Emma Holtan chose to study water science because water is life. And through that lens, she has explored all that the liberal arts has to offer.
In addition to working as a researcher at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation and taking Limnology, she is pursuing a minor in women and gender studies and is currently enrolled in Sociology of Community and Exploring Religion and Spirituality.
Last year, she did a “busmester” with the Expedition Education Institute—an experiential semester studying sustainable agriculture and culture. During her semester of living outside; reading extensively; and touring and talking with farmers, policy people, and nonprofits, the important lessons learned were about living in a community. “It puts you in a place where you have to learn to be empathetic,” she said.
In one of her courses, she was introduced to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous, Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, and it changed her life. “She writes about science in such a respectful way,” Holtan said. “She’s doing all this work from a place of love and gratitude.”
When Holtan returned to Northland, she relayed her experience to her advisor who told her about a conference she might be interested in called “Reciprocal Healing Confluence: Nature, Health, and Wild Vitality,” with Kimmerer as the opening speaker.
Emma applied for and received a Parsonage Fund grant to make the trip possible. “It has been my dream to see Robin Wall Kimmerer speak and to search for ways to incorporate her approach into my own practice of science,” Holtan told the committee.
Katherine Jenkins, youth outreach coordinator at Northland College and a reconnection consultant, joined her.
“Emma has realized the need to bring in the heart and human side.” Jenkins said. “She’s a dancer, artist, writer who embodies this creative way of expressing in the world, which balances the science in her.”
The Reciprocal Healing Confluence conference was created as a space for those interested in the fields of medicine, psychology, and natural history, as a way to discuss healing people and the world. Holtan and Jenkins traveled together in early November to the Natural History Institute in Prescott, Arizona, for four days of workshops, plenary speakers, and personal reflection.
Jenkins summed up the conference as nourishing—spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. “It was a profound experience for everyone there.”
In addition, Holtan got her chance to talk to Robin Wall Kimmerer. Shaking, she walked up, introduced herself, and then thanked Kimmerer for the way she turns science into poetry. “It felt full circle,” she said.
“I feel a pull to do work with healing as the motivation and this helped get me thinking of ways to do that—this truly was a heart expanding experience for me,” she said. “And feeling the sunshine is also incredibly nice.”