Erin Anderson, a former Youth Conservation Program participant, returned this year as a leader for the YCP crew. We checked in with her to find out how YCP has informed her education and career choices and what she’s learned after returning back as a leader of the crew.
Ten weeks seems short, but anyone who is lucky enough to find themselves in Grand Teton National Park for the summer as a part of the Youth Conservation Program (YCP) knows that this experience changes lives. I was on YCP in 2011 as a participant and remember how hard it was to come from San Diego, live on my own, and wake up before sunrise everyday. To do everything was a challenge at first—like fixing a lunch for a 10-hour work day or washing clothes that had been in the dirt for a 40-hour work week. Enjoying the sunrises from the bus each morning and driving to the north end of the park, I thought to myself, “How many people get to do this?”
The experience I had in YCP has stayed with me over the years and eventually drew me back to the Tetons to lead the crew this summer. There’s something magical about finding one’s self in a familiar environment year after year. My growth from participant to leader with YCP has made me a more confident individual and given me the ability to put myself inside the shoes of new YCP participants. It’s been important to be able to coach them through the daily challenges but also to share why the work they’re doing is so important to the park.
I thank the Youth Conservation Program for giving me the opportunity to create a personal connection to our national parks as well as provide me the leadership experience I know will be crucial looking forward. Through my YCP experience and studies, I’ve realized that work in environmental science and public policy is more important than ever to protect our public lands for future generations. After graduating from college in San Diego, I’m now pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science and public affairs at Indiana University. My time with YCP as both a participant and leader has had an everlasting impact on my priorities now and my vision for the future.
Thanks to Erin and all of our YCP leaders and crew members for their incredible work in Grand Teton National Park and beyond!