"Answering the Call: Asian American Youth Get Real, Give Back to the Environment with SCA" Asian Week February 23, 2007
by Christina Wong, SCA Board Member and Alumna
â€œDo I dare disturb the universe?â€
This is what I asked myself when I first noticed our nationâ€™s frightening levels of air pollution, contaminated drinking water, climate change and other â€˜inconvenient truths:â€™ the reality that our planet is in serious decay. Repercussions of environmental neglect are readily apparent, and never before has the urgency to confront these ecological dilemmas been more pressing. The future of our planet is at stake, and Americaâ€™s youth must come front and center to give a voice through conservation advocacy, awareness and, above all, action.
These and other environmental passions led me to the Student Conservation Association (SCA), which for 50 years has been the nationâ€™s largest provider of conservation service opportunities, outdoor education, and leadership training for young adults. With its steadfast commitment to diversity, SCA allows Asian American youth to better connect with nature while promoting a unique, hands-on perspective to an underexposed field - not to mention presenting new career options that we may never have been considered. In fact, I am a living testament to SCAâ€™s impact.
Like most inner-city youth in the Bay Area, the concept of â€˜natureâ€™ was not natural to me. Instead of the idyllic outdoor pictures I saw on television or read about in the glossy pages of National Geographic, my â€˜forestsâ€™ were skyscrapers and the only â€˜starsâ€™ I was exposed to were streetlights. However, I always wanted to explore a new vision of the world outside my windows and beneath my feet and I knew I did not want to wind up like many of my peers, attached to their computers and iPods and isolated from the real world around them.
Little did I know how easy it would be to discover a whole new world.
For two years, I worked side-by-side with other students to build hiking trails, restore wildlife habitats, and complete other environmental projects in the Bay Area and across the country. Away from home and surrounded by desolate wilderness, never before would I have imagined myself living in the backcountry of Alaska, seeing grizzly bears or standing a few feet from active glaciers, yet these amazing adventures became mine.
Each year, SCA sends over 3,000 college and high school volunteers to serve in national parks and forests in all 50 states. While my particular journey to SCA is unique, my story reflects a number of Asian American participants in SCA programming since the organizationâ€™s inception. A virtual kaleidoscope of diversity has emerged in the form of Asian American outdoor educators, environmental scientists, land managers and environmental advocates. In addition, programs such as SCAâ€™s Diversity Internship Program have allowed collegiate and graduate students to work closely with experts in historic preservation, administration, and cultural resource fields, while SCAâ€™s Conservation Leadership Corps target high-school age youth in metropolitan centers including the Bay Area, Seattle, Washington, DC, Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee . Since my experience, I continue to work towards achieving a sustainable future and protecting natural lands as an aspiring ecologist and, at 22 years old, I am the youngest-ever elected member of the SCA board of directors.
Through SCA, dedicated young people have successfully forged new territories and opened doors for Asian American youth to move from neglected outsiders to the literal caretakers of our nationâ€™s most precious resources. For Eva Wong (no relation), her SCA experience was the guiding force that eventually led to her current position as School Education Associate with San Francisco's Department of the Environment. â€œI'd known for a long time that I wanted to have a career in education, but I hadn't a clue what I wanted to specialize in. When I joined SCA during my junior year in high school, my perspectives on my college and future goals brightened and I realized exactly what I wanted to pursue, a college degree relating to environmental education. I can say that had SCA not been a part of my life, I don't think I would have considered a career in the environmental field.â€ Another SCA alumna, 18-year old San Francisco native Willy Zhang, climbed a 12,000 foot mountain peak, crossed a rushing river, and slept under the stars while restoring a portion of the fabled Appalachian Trail. â€œI had such a blast meeting some awesome people on my SCA trips; [from] my crew mates to the hikers to the people that work for SCA,â€ she explains. â€œThey are so passionate about the environment and about life. I feel like I don't really get to meet people like that in the city.â€ In addition to her SCA service, Willy earned a scholarship to participate with Outward Bound last summer, before beginning her freshman year at UCLA.
Jack Chin, a Senior Analyst and Vice President with philanthropic consultants Blueprint Research & Design of San Francisco, credits a stint with SCA nearly 30 years ago with starting him on an unexpected career path. â€œMy parents were immigrants and I grew up in a Chinese laundry in New York City,â€ he states. â€œBut shortly after my high school graduation in 1979, I left on a 13-hour bus ride from to Acadia National Park. It was my first time camping, sleeping out under the Milky Way, and living in the wilderness - my first real encounter with the natural world.â€
Nature is renowned for its diversity, yet the environmental community is not. The land we walk on, the water we drink, the air we breathe, belongs to us all. As such, SCA helps Asian Americans and other under-represented demographic groups discover wilderness, appreciate its gifts, and serve as conscientious stewards. Everything we do impacts the natural world, so the question remains: what do we want our legacy to be?
Do I dare disturb the universe? Yes indeed!
Christina Wong, 22, is a member if the SCA Board of Directors and a research technician at the University of California-Berkley. On March 3, 2007 SCA will honor Senator Diane Feinstein and other local Bay Area conservation leaders. Renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo-Rising Stars will also perform.
Additional information about SCA and its 50th Anniversary can be found online at SCA Turns 50.