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Four Tacoma Teens Learn Conservation Leadership Skills Through Nature Conservancy Internship

The LEAF Program is made possible by The Toyota USA Foundation

July 06, 2012

Four young men from Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) will spend part of this summer counting bats, looking for marbled murrelets, banding songbirds and overcoming their dislike of spiders as part of The Nature Conservancy’s signature youth program, Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF).

Thanks to a generous grant from Toyota USA Foundation, the program has expanded to four new states this year, including Washington.

Brandon Gutierrez, 17, Gregory Smith, 17, Vincent Ly, 16, and Alex Mundt, 17, will tromp through coastal rainforests around Willapa Bay, and among the fragrant sagelands and basalt cliffs at Moses Coulee. These landscapes couldn’t be more different, and that’s just part of the fun. They’ll develop conservation skills, explore careers and colleges, and learn leadership skills and life lessons like budgeting, cooking and cleaning, under the guidance of mentor Pete Teigen.

The four students already have a lot in common. They can break dance, they uniformly dislike spiders and most importantly, they each have a love of nature. You can read more about them below.

LEAF’s mission is to expose urban youth to conservation careers at a young age so that they will become future stewards for our planet. The program provides paid, residential career internships for students on nature preserves around the country and enriches these experiences in the classroom by providing professional development opportunities to educators from partner high schools.

Nationally, only 6 percent of students receive bachelors’ degrees in the life science fields. According to a recent alumni survey of LEAF participants, 34 percent have gone on to major in life science fields in college and 21 percent of those majored in environmental studies. Approximately 31 percent of LEAF alumni have secured budding careers in related fields.

A Toyota USA Foundation gift of $3.1 million in 2011 continues to build on LEAF’s 17 years of success and provides critical funds to increase the number of environmental high schools and students served, including SAMI.

Meet Washington’s LEAF Interns:

Brandon Gutierrez, 17, was born in Tacoma and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. He wants to be an environmental engineer. Why did he apply for LEAF? He says, “I felt that I needed to spend time with nature to see the problems we have caused.”

Gregory Smith, 17, is a self-described “funny man” who likes to do stand-up comedy, practice Chinese yo-yo and skateboard. He wants to become a college professor to “help teach people about the earth and the environment.”

Vincent Ly, 16, hopes to be an oceanographer. He says, “I love the water and the mysteries in it.” Through LEAF, Vincent says, “I am expecting to learn more about the world and how to conserve nature… through hands-on learning and experiences with the outdoors” He can also break dance!

Alex Mundt, 17, is excited to go on adventures, see wildlife and explore future career opportunities. He says, “I enjoy everything from nature walks to overnight hikes and from biking to boating. I am simple to entertain.” We suspect he’ll enjoy the summer.

Learn more about the students that LEAF serves, the Toyota USA Foundation and about this unique partnership model at

About the Toyota USA Foundation
The Toyota USA Foundation is a $100 million charitable endowment created to support education programs serving kindergarten through 12th grade students and their teachers in the United States, with an emphasis on mathematics, science and environmental science. More information about the Toyota USA Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Robin Stanton
206) 436-6274

Barbara French
(206) 436-6267

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