Life as an Emeritus Professor

Yes, that’s me.  I retired from teaching at Stanford last December and became a faculty “elder” – an emeritus professor of education.  Part of what I wanted to do in retirement was to devote more focus and energy to Sacred Rok, working with Ron and my wonderful board colleagues to elaborate on the meaning of “Education Nature’s Way” through our trips and activities.  

It so turns out that the Stanford Faculty Emeriti Council had a program to encourage us to get more involved with the undergraduate Residential Education program, and I filled out a form indicating that I was interested in helping out as a way to stay connected with Stanford students.  My name on the list of emeriti volunteers got the attention of Anthony Antonio, who is a Professor of Education at Stanford and lives at the EAST House Residence as a residential fellow, and who knew about my involvement with Sacred Rok.  So an idea was born for a connection of Stanford students with Sacred Rok.

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Daniel Scott Smith (a graduate student who staffs the programs at East House) wrote a proposal that connected the philosophy of Sacred Rok to what Stanford students might appreciate about spending time with us and submitted it to the emeriti program.  We put together a weekend that was appropriate to what students in the last weekend of spring quarter might appreciate, given upcoming final exams, term papers, and in the case of the seniors, graduation.  We hosted them with good organic food (me serving as guest chef working with our most amazing cook and COO Katie Lambert) – chicken and vegan curry and “taco truck” out of our camper for dinner, egg muffins and soups for breakfast, and healthy vegetarian Thai rolls and trail mixes for lunch.  

Our connections to nature resonated with their need to slow down and reflect.  We avoided the most crowded waterfall areas, and instead found solitude along various spots known to Ron along the Merced River, Cascade Falls, and El Cap Meadows.  We made time for the students to meditate, write, and sketch.  And on the final day, we found time to share our experiences – and Katie shared some of her climbing videosthat absolutely captivated the students because of her commitment as well as humility that elicited a “Really, that’s YOU?”. 

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Wrote one student:  “One of my most memorable experiences was walking barefoot along the riverbanks and through the meadows, stopping along the way to pick wild mint leaves.  The simple act of feeling the grass under my feet and having to adjust how I walked made me think a lot more about my body and its connection to nature. I had to pay more attention to where I walked, which made me more attuned to each little sensation underfoot - the pine needles, the dried grass, the cool water, the sharp gravel. This made me feel like a part of nature rather than something just trampling over it, and that feeling gave me a sense of internal peace. “

And another:  “We were truly blessed to be able to contemplate life in such a beautiful place with such beautiful people.  I learned so much about nature and myself.”

One student offered us a quick sketch that she had done while sitting in El Cap Meadow, as she contemplated medical school. 



For me, this is exactly how I like to integrate my life.  I have spent my whole career working to improve formal education systems.  Now is my time to focus on education through the laws of nature, and the insights and appreciations that they afford for full human development.  Whether our young people are in prison or a university, simple contact with the elements of nature can spark our humanity in amazing ways.

- Kenji Hakuta, Professor Emeritus, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Thank you Castro Valley High School!

Thank you to the Castro Valley High School journalism class students who came up to Yosemite, especially Mia Babasyan, who wrote this article about Ron.

One student said about the trip, "I came to Yosemite for a journalism field trip and I never met a person who shared so much similarity of my view towards nature than Ron. I love being surrounded by tall green trees and not the grey dirty air I see every morning here in Castro Valley. Talking to Ron and seeing his movie made me think back to the forests in Japan. It showed me where I belong. I think bringing juvenile delinquents to Yosemite is a wonderful idea. Ron is absolutely right about the nature's power of nurture. There is no love in a room with bars and other kids who could easily influence each other to hate. Humans have to realize that we are creating violence by chopping down trees and creating a town full of drugs and alcohol. In nature, drugs and alcohol does not exist as a coping method."



Check out our Outcome Evaluation!

Please check out our June 2018 Outcome Evaluation.  

Since 2009, Ron Kauk has led trips to Yosemite for more than 400 young people – primarily incarcerated youth, foster children, and low income young people – to experience the healing ceremony of nature.  Between February 2012 and March 2018, Sacred Rok received 157 surveys from youth, primarily from the Merced Boys & Girls Club as well as other nonprofit agencies.  The survey responses represented 56% boys and 44% girls.  Forty-six percent were between ages 8 and 12; 48% were between ages 13 and 17, and 6% were 18 or older. Fifty-four percent were Latino, 31% were African-American, 9% were Caucasian, and 6% were Asian/Hmong.  We also have reports about participant behavior after the trip from agency staff and mentors.  

Research shows the positive impact on the brain and behavior of being in nature.  Deepening the sense of connectedness with nature helps to address other forms of alienation in a person's life.  Sacred Rok fosters naturalist intelligence, allowing participants to learn through their own experience.  We provide the sanctuary space for youth to reflect on their own aspirations and goals, allowing the healing ceremony of nature to help the participants relax, reduce stress, and provide them the opportunity for peaceful self-reflection. We found that after the trips, youth said they knew more about nature and felt more confident in nature.  They felt better about themselves, less stressed and anxious.  

We anticipated that the experience in nature, away from phones and day to day distractions, surrounded by the magnificence and beauty of the natural world, would help participants take a broader view of their own concerns, be more patient, and be better able to handle frustrations and anger.  Besides nature, the other Sacred Rok framework is youth development and asset-building.  Sacred Rok builds on developmental assets by providing a healthy and positive long-term adult relationship.   

According to the surveys, participants were much more likely to feel the trip helped them to be more patient, and somewhat more likely to feel they would better respond to anger. The agency staff/mentors provided a number of examples of improved behavior after the trips.  

We also hoped that the trips would have a positive impact on their relationships with other adults and peers, as well as their home and school life.  According to participants this was indeed the case. They said they got along better with others, and expected to do better in home and school.  The participant self-reports were borne out by observations of their behavior and comments by the agency staff/mentors.

The survey results and observations of the mentors after the trips support the Sacred Rok approach of leading trips with small numbers of youth, and building long-term relationships with adult trip leaders.  Helping to build developmental assets through fostering social capital – both bridging capital through exposure to new experiences, and bonding capital by building relationships – has been demonstrated to be a positive approach.  Although the Sacred Rok experience is not a panacea for a difficult neighborhood or a challenging home life, we are heartened that participants are learning about nature and the earth, and learning to be human again.


Spring in Our Step: Annual Report

The late winter storms and early spring rains have given way to a full river, a blossoming array of budding trees, busy bees and our sights set high for a great season of continuing our work with the youth in California.


As the seasons start to shift again we reflect back on our last year's goals and accomplishments and realize that none of it would be possible without the support of all of you. 


We've just released our latest Annual Report and wanted to share it with you, so you could see what your contributions and belief in our work can help us accomplish.