By Kendall Schwartz
Green jobs seem to be the wave of the future. The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has led the way in connecting youth to jobs in the growing "green economy" for 51 years. The SCA's motto is "Changing lives through service to nature."
SCA is the nation's leading youth conservation organization and has placed more than 54,000 volunteers in national parks, historical sites, national seashores and fire-prone mesas. All receive practical experience and green collar career advancement through hands-on conservation work and training in life skills experiential education.
From conservation internships to urban programs in nearly 20 major cities to backcountry crews deep in the woods of national parks, SCA offers something for everyone in all 50 states.
Twenty-nine year-old Hopkins, Minnesota, native Clare Croteau discovered SCA after graduating from college in the spring of 2002 with a degree in biology. "I originally planned to take a year off school and then apply for graduate school in ecology, but my summer SCA experience started me off in a new direction."
After helping homeowners in Bend, Oregon, minimize their risk of wildfire, Clare wanted to stay involved with SCA and continue exploring new places. In the fall of 2002, she joined SCA's 10-month residential program in New York, which involved environmental education in local schools and trail work throughout the Adirondack Park.
"Both the environmental education and trail work experiences reinforced my love for the outdoors and working with kids. My time in the Adirondacks also introduced me to an incredible group of advisors and peers, many of whom are still some of my closest friends today," Clare said.
Clare's desire to pursue a Master of Environmental Education degree stemmed from her experience with SCA. The summer after her graduation in 2007, Clare worked for the high school crew program at SCA's headquarters in New Hampshire. Last summer, she led one crew in Voyagers National Park in Minnesota and another in Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.
"Working and volunteering with SCA opened my eyes to new places and played a significant role in the formation of my career path," she said. For the past two years, Clare has worked as an environmental educator at Deep Portage Learning Center in Hackensack, Minnesota.
Twenty-two year-old Port Austin, Michigan, native Jamie Elliot found herself driving to Knoxville, Tennessee, directly after her high school graduation to join a five-week crew at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. As Jamie can attest, being part of a crew often means waking up early and working rain or shine alongside six or seven other students from across the country with two experienced leaders to fell trees, pry rocks from the ground and remove invasive plants.
"This is an experience I think everyone should have. Seeing the work you can do with your own two hands is far more fulfilling than anything you can imagine," Jamie said.
Jamie switched roles from crew member to crew leader and was fascinated by the way each student seemed to be affected differently by the experience. After leading two crews last summer, one in Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia, and another in Inyo National Forest, California, she firmly believes that high school students should be aware of the available opportunities with SCA.
"As a crew leader you really get to know the students you are working with and you see them grow from experience. In California, much of the crew had never been backcountry hiking or camping, but they walked away with an appreciation for the little things and learned the value of persistence and goal setting," Jamie said.
Jamie has spent the last four academic years at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and recalls her SCA experience fondly. "Many of the things I have learned will last me a lifetime and continually push me to try my hardest at all that I do. I would promote SCA to anyone who would listen to me."
As we all know, our youth are our future and it is our job to prepare them to become responsible adults who know the value of hard work and understand the importance of connecting to nature.
Whether you have a love for the outdoors or are hoping to land your next green job, there are a variety of options for you to choose from. Opportunities for high school students range from paid jobs in one of the metropolitan cities to volunteer positions away from home in several locations around the country. Three to 12-month expense-paid Conservation Internships are also available in over 50 disciplines for college students; those 21 and older may be eligible to lead and mentor by becoming a Crew Leader or Project Leader.