The National Park Service Academy (NPSA) is one of the Foundation’s youth initiatives that introduces diverse college students to a range of career paths within the National Park Service. The yearly program kicks off with a spring break orientation in Grand Teton and subsequent 12-week summer internships in national parks across the country. Since the program’s founding in Grand Teton in 2011, over 350 students have participated in spring break sessions and completed a summer-long NPS internship. Along with valuable on-the-job training, these career-minded participants learn the details of national park operations through workshops, field trips, and recreational opportunities.
Now that the program is in its 6th year, many of the students are old enough to be part of the work force. Recently, two NPSA alums were named as some of the industry’s best and brightest as part of the Outdoor 30 Under 30 list. This recognition demonstrates that former NPSA participants have not only pursued careers in the NPS or similar fields, but are at the top of their game. The two alums, Alfonso Orozco and CJ Goulding, proudly shared their stories and the origin of their interest in the NPSA with the Foundation.
“I don’t know if I can emphasize enough how impactful this program has been for me personally and professionally. The connections that I have made that have helped me in my career path are unparalleled. NPSA is unlike any program I’ve ever been a part of.”
-Alfonso Orozco (NPSA 2014)
The son of two Mexican-born parents, Alfonso Orozco grew up in Oakland, CA, where opportunities to camp were limited and trips to the closest national park were not among the list of family activities. During a semester at San Francisco State University, Alfonso was introduced to overnight backpacking. Without any prior experience, he knew he needed to get his hands on gear and get out into the wilderness. Lucky enough for Alfonso, one of these outings fortuitously led him to another NPSA alum who told him about the program and encouraged him to apply. “I remember getting off the plane and jumping straight into the snow,” said Alfonso. “Coming from a big city and staying in rustic cabins among wildlife—it reinforced my belief that I wanted to work in the outdoors.”
Alfonso found that the week in Grand Teton gave him the tools he needed to prepare for jobs within the NPS and make connections for future opportunities. “It is a daunting task to figure out the NPS hiring process. NPSA gives us a great advantage by offering us so much information and creating relationships that will last for a lifetime,” said Alfonso.
Today, Alfonso attends the Teton Science Schools’ graduate program and says he is on his way to reaching his goal of becoming a park superintendent. His various experiences working as a seasonal interpretive intern at Alcatraz Island and his permanent positon working in the US Virgin Islands were informed by what he learned during his time in the program. “I hadn’t even considered working for the NPS and didn’t know if I would have made it to this point if it were not for NPSA.”
“When I think of environmental responsibility, I think about prioritizing people. If people feel respected, in turn, they will respect and take care of their environment.”
– CJ Goulding (NPSA 2011)
CJ Goulding first heard about NPSA in 2011 while searching for a summer internship. Having never spent time in a national park, he was drawn to the opportunity to spend a week in Grand Teton during his spring break. That week had such an impact on CJ that he returned the following year to work as a program mentor. “The week of the academy was big because a lot of the things I experienced—connections with people and place—were presented in a way that stuck with me,” said CJ. “The next year, I wanted to play a role in creating that experience for someone else.”
After his time in NPSA, CJ has held various positions in the NPS and other related nonprofits. He is focused on outdoor leadership and wants to continue to work in community engagement. “I want to continue to make sure that organizations I work in have a diverse, equitable culture and allow me to get outdoors,” said CJ. “When I think about those factors, the job title I could hold really ranges. I could be a community engagement leader for a national park… or an ED for a nonprofit… or an author!” NPSA opened the door to many opportunities for CJ. “The academy has definitely played a part in me building who I am today. I think every opportunity and situation, every internship that I’ve had, and every person I’ve come across, has added a piece to my puzzle, and I have NPSA to thank for that.”
On behalf of the Foundation, thank you to our donors and partners for making this program a reality