Stories from the Field

2019 Olympic Alcoa Scholars

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Entering its sixth year, the Alcoa Scholars program provides an opportunity for students from around the world to explore the wonder of Olympic and Yosemite National Parks through a two-week journey of backpacking, studying biodiversity and climate change and exploring environmental issues with fellow peers. Developed to inspire the next generation of global environmental leaders and funded entirely by Alcoa Foundation, the program selects participants based on their environmental interest and their motivation to make an impact in their home communities. This year, 63 students have been selected, 30 of whom will be enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest in Olympic.

We're thrilled to welcome our first group of Olympic Alcoa Scholars in less than one week! On July 14, 2019, scholars from around the world will arrive to our NatureBridge campus on Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park to prepare for a multi-day backpacking adventure.

Alcoa Scholars in Olympic National Park

The first program will consist of two trail groups, comprised of 10 students each. One trail group will begin their journey in the Hoh Rain Forest and end in the Sol Duc River Valley. The other trail group will start in the Quinault Rain Forest, hike through Enchanted Valley, and out along the Dosewallips River. Each journey is spectacular and will include between five and 10 miles of hiking each day. 

By the time they hit the backcountry, Alcoa Scholars will have checked their gear and learned how to pack their bags, how to set up a tent and how to use a whisper lite backpacking stove. Once on the trail, the students will master “Expedition Behavior,” which includes setting up camp, staying warm at night and keeping things dry. 

Throughout the journey, learned skills will include:

  • Leadership skills
  • Boot Lacing/blister prevention
  • Group travel techniques
  • Basic and advanced cooking skills
  • Personal hygiene in the backcountry 
  • Treating water in the backcountry and how to stay hydrated       

With pre-trip readings under their belt, participants will take part in student-designed investigations focused on biodiversity, climate change and environmental leadership. These topics will from forest ecology, water quality and soil science to the impact of visitors on park landscapes while hiking in the backcountry. And perhaps most importantly, while exploring Olympic, learning about the environment and gaining important skills, these Alcoa Scholars will simultaneously be building a community and fostering life-long relationships.

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I’m most excited about meeting new people, who despite all the cultural differences have the same passion as me: the environment.
Alcoa Scholar Borbála Felföldi

Alcoa Scholars Through the Years

Since its inception in 2014, the Alcoa Scholars program has seen nearly 300 high school students experience the life-changing adventure. Karly Lent is one of those students. In 2015, Karly hopped on a plane to California, never having backpacked in her life. She joined students from all over the world, whom she had never met, to backpack through the Olympic wilderness, learning life-changing lessons as they went. Four years later, the impact of the program still resonates.

"Overall, I have more respect for the environment from that trip. Because I was completely immersed in nature, I truly got to know and understand the importance of preservation and my carbon footprint," she said. "...I try to relay the messages I learned to family and friends whenever I can so that they can do their part in being a positive environmental steward." 

Throughout each program this summer, we'll be sharing regular updates on our social media platforms. Be sure to follow along the #AlcoaScholars journey by following us @naturebridge on Twitter and Instagram.

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