Raised in south central Los Angeles, Shaqeal Alkebu-Lan, aka Shaq, had never been exposed to the National Park Service. In fact, he didn’t even know national parks existed until his high school’s ecology club gave him his first taste of the American wilderness with a trip to Yosemite National Park. Before he knew it, Shaq had two summer internships volunteering as a wilderness protection ranger in Yosemite. This sparked his passion and he changed his career path. “I realized that careers in the outdoors and conservation were more of my thing…so I gave up microbiology and went with ecology and environmental science,” Shaq said.
In 2014, Shaq learned about the National Park Service Academy and immediately applied for the internship program. “My goal with NPS Academy was simple,” he said. “This was the internship that would help me break into the workforce. I wanted to wear the green and gray so bad.” Just months later, he began his NPS Academy internship with Grand Teton National Park’s trail crew. He has been returning to the crew and wearing the green and gray every summer since.
Shaq attributes much of his success in NPS Academy and growth after the program to strong influential people in his life, beginning with his mother and continuing with youth outreach program mentors and trail crew leaders. After two summers working primarily on dry-stone masonry for the Jenny Lake renewal project, Shaq accepted the challenge of working as a leader for Grand Teton’s Youth Conservation Program. His dedication to the National Park Service, ability to communicate with young people, and outgoing personality make Shaq an outstanding role model to YCP members who are exploring the same path he chose before them. When one YCP member was asked to recall their favorite part of the season, they replied with one word, Shaq.
Acknowledging just how far he has come since his decision to pursue a job in the park service, Shaq recognizes the impact of his NPS Academy experience. “I’ve made important connections. NPS Academy opened doors for me through their invaluable network.”
Shaq recently received his Bachelor of Science in ecology and environmental science and plans to pursue a graduate degree in the future. Currently, he loves the hard work demanded on trail crew and wants to take advantage of his free time as he learned to do in summers past, “The times I spent away from home on internships were a golden opportunity for personal growth.”
Shaq will return to Grand Teton for another season on the trail crew next summer, “I can’t stress enough how much happier I am when summer comes around; I live for it.”