“A big turning point for me was realizing I wasn’t stupid,” Spencer said.

Spencer wants to be an inspirational story for the 6,000-some K-12 students that fall under the educational programs his position oversees. They include classroom visits, trout dissections and the Salmon in the Classroom program, where students raise juvenile salmon from egg to fry, eventually releasing them into one of Washington’s wild streams and rivers. Spencer is currently testing a program where middle-school students adopt and track radio-tagged bull trout movements in the White River using real scientific data and Google Maps. Some of the students will eventually visit the river and track their tagged fish.

Whenever Spencer talks to students or visits their classroom, he often shares his experience with learning disabilities, which continue to affect his writing and reading efficiency.

“I know some of these kids are struggling in school, and I’m not afraid to share my perspective,” Spencer said. “I think I can be a role model to them because of my success despite those struggles. … I want to plant such seeds as early as possible with these students — what it means to have a learning disability — and while it won’t be easy, academic and career success is feasible, regardless of their interests.”

Spencer, 40, said he was saved by a healthy support system that included his parents but also for his love of outdoors, which gave him an escape and peace of mind. Growing up in Connecticut, he relished the water and became completely hooked on fishing after hauling in a 16-inch brown trout as a 14-year-old to win a local contest. Three years later, he became a fishing guide in Alaska, where he eventually landed an internship with the USFWS.

In a way, he’s married to his work as Spencer’s wife, Miranda Plumb, is employed as a fisheries biologist in the same office. The couple have a 5-year-old daughter, who is already showing a strong love for nature.

Spencer said his life is proof that “you can take your passion and make it into a career.”

“It just takes a lot of hard work and persistence,” he said.

Know a great teacher, principal or school official who should be a subject for a Journal story? Email us at justin@riverstrategies.com or tag us in a Tweet @IMSEOG