Veronica Verdin is a senior at Bowdoin College in Maine and an alumna of the NPS Academy class of 2014. Following the spring break orientation in Grand Teton, Veronica interned at Zion National Park last summer and returned to the NPS Academy orientation in March of 2015 as a program mentor. Here she shares her experience with NPS Academy and how the program has had a significant impact on her life.
My NPS Academy experience began when I was about nine years old and my parents drove me to Zion National Park in Southern Utah. I spent the majority of my time there wading through the Virgin River, thrusting stones into my parent’s faces and asking, “Is this an arrowhead?” Although I only discovered triangle-shaped rocks that trip, the experience overall led me to discover a fascination for the beauty of southwestern landscapes and the history and culture they preserve. Flash forward to my junior year of college, when I found myself working an SCA internship at Zion National Park in Cultural Resource Management. There I stumbled upon 900-year-old projectile points, pottery shards, and other artifacts, which fuelled a growing passion for preserving and protecting our national parks.
The feeling of success and fulfillment I took away from that summer can largely be attributed to the NPS Academy orientation in Grand Teton National Park that took place months prior, which was truly a life changing experience. We arrived as students from all corners of the country, lured by the promise of jobs and internships; I can honestly say we left with something that surpassed all expectations. We talked about identity, about appearances, and about race. We discussed where we came from, where we were, and where we thought we could go someday. We heard from inspirational speakers and were moved by the openness with which they greeted us. We shared our ideas about how to stay true to ourselves while feeding our passion and commitment to preserving the shared stories and cultures that unite us.
By the end of the week, we had become more than the 2014 NPS Academy class: we were a family. It felt pretty mystical at the time. After recently returning from being a mentor at this year’s NPS Academy in Grand Teton, I’ve realized the magic of the program is real, thanks to the setting, the goal, the passion, and most importantly the people that take the time and energy to make the NPS Academy happen. The park rangers, SCA staff, Teton Science Schools, and generous donors and partner organizations continue to impact lives through the Academy because people believe in its mission. What a beautiful mission it is!
As I begin my last few months as an undergraduate, I am happy to say that I will be pursuing a career with the National Park Service after graduation. Nothing fills me with more joy and excitement than the prospect of protecting and sharing our public lands and the many natural and cultural wonders that reside within them with others. The NPS Academy helped me realize that, and I am forever grateful.