Project goal: Educate and inspire new environmental leaders through interconnected UC Merced–affiliated programs.

Why this work matters: National parks need the next generation of engaged supporters, advocates and leaders — and champions who reflect the nation’s diverse population.

In partnership with the University of California, Merced, the park is working to educate, inspire and, ultimately, employ new public lands leaders. Many UC Merced students come from populations that historically have been underrepresented in Yosemite and other parks; more than 70% are first-generation college students.

With your support in 2020, interconnected programs are helping create links among the park, UC Merced and neighboring communities, while shaping the next generation of environmental leaders:

  • Student rangers based at the on-campus UC Merced Wilderness Education Center help their community connect with Yosemite through educational resources, field trips and stewardship projects. They also lead activities for thousands of local schoolchildren through the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids initiative.
  • The academic-year Yosemite Leadership Program encourages undergraduates to become lifelong stewards through four semesters of environmental studies, personal and professional development, and hands-on projects.

When UC Merced closed its campus this spring to protect students, faculty and staff during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Wilderness Education Center and Yosemite Leadership Program quickly transitioned to offer engaging online resources and activities.

The Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship, a 12-week internship that is normally part of this suite of interconnected programs, has been canceled for the 2020 season, due to the pandemic.

These programs have widespread, long-lasting impacts. Yosemite Leadership Program students mentor participants in other Conservancy-supported Youth in Yosemite programs. Wilderness Education Center rangers — who are often YLP internship alumni — explore careers while working in summer positions in Yosemite. Program graduates follow paths to full-time roles with the National Park Service and other public agencies; in Yosemite, you might run into former YLP and WEC students conducting educational outreach, protecting visitors and resources, and more. 

How your support helps: Your donations are crucial to the continued success of programs that are shaping the next generation of environmental stewards. With your help, these three programs give college students opportunities to gain the skills, experience and passion necessary to take on the challenges facing our public lands.

Partnering with Yosemite National Park and University of California, Merced, as well as Yosemite- and Merced-area schools and numerous local, regional and national organizations.

Jesse Chakrin

Yosemite Leadership Program and Wilderness Education Center Director, National Park Service

Project Notes

"These programs represent multiyear, multigenerational programs that effectively address the long-term, growing challenges of relevancy, inclusion and leadership development facing national parks."