Creating Future Champions and Protectors in Alaska


by Jaime Matyas, President & CEO, SCA

I recently returned from Alaska where I went for several reasons: to understand better the unique challenges to accessing and serving public lands in our nation’s largest state; to appreciate more fully the similarities and differences in the SCA experience for Alaska Native teens, and to build relationships that will clear pathways for Alaskan teens and young adults to careers in conservation and positions of leadership.
I spent time with two of our regional high school crews – one in Kenai Fjords National Park; the other in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve: both absolutely stunning settings. At Kenai Fjords, the mountains, miles of wildflowers and glaciers are visible. We reached Lake Clark by floatplane, with mountains, receding glaciers and undisturbed forests spreading out in all directions. 
SCA CEO Jaime Matyas and SCA Board Chairman Steve Seward with an SCA Alaskan crew in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.Jaime Matyas (2nd from R) and SCA Board Chair Steve Seward (L) with members of our Lake Clark National Park Alaska Native Crew.
On one level, it’s remarkable how similar teens are, no matter where they live. On another level, the setting does shape the experience. The difficulty, cost, and distances involved in travel in many parts of the state mean that Alaska Native teenagers often have not left their villages or spent extended time away from home. That makes their SCA field crew experience that much more significant. It also means that access to job and career opportunities can be more limited than for their peers living in the lower 48.
In my time with the two field crews, it was clear that the SCA experience is providing vital personal growth opportunities as well as a pathway to careers. The crew members were living away from home, learning to work as a team, and gaining conservation job skills. They were also getting to know the national park staff, people who had made careers in conservation, and building relationships for the future. 
To explore career opportunities for the Native Alaskan youth, I met with officials of two of the largest Alaska Native regional corporations. Joining me for those meetings was Margie Brown, who served from 2005 to 2013 as President and CEO of one of the regional corporations, Cook Inlet Region, Inc., and is also SCA’s incoming board chair.   Working together we can provide a continuum of opportunities and training.
I’ve been thinking about my visit to Alaska in the context of a recent commentary by Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, on Lake Clark and the work that the Department, National Park Service, and SCA are doing together there. In that commentary, accompanied by a photograph of the Deputy Secretary surrounded by SCA interns, he says, “These dynamic young people are indeed becoming future champions and protectors of our public resources.”
Some of the future conservation leaders on SCA's Lake Clark National Park Alaska Native Crew.Some of the future conservation leaders on SCA’s Lake Clark National Park Alaska Native Crew.
I was in Alaska to get to know its natural and cultural resources and how SCA can build upon its long term commitment to enhancing the leadership potential of teens from diverse backgrounds for careers in conservation and elsewhere. The opportunity – like the state – is enormous, and SCA is playing a vital role in maximizing it through serving nature. 
Student Conservation Association