From Times Square to Fresh Air

"My main goal in life is to become an environmentalist. I want to be able to protect those organisms that have no defense from climate change, because all life is important, no matter how big or small."

—Tiana Cruz


Ask 16-year-old Tiffany Smith what she would want to see printed if someone wrote a bio of her, and you’ll get an answer straight from the heart.

“I would like it to say ‘Tiffany Smith was a strong and successful woman who believed in herself,’” she says.

The New York resident, a native of Guyana, is one of 72 high school students from urban environments who are heading to preserves across the country as part of the Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for Future program, or LEAF.

Tiffany will be spending her summer with the Conservancy in Washington, along with two other teenagers from New York. You can follow their adventures on our Washington LEAF Blog.

For many of these high school students, it will be their first experience in the outdoors. 

“I applied to this program because I want an experience in working with the environment,” Tiffany said. “I’m expecting this program to change my life and give me an understanding of what the rest of my life will be.”

Future Leaders

LEAF is all about empowering the next generation of conservation leaders. The program works with a select group of environmental high schools, and provides paid summer internships for students in natural areas across the nation. It also helps educators from environmental high schools share best practices and resources during the academic year.

Washington’s LEAF interns arrive in July and they’re in for an adventure. Their itinerary includes time spent hunting for invasive weeds at Port Susan Bay Preserve, trail maintenance in national parks, fish monitoring, and learning to use GPS. They’ll be learning about Puget Sound and conservation directly from our scientists out in the field, where they’ll be trudging through the mud, digging in the dirt and getting up-close-and-personal with wildlife.

It will be a far cry from what these girls are used to.

“I love the dirt, but I don’t like bugs much,” says Tiffany, in her LEAF application.

Goodbye, City Life

But Washington’s LEAF interns are up for the challenge. Tiffany has the highest GPA in her school. She says the biggest challenge in her life so far was leaving Guyana with her family to start a new life in America. “I love nature and I’m so excited to do this program,” she said.

Tiana Cruz says her biggest challenge has been the college process.

“I have come across the challenge of finding a college that fits my needs, whether it’s tuition or majors,” she said.

Tiana was born in the Bronx and attends The High School for Environmental Studies. Her main goal in life is to become an environmentalist, and she thinks the LEAF program is the perfect start on that path.

“I want to be able to protect those organisms that have no defense from climate change because all life is important, no matter how big or small,” she said. “I want to also teach others about the different ways I’ve learned about conserving our planet.”

Khadijah Michael, also from New York, is Washington's third LEAF intern. She hopes to go canoeing, hiking and kayaking this summer.

“I am expecting to learn more about nature and animals and plants and how to keep them alive,” she said. 


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