For several years, Yosemite Conservancy donors have been helping to shape a new generation of Yosemite ambassadors and stewards by supported enriching on-campus resources and academic-year programming at the University of California, Merced, located about 80 miles from the park’s western border. The two-year Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) at UC Merced integrates leadership training with personal and professional development opportunities to create generations of socially engaged, environmentally aware park stewards. Program participants also run the on-campus Wilderness Education Center, which encourages students, faculty, staff and community members to discover Yosemite’s natural and cultural resources through educational materials, field trips, stewardship projects and more.

With support from Conservancy donors, the UC Merced Wilderness Education Center has grown from one employee to a staff of two-full time National Park Service rangers and 8 to 10 part-time student rangers. In recent years, the Center has helped nearly 550 students discover Yosemite through field trips, contacted tens of thousands of young people on campus and at local schools, and hired more than 30 UC Merced undergraduates to work as student rangers.

Conservancy donors also support the YLP Summer Internship program in Yosemite, which gives college students from UC Merced and elsewhere the opportunity spend 12 weeks living, working and learning in the park. This program, one of the premier internships in the National Park Service, inspires young people to develop deep connections with Yosemite as they gain valuable hands-on career and stewardship experience.

With support from Conservancy donors, the YLP internship program has been able to incorporate new elements and expand its reach in recent years.  In 2010, for example, the program introduced a course on environmental leadership as a core component of the internship curriculum. In 2013, Conservancy funding allowed YLP to expand its annual reach from 14 to 16 internship positions. That same year, the program began creating pathways to encourage alumni from other donor-funded Youth in Yosemite programs, such as WildLink, to learn about the internship opportunity.

By working alongside wildlife managers, Preventive Search and Rescue teams, American-Indian cultural demonstrators and others, YLP interns receive unique on-the-job training with top-notch public-lands professionals. Students also learn about environmental leadership and complete projects that benefit the park. In recent years, for example, interns have helped with restoration work in Mariposa Grove, created a park employee newsletter, assisted with Parks in Focus stewardship activities, and developed new interpretive programs and materials. At the end of the summer, the interns share their experiences during a public symposium in Yosemite. This program serves as a robust pathway to public-lands careers for students who might not otherwise have the chance to visit or work in a national park.

Thanks to your support, more young people have the opportunity to become inspired by Yosemite, leading to life-changing results. To meet some of the young people who have benefited from YLP programming, read the Q&A from the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of the Yosemite Conservancy magazine.

Bee Xiong

YLP participant

Project Notes

It was at that moment — that hit me so hard, and I realized that I have found where I want to be. I have found where I belong.