitating large groups of people, I no longer try to sweep conflict under the rug. Instead, I embrace it and shine a light on it. Sometimes, that alone can diffuse the conflict while other times, it enables us to pause and reflect on what else we hadn’t been considering before.
What excites you most about supporting the work of the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) Initiative?
I feel like I’m coming full circle! When I worked for Conservation Legacy in 2016, I had the privilege of overseeing a Department of the Interior AmeriCorps VISTA team. I had 45 VISTA members all serving with the intention of alleviating poverty within their nearby gateway communities. I absolutely loved my role, yet I felt like I needed a greater foundation in community development to ensure that I could accurately assess and support these projects.
Now, six years later, I’m able to return to these communities with a greater foundation and understanding. Being able to work closely with the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) Initiative is truly a dream and I’m just so grateful!
What outdoor activities do you enjoy the most? Is there a particular place you enjoy visiting and why?
As an Appalachian girl, I’m quite fond of forest bathing. I also enjoy hiking, camping, kayaking, and biking. Forests and water are home for me and one of the most sacred landscapes I’ve had the pleasure of living near is New River Gorge National Park (our newest national park!) in southern West Virginia. It was the landscape that supported my outdoor journey and enabled me to feel like I truly belonged in outdoor spaces. That riparian rainforest, that ancient river, and those magnificent cliffs welcomed me wholeheartedly and it is my true desire to help others feel as if they belong in these spaces, too.
Jordan Katcher (she/her) is the Initiatives Facilitator for the Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program at the Wallace Stegner Center, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah.