Unplugged and Outside: LEAF Blog 2012

Another beautiful summer greets us here in Washington, and with it a new group of LEAF interns set off on a Nature Conservancy adventure. They hail from Tacoma, and these guys have a lot in common. They can break dance, they uniformly dislike spiders (we’ll cure them of that!) and most importantly, they each have a love of nature.

LEAF Interns Say Goodbye to Coast and Coulee

Last week, Washington’s four LEAF interns completed the journey of a lifetime. These soon-to-be seniors from Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute, spent their summer with Conservancy scientists on the Washington coast and in eastern Washington.

Now, after two weeks at Moses Coulee Preserve they’re returning home as true environmental youth leaders, poised to make a serious difference in conservation in their community and beyond.

View a slideshow of the guys in eastern Washington.

Watch a video!

The Wild East

As LEAF intern Brandon said, “You don’t know what’s out there until you see it.” During the final two weeks, the interns got to see a whole different side of Washington. They liked what they saw. Among the basalt cliffs and wide-open skies, the interns tracked pygmy rabbit burrows, banded songbirds, counted calls of the spotted bat and measured the growth of shrub-steppe.

Overcoming Challenges Together

There were some hardships along the way. As Vincent said, “I felt comfortable out in nature, except for the bugs all up in my face.” And Brandon said, “I was afraid of snakes and spiders, but after living in this place, I overcame it.” There were also moments of beauty—“the surroundings were amazing and I’ve never seen so many stars in my whole life,” said Gregory.

As for their teamwork, Vincent says they now feel like brothers. Alex said, “I bonded with the other interns. We were always laughing.”

And they have their LEAF mentor, Pete Teigen, to thank for making hard work fun. Brandon said, “my mentor taught me new things and made me become more independent.” And Vincent said, “I’ve gotten rid of bad habits and created new ones like recycling, exercising and thinking about the consequences of my actions.”

The LEAF mentor plays a critical role, guiding the students through their internship. Pete said, “LEAF creates leaders by exposing students to what conservation actually looks like through hands-on experience. I have more optimism now because these young men have become strong leaders.”

Looking Towards the Future

The experience has been life changing. Each intern has come away equipped with a passion for the environment and the knowledge to help nature. Brandon said, “Before LEAF, I knew there were problems with nature but I didn’t know there were people doing something about it. Through meeting people, I saw that you can educate people about conservation.” Greg called LEAF a completely new experience. He said, “I’ve been through other youth programs but nothing was as good as this—it was freeing.”

Washington's 2012 interns join a prestigious group of fellow LEAF alumni. Click here to see the proven impacts of LEAF. Our interns will share their experiences with peers back at school. In addition, LEAF’s Educator’s Network ensures that lessons in the field continue in the classroom to benefit everyone, including teachers.

As Vincent said, “ I want people and other kids to know what their actions mean for the future” Spoken like a true leader.

Congratulations to Alex, Brandon, Vincent and Greg on their 2012 LEAF internship!

Update From the Field

Washington’s LEAF interns have already pulled invasive weeds, planted trees, picked up Tsunami debris on the beach and stared up in awe at towering old growth trees. They even woke up in the wee hours of the morning and tromped into the woods to survey for marbled murrelets, a threatened seabird. They’ve climbed Saddle Mountain, balanced their monthly budget, cooked meals, cleaned and did laundry. And they’re only half way through their internship!   

Gregory Smith, one of Washington’s four LEAF interns, sums up his experience well. He said, “my first week has been really great. I’ve done things I never thought I could or would have done before.”

Check out a photo slideshow from their first two weeks on the Washington coast. And watch a video as Brandon, Alex, Gregory and Vincent describe their first impressions. 

The interns and their mentor Pete left the coast last week and forged ahead to a very different landscape - Moses Coulee Preserve in eastern Washington. Here, they’ll count bats, band songbirds, build trails and be part of a cool photo-monitoring project. 

They’ve already done so much - and there’s still more to come! Stay tuned for more updates from the field.

Meet Washington’s 2012 Interns!

Meet Brandon, Greg, Alex and Vincent. They’re four high school seniors from Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute, spending their summer as part of The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program.

LEAF is all about empowering the next generation of conservation leaders. The program, funded by Toyota USA Foundation, provides paid summer internships for urban students in natural areas across the nation. For the first time ever, LEAF has expanded to serve students from the West Coast. These young men received prestigious LEAF internships because each of them has the potential to become a powerful environmental leader, and this summer sets them on that path.

Check out our slideshow to learn more about each of our 2012 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 breakdance!
  • 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.
The Game Plan

This month, you can follow these guys as they tromp through coastal rainforests at Ellsworth Creek 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.

During the course of their four-week internship, these students will participate in conservation and restoration activities. Among the coastal old-growth cedar and spruce, interns will plant trees, clean up tsunami debris at Long Beach and monitor endangered marbled murrelets. On the east side, they will count spotted bats, band songbirds and build trails. Guided by an experienced mentor, the interns will return to the city with new confidence, skills and memories (and we hope lose that fear of spiders along the way).

You won’t want to miss their journey. Stay tuned to this page for weekly updates on their summer internship.


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