2018 Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Reginald "Flip" Hagood - Student Conservation Association (SCA)

The Corps Network’s Corps Legacy Achievement Award recognizes leaders with approximately 20 or more years of contribution to the Corps movement, who have served in a senior leadership position (CEO, Executive Director, Board Member, Vice President) for a Corps or multiple corps, and who have made a significant contribution to the movement (e.g. founded a Corps, brought a Corps to scale, served for approximately 15+ years as Executive Director/CEO of a Corps, served a key role as a national board member, made a significant national contribution through developing a nationwide project, etc.). Learn more.


Reginald “Flip” Hagood has many years of service under his belt. From serving his country as a Marine in Vietnam, to being a champion of the outdoors and youth programs as Senior Vice President of The Student Conservation Association (SCA), Flip goes above and beyond in serving his community.

As a young man, Flip left military service to start a law enforcement career with the National Park Service (NPS) Park Police. He later served as a Park Ranger, then moved into designing and delivering training. In 1994, after serving over 25 years with the park service, Flip retired as the Chief of the Employee Development Division.

Before leaving the park service, Flip began serving with SCA as a council and board member. His retirement from NPS was designed so that he could transition to a position as Deputy Program Director of SCA's Conservation Career Development Program (CCDP). Flip soon became Program Director, then Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, and eventually had a long run in several program and partnership arenas as SCA’s Senior Vice President.

During his service with SCA, Flip not only led the organization’s commitment to diversify the conservation movement, but served as an industry leader as well, having served on the boards of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Institute of Conservation Leadership. He has also been a member of The Wilderness Society’s Governing Council since 2001 (where he chaired the Diversity Committee).

During his time at SCA, Flip impacted and supported thousands of high school students, college interns and staff seeking to serve the environment. He was at the forefront of developing urban-based programs for youth and young adults interested in conservation careers. Flip was essential in the creation of SCA’s Washington DC Urban Community program. This was a pioneer program focused on engaging local DC youth in conservation service. The program has grown from its inception almost 40 years ago to more than 15 urban centers that reach almost 1,000 youth each year.

Flip’s influence and impact has extended far beyond SCA into all aspects of the environmental movement, including nonprofits, government service and even the corporate world. He is a respected advisor in the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the conservation workforce. Since his retirement three years ago, he is still mentoring many students and professionals, guiding their careers and amplifying their impact. His voice has been highly influential in helping organizations like NOLS and The Wilderness Society better understand their obligation to be more inclusive as they deliver their missions.

300 Environmental Restoration Jobs Coming to Gulf of Mexico

 

Three-Year Gulf Conservation Corps Program will Boost Communities and Protect and Restore Critical Habitat

A Joint Press Release from The Nature Conservancy, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and The Corps Network

The Corps Network Joins SCA to Celebrate 99th Birthday of National Park Service

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas prepare to blow out the birthday candles.

Who doesn't enjoy celebrating a birthday? Take pity on those who can't or don't enjoy sinking their teeth into a delicious piece of cake.

Fortunately for The Corps Network's staff, on Tuesday we were invited to join the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service for a "Servabration" at the Washington Memorial in honor of the National Park Service's 99th Birthday. Speakers included SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas, National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Karen Cucurullo, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and SCA Alum Ayomide Sekiteri. There were also a few small opportunities for fun, including a trivia contest and a small service project to assemble seed bombs.



SCA Alum and Volunteer Centennial Ambassador 
Ayomide Sekiteri with Mary Ellen Sprenkel, CEO of The Corps Network.

You can see more photos of The Corps Network staff and the event here.

Celebrations of the birthday of the National Park Service took place nationwide and online. The National Park Foundation published a list of 99 Ways to Find Your Park. For comedic pleasure, a Mother Jones story that made the rounds online titled, "I Can't Stop Reading One-Star Yelp Reviews of National Parks." Clearly those people didn't watch Acadia Gettin' Funky. The National Parks Conservation Association shared a nice new video [watch below].

 

We look forward to continuing to celebrate the National Park Service's 99th birthday and especially its upcoming Centennial! We know that The Corps Network and our members have played, and will continue to play, a large role in the stewardship of our national park system. We look forward to telling these stories over the coming years.

Boiler Plate: 
Who doesn't enjoy celebrating a birthday? Take pity on those who can't or don't enjoy sinking their teeth into a delicious piece of cake. Fortunately for The Corps Network's staff, on Tuesday we were invited to join the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service for a "Servabration" at the Washington Memorial in honor of the National Park Service's 99th Birthday. Speakers included SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas, National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Karen Cucurullo, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and SCA Alum Ayomide Sekiteri. There were also a few small opportunities for fun, including a trivia contest and a small service project to assemble seed bombs.

SCA Receives Environmental Award

Story provided by SCA

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) was recently presented with the Walden Woods Project’s Environmental Challenge Award by Don Henley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist and founder of the Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute.  The presentation took place on stage at a packed Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston moments before a concert by Henley’s band, the Eagles.

“Today, more than ever,” said Henley, “we need to foster the next generation of concerned and committed environmental stewards of our planet.”

Actor Robert Redford, who accepted the Walden Woods Project’s Global Environmental Leadership Award, also pointed to young people as a solution in his keynote address.  “Our youth are our future.  And that’s why I’m here tonight in celebration of these honorees.”

SCA received the Environmental Challenge Award for engaging youth in hands-on conservation service and serving as a model for those who seek effective, constructive and sustainable outcomes.  The award was accepted by SCA Vice President Kevin Hamilton and SCA intern Sophia Bass Werner, who just completed a summer program of mammal and habitat conservation at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The award sponsors noted that SCA had recently reached the milestone of 75,000 members, and in addition to their immediate impact in preserving parks, forests and refuges in all 50 states, seven out of ten SCA alumni are employed in a conservation-related field.

The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the land, literature, and legacy of Henry David Thoreau through conservation, education, research and advocacy.  Founded 25 years ago, the Project uses the land it has protected in Walden Woods to foster an ethic of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, both cornerstones of Thoreau’s philosophy.

Boiler Plate: 
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) was recently presented with the Walden Woods Project’s Environmental Challenge Award by Don Henley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist and founder of the Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute. The presentation took place on stage at a packed Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston moments before a concert by Henley’s band, the Eagles.

ConSERVE NYC Volunteers Clear Invasives at New York's "South Pole"

Article appears in the Student Conservation Association Blog.

ConSERVE NYC events have taken our volunteers as far north as Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, as far west as Hudson River Park in Manhattan, and as far east as Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing. On August 16th, our volunteers traveled to the southern-most point of New York to serve at Conference House Park on Staten Island.

Over 40 SCA volunteers teamed up with the NYC Parks Natural Areas Volunteers to reclaim young trees from invasives at a recent Million Trees planting site near the waterfront. Planted shortly before Hurricane Sandy, the trees sustained a barrage of saltwater when the low-lying area was flooded, then struggled to get enough sunlight as mugwort and other invasives took over the disturbed site. Many of the young trees were completely buried in overgrown vegetation, hardly visible from the park’s trails.

But SCA volunteers were up for the challenge. One group shouldered through six-foot-tall mugwort to begin clearing open areas around the saplings, while another group waded into waist-high masses of mile-a-minute vine to start untangling the aggressive vine from the native vegetation. By lunchtime, volunteers had bagged and removed over 1000 pounds of invasives to give the new trees room to grow and thrive.

For some of the participants, the site was a familiar one. Earlier this summer, members of SCA’s YCC crew traveled to Conference House Park for an Environmental Education Day to learn about the conservation challenges the park was facing, and begin removing invasives at the site. At this weekend’s event, YCC members Zack Towle and Amosh Neupane stepped up as Apprentice Leaders to help guide volunteers in continuing the task their crew had started.

Other participants included leaders from SCA’s Sandy Recovery Program and Hudson Valley Corps, as well as students from the Bryant High School Coalition of Students for Environment & Climate Action, Brooklyn Tech Key Club, Bard High School, Park East High School, IS 51, City College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College.

“I’m so excited to have another ConSERVE project on Staten Island,” said SCA Hudson Valley member Tara Linton, who lives near Conference House Park. “Most of my friends from other boroughs don’t want to come all the way out here…. but it’s such a great site!”

SCA alum Chris Fahim agreed. “I just finished an SCA internship in Kansas. But I’m from New York, so when I got back I was happy to find out that there were ways for me to stay involved with SCA here.”

After a morning of service, volunteers gathered on the beach for a group photo at New York’s “South Pole” — the southernmost point in the city, and in the state. Then they headed over for a free tour of the historic Conference House for which the park is named — a Dutch manor built in the 17th-century, where Benjamin Franklin and John Adams parlayed with the British in 1776.

“I met awesome new people today and learned cool stuff,” said Sam March, a student at Park East High School who just finished his summer term on SCA’s Sandy Recovery crews. “I didn’t think it would happen, but I’m going to miss not going to work with SCA on Monday!”

SCA’s ConSERVE NYC initiative has passed the milestone of 1000 volunteers engaged across all five boroughs of New York City. On September 13th, participants will gather on Governors Island to celebrate one year of successful ConSERVE events. Sign up to join in at conserveNYCseptember.eventbrite.com.

SCA Names Jaime Berman Matyas as New President and CEO

Article appears on the SCA website.

SCA Board Chairman Steve Seward today announced that Jaime Berman Matyas has been named president and chief executive officer. Matyas, formerly EVP and COO of the National Wildlife Federation, will succeed the retiring Dale Penny on September 2. At the National Wildlife Federation, Matyas set organizational strategy, built new constituencies and managed day-to-day operations. She creatively advanced the organization’s mission – and her own personal passion – to protect wildlife by connecting young people with nature.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Jaime to SCA,” said Steve Seward, Chair of SCA Board of Directors. “She’s a perfect fit. With her spirit of innovation and commitment to diversity, we know she will take SCA’s nationwide student programming to new heights as we continue nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders.”

During her 20+ years with the National Wildlife Federation, Matyas rose through a variety of senior roles before assuming operational management responsibilities in 2005. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program and is a certified Black Belt in Innovation Engineering. “I’m inspired by SCA’s national presence, interest to pursue new partnerships and track record of leadership development,” said Matyas. “I’m honored to lead an organization so uniquely positioned to meet the needs of young conservation leaders and represent the rich diversity of our nation’s youth.”

For more on our incoming CEO, read the official announcement and the interview below. Meanwhile, please join us in welcoming Jaime Matyas to SCA.

A Q&A WITH JAIME MATYAS, SCA'S NEW PRESIDENT AND CEO

You’re the expert on this topic: who is Jaime Matyas?

I’ve played soccer since I was 10 and I love being part of and building high functioning teams and mentoring others. I am innately curious and get energized by learning new things. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside riding my bike and getting muddy in our local creek; canoeing, kayaking and picking berries in the mountains of Pennsylvania; and camping and hiking in the west. After graduating college, my roommates and I hiked the Grand Canyon and neighboring areas. I find time in nature both peaceful and energizing. I’m someone who truly believes that an array of voices, perspectives and experiences, in an environment conducive to honest interaction, leads to better ideas and decisions and a more effective business. I’m excited about building on that belief: that diversity breeds strong organizations.

My priorities include continuing to increase SCA’s impact, and for me that means both increasing the numbers of young people engaged and the enhancing the depth of their experience – which affects both the people and the landscape. I’m committed to improving both quantity and quality.

Impact also relates to something that has long been important to me – something that’s a challenge for the conservation community and a great opportunity for SCA – and that’s to engage a greater diversity of young people. Geographic, ethnic, racial: diversity in all its forms. This will likely lead to some diversification of our programs – not straying from our core competencies, of course, but building on them to expand programs like those we offer in urban parks, and engaging young people closer to home.

Why is that important?

People come to conservation and this kind of work from different places. Historically, they may already have a connection with the natural world, they may understand it and are comfortable outside, but there are also more and more kids who are less and less comfortable outdoors because they spend less time in nature. A Kaiser Foundation study shows that young people today spend less than eight minutes a day in unrestricted outdoor activities.

To build more leaders for the future, SCA needs to meet young people where they are. That may be from an economic development perspective, a jobs perspective, or a community safety or health perspective. It may give us the opportunity to conduct more programs in local communities and establish connections between youth and nature there, locally, and then add the conservation elements for those who may not have started with a love of the outdoors.

What do you see when you look at SCA?

I see tremendous potential. I see a moment in this country where conservation has become politicized, which hasn’t always been so, and a moment where climate change, the economy and other factors are impacting our world in a way that our kids will inherit a very different community than where we grew up.

SCA has a tremendous opportunity to equip the leaders of tomorrow with the skills and experience that will enable them to lead effectively. When I read Liz’s thesis where she outlined her idea for SCA, for example, the breadth of SCA’s programs has evolved so much. It’s imperative that we continue to innovate in order to respond to – and even get out ahead of – the environmental challenges we face.

A recent National Park Service study indicates our parks are presently confronted by a variety of extreme weather conditions that will likely require a new approach toward caring for these resources in the future. I see SCA continuing to scale up Liz’s original vision and adding additional skill building and training into our programs to help young people become truly effective conservationists and leaders in our modern world, whether through traditional field training or on college campuses, or Gap Year training that could include teaching innovation, leadership development, problem solving – broad skill sets that youth may not have needed 50 years ago but are crucial to being an effective leader today.

Why are public lands today often partitions instead of “common ground?”

In my experience over the past twenty years in the conservation arena, different communities and audiences prioritize different uses for our public lands including, for example hunting, hiking, climbing, camping, grazing, logging and even siting for wind and solar installations. Some view these uses as complementary while others see them in conflict.

What we at SCA can do is create an environment that lends itself to that inclusive dialogue – host working sessions with groups we want to engage more to better understand their needs, problems and interests and determine how we can relate to the interests of those communities and how we work together. Because we are grounded in serving young people, we can engage these young people in a discussion of programming relevant to them and how to engage their peers. It could be urban, tribal, native communities, people of certain ages, gender, with disabilities – we need to determine what audiences we want to serve more, and engage them in information gathering and in a program development process.

We also need to consider the diversity of our parks—urban parks, national parks, the beautiful spaces that serve as places of community, respite, and contemplation for today’s young people. To the extent that SCA can meet young people where they are and expand their horizons, we will have achieved a great deal. At the same time, we can help these parks to become more resilient to the many threats that confront them—from encroachment, pollution and climate change to lack of funding.

How do you innovate in a field that is so frequently rooted in institutional conventions?

I don’t have any specific answers for you yet but the methodology for successful innovation starts with the customer and finding out what their problems are and what solutions may exist to solve those problems. From there, we identify the business models and revenue streams that lead to sustainable solutions. Pilot projects then let you test your hypotheses and make improvements in rapid cycles of iterations.

To the degree policy changes are required we will need to create coalitions of unlikely allies with voices that are important to officials creating those policies and making those decisions. Innovation requires you to understand what those constituency needs are and how policy changes can remove some of those barriers to progress.

What about integrating technology into the outdoor experience for youth?

Technology plays such an integral part in teenagers’ lives. I expect we will infuse technology into more of our programs so, as a movement, we don’t look at technology as separate and distinct from the outdoors. Young people are on their screens at home and outside, so how do we utilize technology in a productive way to enhance their outdoor experience? I have two teenagers and their phones are part of their lives. When those devices are used as part of the experience – GPS, looking up a species of bird, sharing photos – they can be used as an enhancement tool. Technology can make the outdoors more accessible and interesting to generations raised on virtual reality and Discovery Channel.

Although SCA was founded by a woman, Liz Putnam, every CEO since Liz has been a man. How do you feel about breaking that trend?

It was really an honor to meet Liz and hear her story and have her welcome me to the organization. For me, there’s something really personally powerful about being the first female executive of SCA. It’s a genuine privilege and I want to make the most of this opportunity, for the organization and for young people we are serving – not just women, but everyone.

As one of the few women leaders of a conservation organization, this is an opportunity for SCA to lead by example and show the young people we are serving that we believe leadership can come in all forms. We need to tap the leadership skills at all levels of SCA and of our young leaders. They need to be able to look at us and see themselves in the not too distant future. Personally, I have thought a lot about the possibility of becoming a CEO and I hope to use this opportunity, whether directly within SCA or indirectly within the conservation community, to demonstrate it is possible for a woman to work her way up in this movement.

 

Bugs, Heat, Hard Work Turn Into Eco-Careers at Student Conservation Association

Article, written by Marty Levine, appears in Next Pittsburgh. Published July 14, 2014. Photo courtesy of SCA.

Get a bunch of city kids out in the park to learn trail maintenance and it can get unpleasant rapidly—or it can be downright inspiring.

“It’s hard work, it’s hot and it’s buggy,” says Jennifer Meccariello Layman, who directs the Pittsburgh chapter of the national Student Conservation Association (SCA), which placed 102 local high-schoolers from underserved neighborhoods in outdoor summer jobs this month. “They’re wearing long pants, hard hats and boots. They can get a little grouchy because of that. Some kids figure out, ‘I don’t want to work outside.’ Other kids figure out that they love it.”

These 14- to 19-year-olds are fixing up city and regional parks by improving trails, plucking out invasive species and planting trees. They’re also helping to recover vacant lots and greenspaces in Hazelwood and Glen Hazel, adding rain barrels to Lincoln-Lemington homes and maintaining food and flower gardens.

“It’s the first job for most of them,” says Layman. “They are not very connected to the outdoors or the environment in the parks, so it’s a new experience. By the end of the summer they are a well-oiled machine … and there’s a definite pride in what they’ve accomplished.”

Now in its 15th year, the Pittsburgh SCA aims to help the teens learn other skills too, with work-readiness lessons offered amid the time outdoors. Those doing vacant lot remediation are even documenting their work with Gigapan cameras this year for the first time. Gigapans create digital panoramic images, so the kids will gain lessons in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—while making a record of their work for Hazelwood and Glen Hazel to preserve and display.

“It will give them a bigger sense of accomplishment for what they complete,” says Layman. Not to mention that “Gigapans are just pretty cool.”

Maybe some of the kids will even turn into conservationists, she says. “Our mission is to create the next generation of conservation leaders. We want to start planting that seed of environmental and eco-stewardship.”

At the end of the summer, participants are invited to a weekend camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest, which is also a new experience for most of them, she says.

“It’s tough to instill a love of nature when you’re just working,” she allows. “We can show them what they’re working for—the fun you can have outside in addition to the work it takes to keep everything working properly.”

“Our biggest goal … is to keep kids coming back for programs,” she says. The SCA also runs a Student Conservation Leadership Corps that places volunteers in state parks, a program in the country’s national parks. It also has two internship programs for college grads with sustainability degrees who work with local nonprofits promoting rural and small-town tourism along the Greater Allegheny Passage and in the Mon Valley. “We’d love to see kids who are interested in this keep going with us.”

National Parks — Places for All People

Article, written by SCA corpsmember Jay Chu, appears in The Daily Breeze. Published July 3, 2014.

Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, the sun was almost always out, and beaches, forests, mountains, hiking trails and lakes were never too far away.

Somehow though, this outdoor paradise was lost on me and my Asian Americans friends. When I wasn’t in school, I was over-studying in my room, attending Japanese school on Saturdays, playing some sort of instrument, or taking extra math classes.

Unknowingly, my friends and I were at the forefront of an issue that has stumped politicians, health advocates and parents for some time: How to get kids outside.

Fast forward to today. I’ve climbed mountains in Oregon, hiked parts of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, and met some of the most inspiring people during these adventures. The outdoors gave me peace, challenge, adventure — everything that my indoor lifestyle didn’t offer.

But I’ve wondered what made me make that switch from indoor to outdoor living.

Many minority parents don’t have the time, money, or experience to take their children beyond the city limits, and this held true for me and many of my Asian, Latino and black friends. A survey by the National Park Service (NPS) found that around 80 percent of national park visitors are white, as are more than 80 percent of NPS employees.

It was lucky that after my family visited Yosemite National Park when I was around 14, I found that the outdoors was the place to be for all people, no matter their race.

In high school I wanted to become actively involved in conservation. An internship with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national volunteer organization, gave me that opportunity.

During the three months I spent in Klamath Falls, Ore., I worked long days in the national forests, backpacking all over southern Oregon, volunteering at local farmers markets and making lifelong friends. When September came along, my only thoughts were “I’ve got to do this again” and “Why aren’t more people doing this?”

Friends say I’m a missionary for the outdoors, and for good reason: My stories seem to always start with “that time when we were in the woods …”

Spending a weekend camping in the mountains may sound daunting, but the lessons learned and the friendships made outdoors are invaluable.

Recently, I took part in NPS Academy, a joint project with SCA and the National Park Service. The goal of the Academy is to train young peopleaof color for careers in conservation and increase NPS’ workforce diversity. It’s a worthy ambition: After meeting African American and Latino conservation leaders at the academy I noticed how they brought different perspectives to their work. I felt the mix of viewpoints can only make the park system better.

This summer, I will be serving at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and I hope to make conservation my life’s work.

Reflecting on my journey, I remember my first night in Klamath Falls. The supervisor took all the interns out in a field and we talked about our lives, goals and expectations for the summer. During our discussion, a little brown bat began flying around us and landed on my boss’s head. I couldn’t believe things like that actually happened in real life.

It’s moments like those I hope to preserve, but to accomplish that, we need people of all ages, races and backgrounds to understand — and enjoy — the experiences found at places like national parks.

Take that first step. You won’t regret it.

Rancho Palos Verdes native Jay Chu recently completed his freshman year in college.

Distant Woods Experience with Student Conservation Association Focuses One Young Man on Helping Pittsburgh

Article, written by AmaRece Davis, appears in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Published July 8, 2014.

I’ve lived in Homewood for all of my 21 years. It’s one of Pittsburgh’s poorest, most crime-infested neighborhoods. Opportunities for young people are few, and role models are even fewer. That’s exactly why I plan to stay here.

I want to be a beacon for the young people who live in Homewood, to help them understand that we do have chances to live a better life — we just have to look for them a little bit harder than people who grow up elsewhere.

I speak from experience. Two of my older brothers are in prison for murder. They’ll likely never see the outside again, and as a teenager I was right behind them, heading down that same dark path. I was in trouble all the time and didn’t want to listen to anyone, but then I got a break.

At 15, I started working with the Student Conservation Association, which offers young people internships in parks across the country. I always liked being outdoors, so I figured, “Why not?”

In my first two years of building trails, clearing bush and planting trees around Pittsburgh, neither my life nor my attitude changed much. Then I got the chance to join an SCA crew at Sequoia National Park in California, surrounded by trees that seemed to reach the heavens. I sat at the base of one of these giants on my 18th birthday and thought about all of my friends and relatives who had never been out of Pittsburgh and of others who hadn’t even survived to be 18.

I came home a different person. I had found something larger than myself, figuratively and literally. I never used to care about litter, for example, and based on all the trash on the streets where I lived, neither did anyone else. When I got back from the West, I immediately organized a recycling program at Westinghouse High School and became known as Recycling Rece.

The school has some of the lowest test scores in the country. No one expects much from the kids who go there — and believe me, the students know it — but other students saw what I was doing and offered to help and prove the skeptics wrong. Imagine what could happen if there were more role models in our neighborhood. Kids here would grow up with hope instead of hopelessness.

I’ve been attending community college and working part time at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, with the ultimate goal of going to Penn State and starting a career in conservation.

I’m spending the summer with SCA as a crew leader at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York. I’m excited to work with a team of teenagers, protect a little part of our planet and earn some money for school, but I vow: Once I get my college degree, I will come back to the neighborhood that gave me my start. I will lead by example and be the alternative role model kids here so desperately need. I’d like to see more people do the same.

I’m not naive enough to think that picking up garbage or planting a few trees will cure all the issues in Homewood. Not long ago, as my best friend and I were walking to the store, stray gunfire hit him, and he was paralyzed. I am determined to help rid the neighborhood of such dangers, and not just for me.

My younger brother is 16 and navigating the same streets as the rest of us. I do all I can to keep him out of harm’s way. We talk about setting goals and dreaming big. I give him spending money when I can so he’s not tempted to seek it in other ways. I also visit my older brothers in jail all the time. They’re proud of what I’m doing and want to see Homewood become a better environment just as much as I do.

I’m grateful for my transformative experience through nature, but I had to travel more than 2,500 miles to get it. It shouldn’t be that way. We should be able to provide life-changing outlets for kids right here in Homewood.

Diversity in the National Park System

Article, written by Luke Siutyis, appears in Diversity Executive magazine.

The sad truth regarding American National Parks is that relatively few minorities visit them or work there. Inclusivity is a problem, and the Student Conservation Association is a working towards remedying it. As a national non-profit organization, they provide young students with opportunities to get engaged in park conservation and management. SCA has several ongoing initiatives to this end, such as a partnership with the National Park Service to create the NPS Academy, a program that targets minority college students, and inner-city programs in places like Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore.

Alvi Seda, who has loved the outdoors since childhood, devotes his career efforts to expand diversity and tackle this problem. Diversity Executive had a chance to speak with him on the subject.

As a Recruiting Coordinator for Diversity Initiatives, what is your goal exactly? How do you go about fulfilling it?

My goal is to recruit candidates from all walks of life, from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate in programs centered on environmental conservation, community service, and education. The SCA programs that I recruit for provide trainings and career paths for youth to get full time employment opportunities with the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and many other land management agencies. I believe it is important to connect different populations with these resources in order to have a holistic and diverse representation of ideas enriching our public spaces so they can be accommodating to all visitors. 

In order to accomplish my goal, I travel the United States doing presentations and speaking with a variety of students groups. I visit college campuses, career fairs, conferences, and a variety of special events to spread the word about SCA programs. I spend a lot of time working with minorities and underrepresented populations especially within the southeast region of the United States and Puerto Rico.

What’s the current problem with attendance in National Parks, and why is it an issue? Is that connected to the diversity (or lack of it) among the parks’ conservation field staff?

National Parks have traditionally always had low attendance from diverse populations. There are many different cultural reasons for the lack of diversity at National Parks. The way the parks are managed, the availability of recreational resources, park fees, park regulations, traditional cultural past times, availability of the resource or how easy it is to access and get back home, all of these factors and many more affect who visits parks.  Traditionally parks have been set up to accommodate an American tradition of great outdoors park use. That view is not often shared with ethnic populations. An increase in diversity among park staff is allowing different ideas about park use and management to occur. This is making National Parks more accommodating to diverse ethnic populations and ultimately making National Parks more inclusive to all populations.  There is an increase in more urban National Parks which cater to diverse ethnic populations and there is an increase in national parks including the history of ethnic populations as an important part of their parks history. 

What are some of the steps you and the Student Conservation Association are taking to remedy the lack of diversity?

The Student Conservation Association has numerous diversity career programs in place that are designed to work with ethnic populations and veterans to help them get full time employment opportunities with a variety of federal land management agencies. We also have many high school programs that are designed to engage ethnic populations at the high school level in order to get them involved in conservation and community service at a young age.

Many diverse students start their careers with SCA when they are 15 years old and stay involved with SCA until they get a career with the National Park Service or any of our other partners. Our high school programs are very good and often provide a life changing experience for students coming from an inner city background who are unfamiliar with the great outdoors and conservation.  SCA itself is set up to provide a continuum of service to our members in order to achieve our greater diversity goals. We engage diverse students at a young age and give them the training and the skills they will need to be the next generation of conservation leaders.

How has your own background influenced the career path you chose?

Coming from a low-income Puerto Rican family, I never really experienced a National Park until I was in my twenties. When I was young I loved the outdoors and used to play in small wooded spaces within the city I lived in. When I was in my early twenties, I did an Appalachian Trail thru-hike with one of my American friends, and it changed my life. I instantly fell in love with the mountains and forests I was hiking through, and decided that I would pursue a career in environmental education.

I studied environmental education at Prescott College in Arizona and spend a lot of time in National Parks and Forests, leading groups of people and teaching environmental education. I realized how valuable and beneficial my connection to the outdoors had been for me, and I wanted to share that gift with others. Now I spend quite a bit of time in Puerto Rico working with students from there in order to help them get opportunities with SCA. Just yesterday I helped my little cousin get ready for his first SCA program. He is a freshman in high school and he will be serving in Morristown, NJ, this summer. He has never left the state he lives in and has never camped or hiked outdoors.  I am excited to see him get started with his first SCA experience at the age of 15. My cousin comes from the same exact circumstances I came from but SCA is going to provide him with an excellent opportunity to gain valuable skills and connect him with the outdoors. His scenario is exactly the reason I chose to become the Recruiting Coordinator for Diversity initiatives at the SCA; because I believe it is important for underrepresented populations to interact and be involved with our public spaces and our nation’s natural resources.

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