Growing Future Conservation Leaders
If Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is right, and young and old alike in the United States are increasingly becoming disconnected from nature, then where will the next generation of conservation leaders come from? It’s a question we are wrestling with at The Nature Conservancy.
Badger High School science teacher Corinne Grossmeier in Lake Geneva hopes some of them will come from her classes. Corinne teaches freshman biology and advanced placement environmental science to juniors and seniors.
In 2010, Corinne was a summer intern with The Nature Conservancy at our Mukwonago River Watershed project in southeast Wisconsin. Along with four other local high school students, she spent the summer learning how to identify native plants, control invasive species and restore prairies.
“That internship was my first real job, and it wasn’t just about restoring habitat,” she comments. “It helped me see that a career in natural resources was a possibility and that there were many different directions I could take.”
As a science teacher, Corinne focuses on getting her students outside as much as possible to walk, observe, and use the oak savanna and lagoon near the school as an outdoor lab. She also encourages them to apply for our internships.
One of Corinne’s students, Gabbi Kohn, interned with the Conservancy in 2018. Gabbi was one of six interns, including three high school students from Milwaukee. In 2017, we expanded our program by partnering with La Causa (a Hispanic-based non-profit that operates a charter school on Milwaukee’s south side) and Milwaukee County Parks to engage youth from diverse backgrounds in conservation.
“I’ve learned so much more than I thought I would,” Gabbi says. “It’s opened my eyes and made me realize this is what I want to do with my life.”
Since we launched the program in 1999, more than 85 young people have been hired as summer interns. Some have gone on to pursue environmental careers.
Evan Eifler, a 2008 intern, is pursuing his PhD at UW-Madison in botany. His research takes him to the tip of South Africa, a biodiversity hotspot for a remarkable group of plants in the iris family.
“Before my internship, I had no idea conservation jobs existed,” Evan says. “The internship helped guide my choice of major in undergrad and gave me the initial hands-on experience I needed to secure my first jobs at UW-Madison. It was a great way to get experience with an internationally recognized organization as a young person, an opportunity that’s not often available to people that age.”
Jerry Ziegler, Conservancy land steward in the Mukwonago project, has mentored many of our interns over the years and keeps in touch with them, sharing volunteer and job opportunities via Facebook.
“Not all our interns will pursue environmental careers,” he says. “But we teach all of them, wherever life takes them, to look at the world through a green filter. To do what they can as citizens to care for the lands and waters we all depend on.”