It's a sunny, summer morning and Eric Mathews, SHS '02, laces up his shoes for a day's work as a climbing guide at Devil's Lake State Park. The gig is just one of many activities Mathews enjoys outside of his full-time job teaching science and chairing the department at Shorewood High School.
He’s also a longtime SHS track coach, advisor to the SHS Rock Climbing Club and the SHS Eco Club, and a leader of Watershed Wisdom, SHS’s vaunted multidisciplinary course that expands students’ understanding of the natural world.
Pursuing multiple interests is nothing new for Mathews. As an SHS student, he contributed to the student council and the Copperdome yearbook, excelled in art, played volleyball and basketball, and ran track. He also participated in the pilot year of the now well-established and popular Adventure Education program, where his love of being out-doors blossomed.
“One of my most memorable school experiences was going on a backpacking trip on the Ice Age Trail and winter camping with 15 other classmates,” says Mathews, adding that Adventure Education’s founder and advisor, Mike Gregornik, was “one of many great mentors I had during my time at SHS.”
Initially pursuing sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (he later switched to studying biology and environmental science), Mathews had his first taste of coaching high school athletes. He began to consider a career in education.
The summer before his senior year of college, Mathews assisted with the SHS Watershed Wisdom program, accompanying the students on an 11-day expedition to study the Milwaukee River Watershed. “The experience opened my eyes to the possibility of teaching while incorporating the outdoors and nature at the same time,” he says.
Following post-college internships with the National Park Service in Utah and Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center, Mathews earned his teach-ing license at Cardinal Stritch University. During his first teaching job, he earned his master’s degree in natural resources and environmental education from UW-Stevens Point.
In fall 2015, an opportunity arose to work as a ninth-grade integrated science teacher at SHS. Mathews jumped at the chance.
“I knew that Shorewood would afford me the opportunity to grow and think about new and exciting outdoor ed opportunities,” he says. “I wanted to continue to think outside the box in terms of how outdoor ed can fit into a traditional school setting, and I took the job hoping to be able to expand and evolve the way students engage with learning about the environment.”
Mathews has since helped expand the Watershed Wisdom program by writing curriculum for an added science credit; introduced AP Environ-mental Science to the SHS curriculum; and co-designed and launched an Environmental Literature and Science course.
“The impact that my classes have had on students has really been my most proud accomplishment thus far,” Mathews says. “Hearing from students that the courses they took with us really set them up for success and made them feel like they are making a positive impact on the world is, without a doubt, the best feeling.”
Pictured: Shorewood alumnus Eric Mathews climbing in Devil’s Lake State Park; Mathews assisting a young climber. [photo credit: Nick Wilkes Photography]