Search Institute: SCA Impact on Youth


Effects extend beyond stewardship, spark success in school, work and life

SCA Experience Fuel Continuous Growth in High School Crew Participants

(ARLINGTON, VA) August 6 – The Student Conservation Association (SCA), the national leader in youth service and stewardship, today revealed that new research shows participating in SCA conservation crews strengthens numerous life skills that foster optimal advancement and help teens prosper.  The findings were independently produced by Search Institute, an international authority on what youth need to succeed, following three years of study and program refinement.

The research demonstrates that in addition to prompting an increase in participants’ environmental awareness and sustainable behaviors, the SCA experience enhances individual leadership and social responsibility while fueling continuous growth.  Developmental areas identified in the study include self-awareness, emotional competence, communication, decision-making, teamwork.

“It is unusual to see statistically significant differences between pre- and post-program survey results across such a wide range of youth development outcomes,” notes Gene Roehlkepartain, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Development at Search Institute.  “A sense of purpose, openness to challenge, planning and perseverance – these can fuel a lifetime of growth.”

Typically, SCA crews are comprised of two experienced leaders and eight crew members aged 15-19.  Crews serve for approximately one month during summer vacation at sites ranging from national parks to urban neighborhoods.  Participants build hiking trails, restore habitats, and engage in a range of environmental education and trainings.  As a result, Search says SCA crew members demonstrate improved leadership skills, a stronger connection to nature, and a greater capacity to think critically and act positively on environmental issues. 

“We can now prove that even a single SCA experience generates a constellation of skills for success,” says SCA Program Quality Manager Kate Hagner. “We’ve built our programs to accentuate these powerful, transformative experiences and we’ll continue to analyze and refine as we move forward.”

Prior to the Search Institute studies, a 1999 landmark report by Dr. Stephen Kellert of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies concluded that outdoor programs like those offered by SCA and others “can have considerable impact on participants, particularly a wide range of physical, intellectual, emotional, and even moral and spiritual benefits.”  Developmental effects, Kellert stated, included increased self-confidence, self-esteem, and a greater sense of personal meaning and direction, as well as improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and enhanced creativity and focus.

SCA crews are part of a program continuum that also offers advanced conservation internships for college and graduate students that prepare participants for outdoor careers.  Seventy percent of SCA’s 75,000 alumni report they are working or studying in an environmental field.

About the Student Conservation Association

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is America’s largest and most effective youth conservation service organization. SCA transforms lives and lands by empowering young people of all backgrounds to plan, act, and lead, while they protect and restore our natural and cultural resources. Founded in 1957, SCA’s mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders, and 70% of its more than 75,000 alumni are employed or studying in conservation-related fields.  SCA is headquartered in Washington, DC and maintains regional offices across the country. For more, visit


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Student Conservation Association