Student Conservation Association Marks 55th Birthday With Slate Of New Programs

Young military veterans, youth of color, Native Americans and others will benefit from new programs announced this week by the Student Conservation Association in conjunction with the organization’s 55th anniversary.

The programs are part of a strategy to have the SCA place 10,000 students each year in landscapes across the country by the end of the decade.

“As wildfires rage, climate change escalates, and park maintenance backlogs grow, the need for new environmental solutions is clear,” said SCA President Dale Penny. “In addition, our nation is struggling with mounting youth unemployment, the underrepresentation of youth of color in the outdoors, and a growing disconnection between youth and nature.

“SCA has demonstrated innovation and impact since we first deployed student volunteers to aid under-resourced national parks in 1957. And, as we often have over the past five and a half decades, SCA believes we now stand at the forefront of a critical period for our nation," he added. "We are confident the initiatives we are announcing will not only yield immediate benefits for our land and our youth, but help to ensure a brighter future for all.”

Mr. Penny says SCA has assembled a broad network of forward-looking public and private partners to expand opportunities for young adults on public lands and in urban communities across the country. SCA’s strategic initiatives include:

§ A Veterans Green Corps that provides young military personnel returning from their tours of duty with job training and certifications, as well as a smooth transition back into civilian life. Veterans will participate in wildlife mitigation teams that follow familiar military protocols and yield valuable professional skills and experience. Davon Goodwin, a 23-year old Purple Heart recipient from Pittsburgh, says his work at Kaibab National Forest in Arizona will give him “research experience in different fields that will make me a stronger job candidate in the future.” SCA is slated to introduce additional veterans’ initiatives later this year.

§ NPS Academy is an SCA workforce development initiative for the National Park Service. Following a successful pilot launch in 2011, the program will double in scope this year, placing 55 college-age youth of color in internships in more than 20 national parks across the country to train and prepare participants for NPS careers in biology, wildlife management, visitor services and more. “I’m getting three months of field experience as a scientist in the North Cascades – that’s a rare and valuable opportunity for someone like me,” states Justin Duncan, a junior studying environmental science at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

§ Another initiative created to build a more inclusive federal resource management workforce, the Career Development Intern Program operated jointly by SCA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will expand into Alaska for the first time this summer. The program has trained and prepared hundreds of young people of color for green careers in public land management since 2008.

§ SCA is providing Native youth with job opportunities across the country, conducting a Tribal College Intern program at fish and wildlife refuges throughout the Midwest, an all-Native American trail crew with NPS at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and conservation internships and crews for Alaska Native youth in cooperation with a coalition of Alaska Native Corporations and government agencies.

§ SCA and ARAMARK are teaming up to train young professionals through the Environmental Sustainability Internship Program. SCA interns will work at ARAMARK locations in Parks and Destinations, Business Dining, and Higher Education, and focus on a variety of sustainability fields including purchasing, waste management, building operations, and energy and water conservation, generating a practical understanding of environmental sustainability and fundamental business knowledge.

Impacting Conservation and the Country

Mr. Penny notes the new SCA programs “share the same can-do DNA” that has typified the organization since its beginnings. He notes when SCA Founding President Liz Putnam started SCA in 1957, she was a model of leadership long before the women’s rights movement. The first SCA volunteers, he says, blazed a trail that would eventually lead to the concept of national service. And their work in national parks advanced conservation service more than a decade before Earth Day. “From the very start,” says Mr. Penny, “SCA has been at the leading edge of significant societal change in addition to strengthening our environment.”

The SCA president points to a rapid expansion in SCA’s pioneering community conservation programs, which engage urban youth in conservation jobs and education in parks in their home neighborhoods. In the last six years, participation in the programs has tripled to employ 1,500 teenagers annually in 20 leading U.S. cities including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Conference of Mayors cited SCA’s urban initiative as one of the nation’s “best practices in green jobs for youth.”

“As SCA commemorates our 55th year, I believe America once again stands at the cusp of an era heralding both exceptional challenges and extraordinary promise,” says Mr. Penny. “How we respond may well dictate which of those two premises prevail, and thus SCA will do everything possible to address these needs and support the next generation of conservation leaders.”

To date, SCA has engaged nearly 70,000 young people in conservation internships and jobs, resulting in more than 30 million hours of service on federal, state, and local lands including those operated by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. SCA field members conduct tasks that would otherwise not be completed, such as habitat restoration, scientific research, and environmental education. Two-thirds of SCA alumni remain active in conservation. The National Park Service estimates that more than 12 percent of its workforce started their careers with SCA.

“When SCA began 55 years ago, our objective was to give our national parks the extra hands they needed and protect America’s most spectacular natural treasures,” Ms. Putnam said. “I am so pleased that all these years later, the young men and women of SCA continue to be part of the solution.”