Heather Berry’s Story: From Volcanoes To The White House


Heather Berry

Heather Berry visits Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Iceland. It’s “my favorite place on the planet,” Berry said.

Nate Meredith, Opinions Editor

Most people’s job repertoire consists of a few professions in the same field. Not many people can say that they’ve seen multiple volcanoes erupt, or that they’ve eaten cupcakes from the White House in their own honor, or tasted piranha on the Amazon, all while raising two boys. But science teacher Heather Berry isn’t most people.

While attending Colorado State University, Berry and her husband would travel with whatever they could afford. They had “no plans, no hotels,” Berry said. The two would “just get in the car and go.” This is where her love of traveling started, and it would take her to 11 different countries around the world.

Berry graduated from CSU as a pre-vet, with a double major in biology and microbiology. Before she was fully committed to being a vet-tech, she learned that she was squeamish, and that this wasn’t a good fit.

She decided to put her degrees to use and got a job at the Colorado Genetics Lab. In the year that she spent there, she would analyze chromosomes, aiding in detecting birth defects and cancer. Unfortunately, this job was’t right for her either, as she didn’t see lots of room for growth.

“So, I totally switched paths.”

According to the U.S. News & World Report, “The Certified Financial Planner [CFP] exam is likely the hardest test you’ll ever take.” When Berry passed it, she got a position at financial company Charles Schwab, eventually becoming a CFP. Even though she loved her job, and working in the training department, her scientific past was calling out to her.

She went back to school at the University of Denver and got her Masters In teaching. She then got hired at Highlands Ranch High School as an AP Environmental Science teacher.

Here, she collaborated with schools in both Taiwan and Siberia, allowing her AP Enviro students to video chat with them, and learn more about their environmental programs.

“I always like to try new things in the classroom, and be innovative.”

When she wasn’t in the classroom, she was the head of Highland Ranch’s environmental sustainability program. Berry shifted the department from being on a more industrial level, to focusing more on educating teachers and students to be more environmentally aware. It was this kind of work that caught the attention of the EPA.

Her unique teaching style combined with her district level job as a Sustainability Learning Specialist, but would go on to get awarded by the White House Counsel and the Environmental Protection Agency.

She was one of 18 environmental teachers across the country to be awarded this high honor by Gina McArthy, Head Administrator of the EPA, and Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Chief Senior Advisor.

Berry also incorporated her love of traveling into her teaching program. She has taken groups of students to Iceland, Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia.

“The only thing that’s going to pull me away from [teaching] is when I can just go travel the world.”

Her love of traveling has taken her to places that most people dream of. She’s seen three different volcanoes erupt, done environmental studies living on a river boat in the Amazon, and of course, seen active volcanoes in Iceland.

She and her husband left for their most recent Iceland trip on a Thursday, hiked up Fagradalsfjall Volcano, and spent the weekend watching the flowing, bubbling lava course through the Icelandic mountains. “It was literally rivers of lava.” Berry said.

Of course, she’s seen two other active eruptions. When Berry was flying over Ecuador, she saw Mt. Chimborazo ejecting clouds of gas into the air. She and her family also saw Hawaii’s Mt. Kilauea from a boat when it was spewing lava into the ocean. She described how the molten rock “was cooking everything,” giving off the horrendous stench of dead sea life.

As for her Amazon trip, she was on a scientific expedition, where she would run tests on the effects of climate change in the Amazon rainforest. When they weren’t running tests, they were fishing, spotting pink dolphins and giant sloth, and catching and eating piranha.

It’s quite apparent that nothing can take traveling away from Berry. Even after teaching, she and her husband plan on buying a sailboat and they’re “just gonna go sail the world.” She did two summers of sailing lessons and got certified, and even learned open ocean sailing and navigation in San Diego.

“We’ll see where life takes us,” Berry said.