Staff Spotlight: Alison Sever

Director, Rising Earth Immersion


Alison has been working in gap year education her whole professional life. She has mentored over 50 students on transformative, culturally immersive experiences all over the world—in Central America, South America, and East Africa—as well as in place-based settings on organic farms across the U.S.A. She's enthusiastic about the importance of holistic, mindful, and community-based education for coming of age today.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Oh man, I've had the fortune of creating many! A few that come to mind: playing ukulele in a spontaneous street band in Havana, mentoring enthusiastic teaching interns in Costa Rica, singing K'Naan with a class of refugees and special needs students in Uganda, visiting my Tanzanian host family for Christmas years later with my family of origin, and getting my butt kicked trying to keep up with my hosts planting rice in Vietnam.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

The Eco-Institute is a deeply nourishing environment. It's real community workplace—in addition to working together in the traditional sense, we often share meals together, garden together, milk goats, participate in workshops, and get on our knees for a deep clean. Since arriving here I feel myself walking slower, standing taller, and more easily accessing my authentic voice on what's right.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I'm in regular contact with many of my past students. One in particular was featured recently on a podcast speaking about her gap year experience. I loved hearing again the story from her wilderness solo—spending 48 hours with just the very basic necessities in the woods—and the way that that story has aged since she came out of the forest and shared it with me. Knowing now that she's in college now, engaged in environmental studies, making friends, and joining clubs, I know she's touching the hearts of many with her evolving stories.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

The Rising Earth Immersion, of course! As a gap year and study abroad alumna who has guided and designed all sorts of gap experiences since, I really feel that the Rising Earth program is helping to fill a real need in this field for environmental, place-based programming that integrates inner development with climate and social activism in a real tangible way. If I were to do a gap year again, this is for sure what I'd do. And maybe I will!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Three mornings a week, we get up early to participate with the community in the Garden Cooperative. Like a Community Supported Agriculture program, co-op members are able to regularly fill their baskets with harvested goodness in exchange for their work in the garden. It's been a great way to get my hands in the dirt while meeting beautiful people in the community, learning about the history of the land, and moving my body as the sun comes up.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I believe that a successful company is one in which each person is dedicated to their own growth and learning, and therefore to the growth and learning of each other individual as well. One demonstration of this commitment is the willingness to be wrong—to consider other points of view, to allow yourself be shaken by the inputs of others, and when alternative ideas are spoken, to embrace the opportunity to see the world wider. I believe that that is when our collective vision can best meet the ever-evolving needs of our time.