UM Grad Journeys From Suburban Mom to Environmental Advocate

A picture of Mara Lynn along the Clark Fork River.
MarraLynn Rodriguez, pictured near the Clark Fork River, was drawn to UM by its renowned environmental science program and the allure of Montana’s untamed wilderness. (UM photo by Tommy Martino)

By Elizabeth Harrison, UM News Service

MISSOULA – In a bustling household tucked away in eastern Washington, MarraLynn Rodriguez dedicated herself to raising her five children. But as life unfolded and her children grew up, Rodriguez found herself yearning to fulfill a long-held aspiration: completing her undergraduate degree.

“It was always my goal to complete at least an undergraduate degree,” Rodriquez said. “And then I realized, I could do anything.”

And that she did. Rodriguez graduated from the University of Montana on May 11 with a bachelor's degree in environmental science and sustainability and a minor in wilderness studies.

Her affinity for nature was deeply ingrained from a young age. Closing her eyes as she described the earthy, sweet smell of wet cedar, she was transported right back to camping near the coastal shores of Seattle as a child.

“I thought about what made me the happiest as a person,” Rodriguez said, “and it always led back to nature.”

Driven by this intrinsic connection to the natural world, and once her children reached their 20s and 30s, Rodriguez headed to UM, drawn by its renowned environmental science program and the allure of Montana’s untamed wilderness.

“Being in Missoula there’s such an amazing opportunity to step outside your door and nature is right there,” she said. “And if you want solitude, it’s half a mile away. You can hear the river and can hear the birds and see amazing wildlife. I don’t know any place that’s like this.”

As a nontraditional student, the past three years haven’t always been easy. Despite being the oldest student in her cohort, Rodriguez embraced the challenges with unwavering determination.

“It was hard and good – very intense,” she recalled of her experience in UM’s Wilderness and Civilization program. “But I realized the importance of understanding our natural surroundings and the role we play in preserving them.”

Throughout her time at UM, Rodriguez explored a variety of hands-on learning experiences, from monitoring rivers with the Watershed Education Network to tracking wildlife in the rugged landscapes of Swan Valley.

“I’ve been able to make a lot of connections, not just professionally but also in the community,” she said.

Each experience deepened her appreciation for the intricate balance of ecosystems and reaffirmed her commitment to environmental advocacy.

“I was pretty much a suburban soccer mom," Rodriguez said, her voice tinged with emotion. "But UM transformed me into an advocate – for women, for LGBTQI-plus people, for the environment, the earth, for myself.”

As she bids farewell to UM, Rodriguez’s future remains open-ended, brimming with possibilities.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Rodriguez said. “But I know that wherever I go, I carry with me the lessons and experiences I’ve had here – the bonds forged, the knowledge gained and the profound connection to nature that will guide me forward.”


Contact: Elizabeth Harrison, director of communications, W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, 917-656-9773,