Developing the Next Generation of Park Professionals

How the National Park Service Academy prepares today's youth for jobs in the National Park Service
April 9, 2018Madeleine BienPartner Stories
— Student Conservation Association

The NPS Academy gave me the opportunity to not only connect with different people involved within the NPS and affiliated associations but it also gave me the hands-on experience that helped me realize what I want to focus my career on.” – 2018 NPS Academy intern Alejandro Jimenez, Jackson, WY

When the Student Conservation Association (SCA) was founded in 1957, it followed in the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps that had preserved our country’s natural resources and provided work opportunities to the nation over thirty years before. Ever since, SCA has continued that mission by providing opportunities for young people from all walks of life to grow into lifelong stewards of our public lands.

A group of diverse students touring traditional village structures at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Exploring traditional village structures at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Student Conservation Association

The National Park Service Academy is one such example. Launched in 2011 in partnership with Grand Teton National Park, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, and Teton Science Schools, NPS Academy focuses on cultivating a cohort of young professionals who are enthusiastic about “America’s best idea.” College and graduate students from throughout the country participate in the 21st century workforce development program, which is funded largely through the generosity of private donations. Thanks to fundraising support from the Grand Teton National Park Foundation and program staff from various partner organizations, nearly 500 interns have participated in NPS Academy since its inception.

The program supports NPS’ goal to enhance professional and organizational excellence in the next century by recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation. Young adults ages 18-35 participate in a week-long orientation over spring break, followed by a 12-week internship the following summer, during which they participate in hands-on, intensive experiences in various NPS career tracks.

A group of students having a snowshoe race at Grand Teton National Park

Shoeshow races at Grand Teton National Park

Student Conservation Association

Earlier this year, 31 students attended NPS Academy orientation at Grand Teton and Kenai Fjords national parks, where they participated in field units, workshops, and recreational activities designed to expose them to the diversity of NPS careers and prepare them for their upcoming service in national park units across the country. Interns gain experience in a variety of fields including interpretation, environmental education, trail maintenance and construction, communications, digital media, wildlife management, GIS, invasive species removal, and emergency services.

Once they return to their home communities, participants serve as NPS ambassadors focusing on community outreach and benefitting from additional career preparation through future placements with NPS and SCA. By ensuring that the Academy is an open-ended opportunity, participant retention has been dramatically increased, as has the likelihood that members will be successful in competing for seasonal and permanent positions with the National Park Service. More than a third of all NPS Academy alumni remain involved in the conservation field through employment or internships.

A group of diverse students learning orienteering at the Campbell Creek Science Center

Orienteering at Grand Teton National Park

Student Conservation Association

The program is structured around four main goals:

  • Engage college students from diverse backgrounds in field learning opportunities that illustrate the many career paths within NPS
  • 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 additional development opportunities at school and in their community

Since the 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.

A group of students in the snow at Grand Teton National Park learning orientieering
Student Conservation Association

In completing his NPS Academy internship, Manuel Ramirez, a trails intern at Rocky Mountain National Park, joins the ranks of those alumni who have been forever impacted by their service:

“The National Park Service Academy through the Student Conservation Association has not only helped me to put my foot in the door via networking and meeting new people in the service, but also drastically opened my eyes to the world of opportunities that can be found in the NPS. The approaching end of my internship is bittersweet, because I will unfortunately have to leave, but I can leave with a newfound knowledge and hope that I will be back in a national park soon.”

Learn more about the work of the Student Conservation Association. To learn more about NPS Academy, click here.


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