For students who are able to get away, Spring Break usually means sand, not snow. Chilling, not chilly. And maybe getting a little wild, not seeing a little wildlife.
For those enrolled in SCA’s annual NPS Academy, however, the week was one continuous and stirring class in career opportunities with the National Park Service.
SCA launched NPS Academy in 2011 to provide a professional pathway to undergraduate and graduate students from communities that are typically under-represented in national parks. The program, which includes a spring orientation and summer-long internships, immerses participants in NPS’ mission while instilling a strong work ethic, a high sense of professionalism, and ample enthusiasm for “America’s Best Idea.”
In mid-March, 31 students enjoyed workshops, presentations, and field trips at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and the Voyage to Excellence School in Anchorage, Alaska.
Grand Teton has been SCA’s Academy partner since Day 1, along with the Grand Teton National Park Foundation and the Teton Science Schools. Ranger and 2013 Academy graduate Millie Jimenez was among the many Park Service employees briefing attendees on interpretation, science and resource management, fire, law enforcement and rescue, facilities, planning and policy, and other aspects of park business.
“NPS Academy gave me the opportunity to not only connect with different people involved within the NPS and affiliated associations, but also gave me the hands on experience that helped me realize what I want to focus my career on,” said Alejandro Jimenez of Jackson, WY.
That wasn’t the only eye-opening moment in the Tetons. For some participants, it was their first glimpse of snow. Activities included snowshoeing, a wagon ride through the neighboring National Elk Refuge, and a cultural demonstration by the Pretty Elk Dancers, a traditional American Indian dance group from the Wind River Reservation – all while exploring the themes of legacy, connection, and diversity.
By week’s end, participants demonstrated a significant increase in knowledge and understanding of NPS core values and mission, career opportunities, and the federal hiring process. In addition, they cherished the personal connections they made with each other through storytelling and generally felt supported in their initial career pursuits.
In Alaska, some Academy members were born and raised in Anchorage with little exposure to state’s remote regions, while others came from isolated villages and had a keen familiarity with the land. All brought distinctive and diverse perspectives to the table, and seemed eager to shape the future of resource management in Alaska.
“I realize the efforts NPS is making for the park staff to reflect the demographics in which the parks reside,” noted Alexandra Lacy of Anchorage. “There is definitely an importance in representing the population.”
Conversations centered around the history and mission of the National Park Service, the role of subsistence among Alaska Native communities, and how both have either been enhanced or hindered by federal and state legislation. Among the weeks experiential highlights: a boat tour of Resurrection Bay, during which the group spied a pod of orcas.
From the start, SCA’s NPS Academy has been structured around four main goals:
- Engage college students from diverse backgrounds in field learning opportunities that illustrate the many NPA career paths
- Provide participants with hands-on training and experience through summer internships at national park units
- Deliver NPS mentor relationships to deepen students’ knowledge of and connection to the National Park Service
- Enlist each participant as an ambassador to share their NPS Academy experiences and promote NPS and SCA opportunities at school and in their community
Since SCA’s first NPS Academy in 2011, nearly 500 participants have served in the program, and more than a third of all Academy alumni remain involved in the conservation field through employment or internships.
Olivia Beitelspacher of Plano, TX says it’s rewarding “to be a part of a team of excited young people, eager to protect the Earth and educate others about the power and beauty of our natural surroundings. I hope this internship…will allow me to better plan my future and my career path.”
Be sure to visit again this summer, as we check in with NPS Academy members stationed at national parks all across America.