Nick ’00 and Mike ’04 Ackerman grew up on a small dairy farm six miles away from their hometown of Pecatonica, Illinois. With panoramic views of fields, neither of them ever expected they would wind up dedicating their lives to the rivers and fish of the west. However, once Nick made the decision to “go north,” everything felt right.

In 1995, Nick couldn’t wait to see the Northland College campus for the first time. During that first commute from Pecatonica to Ashland his mother “forced” him to speed nine miles over the speed limit. Outside of Menomonie, Nick was pulled over.

Lucky for Nick and his mother Barb Ackerman, the cop acknowledged their excitement and let him off with a stern warning.

“I wanted to see what the commute would be like if I were driving. It turned out to be about seven hours,” Barb recalled, laughing.

On the way home from his first visit, Nick decided to gamble, but not by speeding. A leaf had blown into the windshield wiper of their family van. Nick told his mother that if the leaf were still there when they got home that he would definitely attend Northland.

“I just knew that Northland was the place. I had visited a number of different schools and none of them felt right,” Nick said.

The leaf survived and the gamble paid off.

Today, Nick is married to his Northland College sweetheart Caryn Green ’00, who he met on his outdoor orientation trip. He works as a fish biologist for Portland General Electric in Oregon, ensuring the best fish passage for salmon and Pacific lamprey on the Clackamas River outside of Portland.

“I’m provided an opportunity to work outdoors in a beautiful setting—my job involves rafting, boating, snorkeling, hiking, or even fishing. I get to balance that with an opportunity to conduct data analysis and write reports, and I work with an excellent team of people who are also my friends,” Nick said. “I often tell people I wouldn’t trade it for any other job.”

Nick graduated from Northland College in 2000 with a degree in environmental sciences and attributes much of his success over the years to his education and connections garnered at Northland.

In the fall of 2000, Nick’s younger brother Mike, pictured above, started his own Northland College adventure.

Mike and his family often joke about the fact that he copied Nick in his decision to attend Northland, but everyone agrees that it was the right choice. Mike graduated from Northland in 2004 with a degree in natural resources with an emphasis in fish and wildlife ecology.

“Northland put them where they belong—and now they both love their jobs,” Barb said, her voice cracking (to be expected, according to her sons).

Today Mike lives and works as a fisheries geneticist in Boise, Idaho, for the Pacific States Marine Fish Commission on a contract with Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.

Mike discovered his passion for fieldwork as a Northland College junior during an internship for the Department of Fish and Game in Idaho. The internship taught Mike a number of things, but most importantly how to stay afloat.

“Before Northland, Mike couldn’t even swim a stroke,” Barb said. “Then, he just decided to spend a whole summer snorkeling in the rivers of Idaho counting fish!”

Since leaving Northland, Mike has worked in remote and beautiful locations including the Grand Canyon, Alaska, and the Taylor Ranch Wilderness Research Station in Idaho. These experiences led him to pursue his masters in fish genetics at the University of Washington.

To this day, Mike stays in touch with Northland College professors and has collaborated with Derek Ogle on several occasions.

Ogle said the success of the Ackerman brothers isn’t surprising. “They were two of the brightest kids that I have ever had in class. They both took advantage of the opportunities available at Northland, socially and professionally.”

From cow pies and udders to rivers and fish, the two brothers say they wouldn’t be who they are, or where they are today without Northland.

“Going to Northland was huge for both of us,” Mike said. “Who knows where we would be without that experience.”


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