Diversity is Key to Sustaining America’s National Parks

The Huffington Post
Thursday, August 4, 2016
by Jaime B. Matyas, President and CEO, SCA
 
This summer the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It’s a time to embrace the vital role that parks play in our national heritage and to increase our nation’s commitment—and that of the environmental community—to ensuring greater diversity in our parks and in our conservation leadership. Our parks, and their stewardship, are not a luxury to be entrusted to a lucky few; they are an American birthright. To be cherished and sustained by the American people, our parks must reflect the changing demographics of the nation.
 
The National Park Service (NPS) has set a goal of “recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation,” and the Student Conservation Association’s (SCA) NPS Academy plays an important role in pursuing that goal. NPS Academy is a partnership between NPS and SCA, which I lead. It introduces students from all backgrounds to careers in the National Park Service by providing summer internships at national parks across the country. Since 2011, more than 500 interns have completed NPS Academy all across the nation.
 
NPS has the power to change perspectives—and lives. As Millie Jimenez, Diversity Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator at Grand Teton National Park, says of her week-long orientation while a student at NPS Academy, “I got to meet people who were super-passionate about their jobs. I think that was the first time in my life I met someone that was so passionate about what they were doing that I could feel it walking into the room. After that week, I thought to myself, ‘This is exactly what I want to do with my life.’”
 
We must take greater steps to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds and experiences feel invested in their environment and envision career paths in conservation. They need mentors; and our planet needs them!