From ridge to reef, teens inspired to pursue conservation through exploration of natural world

From ridge to reef, teens inspired to pursue conservation through exploration of natural world

Weeklong residential program fosters friendship and connection

In early July, 15 teens between their junior year of high school and freshmen year of college met each other for the first time. Hailing from as close by as Tiburon and Santa Rosa, California and as far as Metairie, Louisiana and Chicago, Illinois, they gathered as fellow participants of Conservation Science Intensive (CSI). They knew they were about to embark on a week of exploration of conservation science with others who shared an interest in environmental protection. They did not know that they would leave the experience with close friends and mentors. One participant wrote: “I really made lifelong friends at CSI. I’ve made closer friends here in four and a half days than I have in all my life.”

Now in its eighth year, the weeklong residential program is designed to bridge the gender science gap with female-centered perspective. Participants became familiar with the varied landscape of coastal Marin County, from the chaparral and redwood forests of the ridge tops to the rocky intertidal zones and mudflats of the coastline. “One of my favorite experiences was hiking through the redwoods,” shared one participant. “It was such a surreal experience to look up and see how tall the trees were and to take it all in.” Another participant commented, “An experience that stayed in my mind was the mudflat surveys. I watched many of us basically play in mud and break down societal norms that girls must stay clean and pretty and watched many of us have an amazing time getting into the mud and learning. To me it felt incredibly connecting.”

Hands-on conservation science and mentorship create desire to pursue conservation

Participants had the opportunity to connect with peer mentors who had attended the program in the past, as well as a range of conservation professionals at all stages of their careers, from recent college graduates working as interns to a retired scientist. One participant shared, “This week has flourished a distinct desire to learn more about the natural world and go into the conservation field. I felt so understood and inspired by the people around me this week, more than possibly any other week in my life. I am truly so thankful to experience something like that.” In addition, participants learned from each other, as one mentor remarked: “I was blown away with how knowledgeable the participants were. Everyone brought their own offering of knowledge that satiated others. I was equally impressed by how eager they were to explore the natural world. Whether it be lichen, birds, or intertidal species, all the participants were stoked to observe and learn more about the local ecology and conservation practices at [Martin Griffin Preserve] and in Marin County.”

The young people took part in a wide range of experiences, including collecting data on lichen and seeing their data visualized on GIS, using transects to compare the species diversity of two mudflats, viewing bird mist netting and banding, removing invasive plants, honing public speaking skills, and contemplating their own place in the conservation landscape. To sum it all up, one participant wrote, “My time at CSI had to be the fun-est week of my life.”

The program cost is kept low and scholarships are granted — thanks to donations from generous individuals, foundations, and businesses — in an effort to make CSI equitable and inclusive.