Kathleen Lindaas
Reflects on a 50-Year Commitment to Adventure and Education

Written by Judy Tierney

At age 71, Kathleen Lindaas has had more life adventures than most people could even dream about. Her most recent quest: fulfilling a lifelong goal to earn a PhD in Education. Now, it is a quest completed.

Kathleen Lindaas (PhD in Education)

Kathleen Lindaas Kathleen Lindaas

As a young divorced mother in the early 1970s, Lindaas returned to school to pursue a teaching degree to support her son. She graduated as part of the first class in the state of Wisconsin to earn certification to develop learning disabilities programs. Over the next ten years, she earned a master’s degree in educational psychology, as well as post-graduate credits in a variety of subjects including paleontology, geology, volcanology and marine biology.

Lindaas completed field work in each of her classes including studies on volcanoes in Hawaii, Iceland and Martinique, underwater research in the Bahamas and Cancun and teaching environmental courses at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. These experiences helped prepare her for a trip that would shape much of her life’s work – a 1993 wilderness trek in the Amazon with Randy Borman and his indigenous Cofan community.

The son of U.S. missionaries, Borman was raised with the Cofan and integrated into the community to become one of their key leaders. “We walked for several hours a day through pristine rainforest covering about 40 miles in eight days,” Lindaas says of her life-changing journey.

“I was so impressed with the need and desire for learning, that I returned home and formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds to support environmental programs along the Rio Napo.”

Kathleen Lindaas, PhD

She then spent two weeks with the Jatun Sacha Foundation hiking through the jungle and traveling by canoe to visit primitive rural communities. “I was so impressed with the need and desire for learning,” she said, “that I returned home and formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds to support environmental programs along the Rio Napo.”

Lindaas established a Rainforest School Partnership connecting U.S. schools with rural schools along the Rio Napo, a tributary to the Amazon River, and spent five summers working at the Foundation’s first biological research station.

Lindaas partnered with Dr. Arujo to help develop the Central University of Ecuador’s first Master’s in Environmental Education program. “We took teachers from Quito down to the headwaters of the Amazon and taught basic teaching strategies and held environmental education workshops,” she reminisced. “At that time, the university did not encourage teachers to collaborate with others. I taught Dr. Arujo many common teaching strategies used in the U.S., and we developed curricula together with the Foundation’s co-founder and primary botanist, Mercedes Azansa, and Smithsonian fellow, Sonia Sandoval.” Together, the team sponsored the first environmental biodiversity conference ever held in Ecuador.

By the mid-1990s, with the desire to further develop skills in nonprofit governance to assist the Foundation, Lindaas began searching for PhD programs. However, a series of serious health issues caused setbacks. Diagnosed with breast cancer and systemic mast cell disease, she was forced to quit teaching and go on disability. Housebound, Lindaas could only continue her education if she could find a university that did not require residency. NCU offered just what she was looking for.

Her decision to attend the University was validated even more, when two months into the program, she suffered a heart attack. “I was able to continue with NCU,” she said, “because of the flexibility offered. I requested ADA [American Disabilities Act] services and, during several hospitalizations and times of instability, I was able to obtain the necessary leaves of absence.”

Lindaas also credits her experiences at NCU with providing her the opportunities to serve her community as an educator, perform volunteer work for small nonprofits and boost her self-confidence to continue giving. She now teaches part-time at an online institution for non-traditional students who are returning to school. “I know their story,” she said, “and I mentor them through until they get their degrees.”

Although her trips to the Amazon are now limited by her health, Lindaas was able to make a short visit to Ecuador after she was diagnosed. Dr. Arujo took her on a tour of several schools implementing modern educational strategies. Dr. Arujo wrote the first Ecuadorian high school biology curricula and textbooks expanding the knowledge she learned from the collaborative workshops and conferences with Lindaas.

“The thing I heard in the speeches at graduation is that education doesn’t end. It’s a lifetime thing.”

“My work, though cut off, had a positive impact,” Lindaas said, “and I am exceedingly grateful to have contributed by ‘kick-starting’ the Ecuadorian educational system in one small part of our planet.”

Today, Lindaas is focusing her volunteer work in the Denver area where she now resides. She contributes by helping small nonprofits that can’t afford to pay for professional consultants write grants and build sustainable organizations that serve struggling families. “I want to write more grants for food, emergency services and education,” she said.

While Lindaas is focused on her health and spending time with friends and family, she doesn’t seem to have slowed down. She recently bought a campsite in a Midwest resort, which she calls “old lady camping, with electricity and running water.” She also just sponsored the first Lindaas Family and Friends Reunion. She’s also writing her memoirs.

“I want to finish a book about the fun I’ve had during the last 50 years,” she told Higher Degrees, “and I am plotting my next adventure that includes beautiful people and a beautiful environment.”

Her journey will also very likely include her lifelong commitment to education, as that is where she feels she can make the most impact with her NCU degree. “The thing I heard in the speeches at graduation is that education doesn’t end. It’s a lifetime thing,” she said.

Reflecting back on what she’s already experienced, Lindaas added, “Life is precious. The planet we live on is incredibly beautiful, and I want to experience as much as I can, share my knowledge and do what I can to preserve our environment.”

We can’t wait to see what this remarkable graduate will do next.