Alumni Stories

By Dani Tinker

Popular culture and common myths perpetuate a fear of these misunderstood animals. They are more closely related to primates than rats and mice, they aren’t all rabid, and they don’t like to mess with humans. Bats want to do their own thing and be left alone. There’s no real reason to be scared of them.

Bats, on the other hand, have many reasons to be afraid. The challenges they face are enough to terrify any creature.

SCA intern Ashley Xu holding a pallid bat at Glen Canyon Recreation Area.

Samuel Merring, a seasonal interpretative ranger at the Stanislaus National Forest in northern California, develops and leads nature programs and guided walks around the forest’s picturesque Lake Alpine reservoir. What makes this all the more impressive is that Merring, who just completed his second summer on the job, is still in college, a senior at Grand Valley State University in Michigan majoring in natural resource management.

SCA Alum Samuel Merring at Stanislaus National Forest.
By Dani Tinker

It’s no secret that pollinators are in trouble. Many bee and butterfly species across the country are struggling to survive. And in some cases, there’s not even enough data to figure out next steps to help them. That’s where SCA pollinator interns come in!

Cattle on Kroll Waterfowl Production Area in North Dakota by Krista Lundgren, USFWS.

We recently asked our alumni to tell us their SCA stories, and did they ever! We were so moved by what they had to say that we want to start sharing them with you. Each month we will add a new one as well as link to those that have been highlighted on our social media feeds. Check back often to learn more about what your fellow alums had to say about there SCA experience and time since.

1969 Olympic National Park Crew

As a history major at Loyola University New Orleans, Peter Winfrey didn’t expect his career would lead him to the National Park Service (NPS). He definitely didn’t think it would take him to the largest and one of the wildest states in the country: Alaska.

Peter Winfrey Along the Dalton Highway in Northern Alaska

Located on the southern tip of Florida, the Everglades National Park – a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty – is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live side by side.

Everglades National Park by Matthew Paulson

At the moment, the land owned by Elder Pyatt in Beattie, Oregon is covered by juniper trees and rocks. But it won’t be for long. Pyatt, a Student Conversation Association alum and Iraq War veteran, has big dreams for his 40 acres: to turn them into a flourishing lavender farm.

Bee Flying Near Lavender

What does it take to be a park ranger? To find out, we caught up with SCA alumni who have gone on to hold government careers as park rangers. In Part I, we explored the college majors and internships that can help you land your dream job. In Part II, we’ll explore the range of careers available, networking, and perfecting just the right résumé. Fasten your seatbelts!

Ranger Alex Poole at Yellowstone National Park

At the age of 13, Nancy Rogers already knew she wanted to be a park ranger. And for upwards of four decades she’s followed that dream, first as an intern in the Student Conservation Association (SCA), then seasonally in the National Park Service, and finally as a permanent ranger in the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ranger Hat by Cynthia Mitchell

We often picture park rangers in forested national parks, rescuing hikers or handing out trail maps. And while those are important roles, there are so many others that we rarely hear about. We had a chance to sit down with Jason Cangelosi, the Volunteer Program Manager for the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the diverse world of U.S. park rangers.

Q: Thanks for chatting with us today, Jason. Can you tell us more about what your specific park ranger position entails?

National Park Service Rangers at the National Mall in DC
By Dani Tinker

The National Park Service’s aviation branch helps find stranded hikers, manage fires, and conduct wildlife and vegetation surveys. To learn more, we met with Aviation Branch Chief (and SCA ALUM!) Meg Gallagher.

National Park Service Helicopter

Sarah Spragg, park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Marina, California, sums up her job in five words: “Being available for the public.” In addition to her outreach duties, she also helps maintain the bureau’s facilities and provides special recreation permits for use on public lands. She is also the veteran of not one, not two, but three internships with the Student Conservation Association! We caught up with Sarah to get her insights into SCA internships and how they helped her land a coveted federal park ranger position.

Bureau of Land Management Employee
Andy Webster is an SCA alum who completed the 10-month AmeriCorps program in Hawley, Massachusetts in 2001. We caught up with Andy this month to discuss how his SCA experience helped him find his way to The Walden Project — a school he is starting in upstate New York that is based on Henry David Thoreau.
SCA:   Hi Andy - thanks for talking to us!
Andy: My pleasure!
SCA:   Why don’t we start by having you tell us about the SCA program you did.
Andy Webster is in the back row wearing a maroon shirt during his SCA/AmeriCorps program at Kenneth Dubuque State Forest
By Michael Cronin

“Future generations have a right to experience the beauty of wilderness… it’s important that we work to actively protect it.”

By Roland Richardson

On Wednesday, July 27th, SCA joined the National Parks Conservation Association for a joint networking happy hour.

By Jess Landis
As a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Padre Island National Seashore, I’ve gotten to meet some pretty cool people. Recently I sat down with Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island. Given we’re both natives of New York, Cornell University grads and SCA alumni, we have much in common. Donna spoke about her professional beginnings, and how SCA changed her life – and the fate of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle – forever. 
By Joseph Thurston

Todd Nelson is the volunteer coordinator at Grand Canyon National Park. We asked him about his career, the National Park Service centennial, and the future of America’s Best Idea.

Why do you like working with volunteers?

What solidified it for me was working with college students on alternative [service] spring breaks. The students represent a variety of majors and I inform them that whatever they are studying, there is a position for them in the National Park Service, that we’re more than the different “-ologists.”

“When it comes to getting kids outdoors, no one has done more over the past sixty years than Liz Putnam,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, as he presented Liz with the Society’s Robert Marshall Award at a VIP-studded ceremony in Washington, DC.

In bestowing the award, named for one of The Wilderness Society’s founders, to SCA’s founder, the two organizations celebrated the notion of empowering young people to protect wild places.

SCA Founder Liz Putnam presented the Robert Marshall Award from the Wilderness Society
By Joseph Thurston

SCA alum Lauren Ray reveals how her SCA internship with the National Park Service helped her discover her public-lands-loving hip hop alter ego, the Rapping Ranger.

SCA alum Lauren Ray, aka the Rapping Ranger, has written and performed hip hop odes to each park that she's worked at, starting with Arches National Park where she served as an SCA Intern.

SCA alumna Sarah Calhoun (SCA 2002, ’03, ‘04)  – the founder of Red Ants Pants, a specialty line of women’s workwear – was recently featured in The Huffington Post and on Silicon Valley start-up expert Steve Blank’s popular podcast. In each, Sarah shares her story of beating the odds in the highly competitive apparel industry and the rewards of living in Big Sky Country.

Red Ant Pants founder and SCA Alum Sarah Calhoun