On March 8th, 18 college students traveled from afar to Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) for the annual NPS Academy (NPSA). The week-long spring break orientation introduced these dynamic young people to the NPS and prepared them for summer internships in national parks across the country. While these students are diverse in race, ethnicity, and cultural traditions, they all share a passion for conservation and the NPS.
The themes of this year’s spring break session were connections, diversity, leadership, legacy, and service. Students were introduced to several different branches of the NPS and to the wide-range of people and positions within each department. NPSA participants also had the privilege of listening to an impressive list of keynote speakers, including Bob Stanton, the first African American Director of the NPS, David Vela, Superintendent of GTNP, and Dennis Vasquez, Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The week was filled with engaging experiences that provided students with an in-depth look at the enormous potential for careers in the NPS.
“Never in my life have I met such an amazingly passionate, accepting, altruistic group of individuals so dedicated to their personal causes. I hope that I can carry the inspiration and spirit of this experience with me into all my future endeavors. I hope to be able to continue the legacy of the National Park Service working with the environment and the public through photography and communications.”– Jessica Zamudio, NPSA 2015
New to the program this year, NPSA curriculum challenged students to perform case studies on current issues and topics in GTNP. Students worked in small groups to analyze various stakeholder perspectives for their topic and determined an action plan for their particular study. Through hands-on learning, students realized the interconnectedness of issues within the park service and that there are many solutions to each challenge facing the NPS in its second century. After working on their cases all week, the students presented their findings to park staff and other NPS dignitaries at the conclusion of the week-long orientation. Case studies challenged students to understand and analyze complex issues in Grand Teton, preparing them for real-life scenarios they might face in the future.
“The National Park Service Academy is a young person’s chance to experience beautiful places and to become part of a community comprised of passionate individuals, who believe in serving the public, the land, and the beautiful ideals of freedom and inclusion that our nation’s parks represent — land set aside ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.'” – Jeremy Taitano, NPSA 2015
With a new understanding of and greater appreciation for the NPS, these students will spend their summer interning in parks across the country. We look forward to hearing updates from this impressive group and wish them the best this summer!