(WASHINGTON, D.C.)---Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, who launched the American conservation service movement more than 50 years ago with the founding of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), has received the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama for “performing exemplary deeds of service for her country and fellow citizens.”
Ms. Putnam is the first conservationist to receive the Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award, since its creation in 1969. She was among 13 recipients honored at a 2:00 p.m. White House ceremony.
“Serving nature is among the most important and rewarding callings humankind can ever know,” Ms. Putnam states. “I am grateful to President Obama and humbled by this honor. I share it with all the young women and men of the Student Conservation Association, whose hands-on service protects our public lands and lifts our people’s hearts.”
SCA pursues its mission of “building the next generation of conservation leaders” by engaging thousands of high school, college and graduate students in conservation service each year. The only national organization of its kind, SCA places interns and volunteers in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests, where they protect endangered species, restore habitats, building hiking trails and more.
Ms. Putnam was a student herself when she developed the idea for SCA. In her Vassar College senior thesis in 1955, she proposed adapting the Civilian Conservation Corps model to enlist student volunteers to assist with upkeep at national parks, where surging visitation rates were outpacing maintenance budgets. Aided by colleague Martha Hayne Talbot, Ms. Putnam earned the interest and support of officials in the National Park Service and the first SCA volunteers arrived at Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957.
Today, more than half of SCA’s 60,000 alumni remain active conservationists in their careers and communities; the National Park Service alone estimates up to 12% of its workforce can trace their professional roots to SCA. In addition, SCA has served as the blueprint for numerous other eco-service initiatives including the Department of the Interior’s Youth Conservation Corps, dozens of Volunteers in Parks (VIP) programs, and myriad state and local conservation corps.
“Liz Putnam is both a giant and pioneer in the conservation field,” states SCA Chair Jane Goedecke. “Her vision helped seed what we now call ‘national service.’ She recognized young people as a powerful solution to our country’s growing ecological stresses. And today, with so many children disconnected from nature, Liz’s SCA is more relevant than ever.”
In addition to national parks, SCA members serve sites within the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies, hundreds of state parks, and green spaces in dozens of major cities. SCA’s Milwaukee program was recently named by the U.S. Conference of Mayors as one of America’s six “best practices in green jobs for youth.”
The Citizens Medal is second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom among U.S. civilian prizes. Previously, Ms. Putnam received President Ronald Reagan’s Volunteer Action Award, the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal for contributions to public parks, and the Rachel Carson Leadership Award, among many other honors.
With the formal title of Founding President, Ms. Putnam is an active ambassador for SCA and a constant source of inspiration to its members, staff, and partners. She resides with her husband, Bruce, in Shaftsbury, VT.
Since 1957, the Student Conservation Association (SCA)’s hands-on practice of conservation service has helped to develop new generations of conservation leaders, inspire lifelong stewardship, and save the planet. SCA is a non-profit headquartered in Charlestown, NH and maintains regional offices in Boise, ID, Oakland, CA, Pittsburgh, PA, Seattle, WA, and Washington, D.C., and is a partner of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information, visit thesca.org.