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 underserved by Yosemite and other parks; more than 70% are first-generation college students.

Three interconnected programs help connect 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.

  Through Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internships, college students spend 12 weeks working with professionals in the park, where they receive on-the-job training and complete projects that benefit Yosemite. This highly regarded program serves as a pathway to public lands careers for students who otherwise might not have the chance to visit or work in a national park.

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 delivering educational programs, protecting visitors and resources, coordinating our art programs at Happy Isles, 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 will 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."