Skip To Main Content








Landing Nav



Share this article with a friend.

Nov. 7, 2023

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

An International Baccalaureate class at Notre Dame Prep inspires a career focused on conservation and environmental sustainability.

Notre Dame Prep alum Katie Spengler NDP'17 in Bryce Canyon National Park in southwest Utah.

Alum Katie Spengler recently began a new job with Brewster Conservation Trust, a non-profit charitable organization located in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod whose mission is to preserve open space and natural resources and to promote a conservation ethic. It's her latest stop on a long-distance environmental and conservation career that was jump-started by an International Baccalaureate class in high school.

"I've always had a passion for the outdoors," she said in a recent interview. "Growing up, my fondest memories included visiting our local parks and nature centers throughout Oakland County, and family vacations exploring the Smoky Mountains, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and spending the day at the lake or exploring the nearby trails and forests. But it was when I took Mr. [Brian] Little’s IB Environmental Science course at NDP that I realized that I actually could go into a career in the environmental field, and that the possibilities were endless."

That word "endless" also is a good word to describe 2017 NDP alum Spengler's entire journey since high school.

After graduating from Northern Michigan University in 2020 with a degree in environmental sustainability, she worked for both the Florida Nature Conservancy and more recently, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Traverse City through AmeriCorps, a national network of service programs that connects more than 70,000 Americans each year in meeting community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health and homeland security. 

In the land of the Hobbits

And it was through AmeriCorps that she earned a special education award that led to a National Outdoor Leadership School course in New Zealand that included backpacking in a national park for 30 days earlier this year. 

"After carefully packing a relatively small bag with everything I would need for the trip, I flew 14 hours to Nelson, New Zealand, where I spent a few days exploring the country on my own," she said. "I then arrived at the NOLS base to meet a group of 10 students — nine from throughout the U.S. and one from the Netherlands — and three instructors with whom I would be spending the next month."

On Feb. 22, 2023, Spengler and her fellow hikers set off on their epic adventure in the Kahurangi National Park — which is located in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand and served as one of the locations for the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy — carrying everything they needed on their backs (and no phones!) with only an emergency GPS, a compass and paper maps to navigate.

Spengler spent a month backpacking through the Kahurangi National Park in New Zealand as part of a National Outdoor Leadership School course. 

"Over four weeks, we hiked 87 miles with 36,844 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss," said Spengler, who grew up in Lake Orion. "This was by far the hardest I have pushed my body and was such an amazing feeling to accomplish."

She said she learned much about New Zealand conservation methods related to the country's unique alpine and forest ecosystems and met many people from all around the globe.

"Overall, we enjoyed 19 sunny days, six days of rain, 17 bridges and 34 other passing hikers from around the world," she said. "We saw 33 rare whio duck and 15 chamois, which is a species of goat-antelope, as well as several kea and kaka mountain parrots."

Now, safely back in the U.S. at her new job in Massachusetts, Spengler says it's as close to a dream job she can think of.

"When I was offered this position on the East Coast, just minutes from the Atlantic, I had to accept," she said. "My ideal job was to work for a small nonprofit conservation district or land trust and Brewster fit that description to a T. BCT owns and has conservation restrictions on more than 200 parcels of land throughout the town, protecting more than 1,500 acres of environmentally important land."

Currently about a month into the job, she continues to hit the ground every day running. 

"Summertime is field season and there is much to be done when managing over 200 protected properties," she said. "My to-do list is quite full, but maintaining a vast volunteer network helps since that is also one of my responsibilities."

A Northern Michigan University graduate, Spengler also worked for the Florida Nature Conservancy.

She said that taking Brewster's volunteer network to the next level is one of her big goals for the organization. 

"I love this job so far and look forward to continuing to dedicate my time and energy to conservation, fighting against climate change, educating the public on conservation issues, and protecting ecologically important spaces, especially with such a dedicated nonprofit organization."

Living in and protecting the outdoors

Spengler, who also includes substitute teaching at Notre Dame Prep in her rapidly expanding professional resume, said she wouldn't be where she is at all if it wasn't for her experience as a student at NDP.

"NDP’s upper school did an excellent job setting me up for college, and even for my career," she said. "In college, I found that I was able to handle a much larger workload than most of my peers due to what NDP gave me. Things like time-management, IB and AP course offerings, and teachers who go the extra mile to set me up to succeed. I went into NDP not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and spent the next four years finding my passions through the school's many program offerings." 

She noted again how Brian Little’s IB Environmental Science course opened her eyes to the many opportunities in the environmental field and made her realize that she could spend her life outdoors and protecting the open spaces that she's always loved. 

Spengler is happiest when she's outside and interacting with nature.

Spengler also credits Notre Dame Prep for teaching her how to balance academics with the extracurriculars of her life that she continues to enjoy.

"In addition to the intro to my chosen career at NDP, I also found other passions in high school, such as art, singing, theater, creative writing, and even bowling," said Spengler, whose sister, Nicole, graduated from NDP in May. 

"Mr. Fazzini, Mr. Devine, and Coach Yanik were wonderful at supporting my growth in these arenas, and to this day I still continue to create art in my free time and participate in singing opportunities as they arise. I even had the chance to participate in a few theater productions in college."

Katie Spengler is with her family, including Nicole, who graduated from Notre Dame Prep in May 2023.

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School 
Notre Dame Preparatory School is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame Prep's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School, visit the school’s home page at