When National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis exhorted conservationists to find ways to celebrate the 2016 anniversary of the NPS, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont came up with the Youth Leadership Class of 2016.
So far, five students who will graduate from high school in 2016 have been chosen to be a part of this brand new program designed to expose them to conservation careers. Beginning this summer, the students started participating in a series of educational expeditions and opportunities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that will continue throughout their high school years and culminate with the National Park Service centennial in 2016.
“By participating year after year, the students will be constantly building on the previous summer’s growth. By the end of the program in 2016, the students in this program will graduate with a strong environmental knowledge base, an understanding of the inner workings of a national park, and a close connection to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” explains Tremont’s Education Director, John DiDiego.
Ken Voorhis, Tremont’s executive director, says, “The goal is to recruit a diverse group of students who will commit to involvement with the program over the next four years, and who have a particular interest in and potential for becoming tomorrow’s conservation leaders.”
One of those recently chosen students is Sterling Fisher, son of Jeff and Alice Fisher of Sevierville, TN, not far from Pigeon Forge, a Great Smokies’ Gateway Community. “I am so excited to have been selected for this program,” Sterling Fisher said. “It’s like a dream come true. This summer’s backpacking expedition was amazing. I am getting acquainted with new friends and have already begun to learn all about the park.”
Tremont has been working with schools and youth organizations to publicize the program and identify the students. Additional participants will be recruited periodically throughout the 4-year program.
The students selected are committing to one week each summer for an active outdoor learning expedition within the national park, and will also be attending additional outings and education opportunities at other times throughout the four-year timeframe. After they graduate, the students will be encouraged to apply for internships with Tremont and/or the National Park Service.
To sustain the program, Tremont is looking for program sponsors to help cover the annual costs of approximately $600 per student. As part of this, each student is identifying a community sponsor that will fund them for $100 a year. To help the students identify their yearly financial sponsors and mentors who will help guide and counsel them, Tremont is partnering with Experience Your Smokies. Anyone interested in being a mentor, nominating a student, or helping to sponsor the program, or wanting more information, call 865-448-6709, or visit Tremont’s Web site.
Since 1969, the non-profit Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont has provided in-depth experiences to over half a million people of all ages through residential educational programs designed to nurture appreciation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, celebrate diversity, and foster stewardship.