Eyes to the Sky, Feet on the Ground


This is a guest post by Pipa Elias, a member of SCA’s Alumni Council, and we post it on July 16 — 50 years to the day after Apollo 11 launched on its historic lunar mission…

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing I can remember dreaming of being an astronaut when I was young — the feeling of weightlessness, the research I would conduct, the sense of awe from looking down at our planet. Instead, my career has been rooted on the earth. Literally: My experiences with SCA, led me to career in conservation, and today I work as the Soil Health Strategy Manager at The Nature Conservancy.

But for many SCA alumni, the first landing on the moon was a memorable part of their experience. On July 20, 1969, an SCA crew was in Mt Rainier Park, after a long day building a shelter cabin by Nickel Creek. Charlie Miksicek remembers that evening:

We sat around the campfire, listening to the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, on a transistor radio, while staring up at a full moon. During the last several hundred feet of descent, we compared the distance to the height of a 212 ft tree we had been taught to measure the previous day. Even though this was happening 240,000 miles away we still felt very connected.

I was offered another position a few years later, an internship in the Grand Canyon. That summer I was also offered a paid job doing archaeology, so I took that instead and turned down the internship. I became an archaeologist, botanist, and ecologist and I did that for 40 years. 

My SCA position was a stepping stone. I still have my two rather worn SCA patches (I wore the shirts for years afterwards) and my journal, items I treasure very much.

Charlie Miksicek's crew building in 1969
(Photo of Charlie’s crew working in 1969)

Thirty years later, I discovered SCA after meeting a recruiter who visited my university. I spent the summer teaching environmental education to urban youth at Anacostia National Park. I felt the weight of connecting high school students to the nature in their backyard, I researched local food and water issues, and I found a new way to look at our planet. I may not have made it into space, but the SCA set me on my own path of discovery and awe.

SCA Alum, Pipa Elias (Pipa Elias during her internship with USFS in 2004)

SCA changed the course of my life, keeping me a little closer to planet Earth but still feeling excitement about the impact I could have. 

More photos from Charlie’s 1969 crew…

Student Conservation Association