Naturally Passionate – Northwest couple help students understand the wild

Albatross swoop and cruise next to the pitching and lurching boat, unfazed by the stormy seas. Their graceful aerobatics accentuate the rough ride of their observers: students from Tacoma’s Pacific Lutheran University who are being tossed about on deck. The students are on an environmental literature expedition led by writer, photographer, and PLU professor emeritus Dr. Charles Bergman. They’re on their way to Antarctica, crossing Drake Passage—one of the roughest bodies of water in the world—in their refitted scientific research vessel.

Chuck Bergman has led over 35 environmental literature expeditions, with his wife Susan Mann accompanying him on many. It’s important to him that students and others experience the natural world and understand that they have the power to help protect it. Over 20 years their “study-away” classes have traveled to Uganda, where they assisted Dr. Jane Goodall in the release of 17 African Grey Parrots to the wild; explored the reaches of Africa, South America, and Antarctica; engaged in a quest to observe all 18 species of penguins in their natural habitats; and left a lasting impact on over 800 students. At 71, he continues to lead these trips with even greater urgency: “We wonder what the world will be like for our grandson, who is two years old. In 50 years, will there be penguins, polar bears, or coral reefs?” he wonders.  Susan adds: “If we don’t address what’s happening with the natural world now, we won’t have a planet to inhabit.”  Try explaining that to your grandkids!

If Bergman and Mann’s kind of adventure offers a more active commitment than you envision for yourself, you are not alone. But if you’ve wondered what you can do to become more environmentally active, Bergman offers a simple solution: “Work on what you care about. You don’t have to save the whole planet; just take a step.”

Mann—who has a master’s degree from Antioch and is an executive coach and consultant—recently took part in a training through The Climate Reality Project where she spent three days working with former Vice President Al Gore and world-renowned climate scientists. She now gives free presentations on climate change and how to build a more sustainable future.

This spring, the couple head to Peru and Ecuador, where Bergman will lead a group of PLU alumni and friends on another environmental literature expedition. The group will read and talk about issues impacting Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands while visiting these ancient and fragile destinations.

“I make time every day for a dose of nature,” Mann says. “It could be a long walk by Puget Sound, a few minutes enjoying the sunset, working in the garden, or watching birds fly overhead.” And they don’t have to be albatross flying anywhere near Antarctica!

Get Involved!

Volunteers are on the front line of environmental activism. Start by looking for ways to make a difference in your own neighborhood or community. Here are a few organizations Chuck Bergman and Susan Mann recommend. Many have local chapters:

Climate Reality Project 


Natural Resources Defense Council

The Nature Conservancy

The Audubon Society

Follow Chuck Bergman at

Follow Susan Mann at

For ecotourism travel, they recommend World Photo Adventures 

Dori Gillamis a speaker and writer on positive aging. She’s worked for Sound Generations (a local non-profit serving older adults) and AARP. She is a speaker for Humanities Washington, facilitates Wisdom Cafes throughout King County, and is a member of the Age Friendly Seattle Task Force.  

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