Stories from the Field

Celebrating the Sixth Year of Alcoa Scholars

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OLYM backcountry Alcoa

For the sixth year in a row, NatureBridge and Alcoa Foundation partnered to connect students from Alcoa communities around the world in two of the United States most iconic national parks.

This summer, NatureBridge welcomed 33 Alcoa Scholars to our Yosemite National Park campus and 30 Alcoa Scholars to our Olympic National Park National campus, all of whom exemplified an interest in the natural world and a passion for making an environmental impact in their communities. For two weeks, students immersed themselves in the natural world to discover, collaborate, investigate and backpack in these two national parks rich with history, unique biodiversity and beautiful, remote wilderness. 

Collectively, the 63 Scholars and their NatureBridge leaders covered nearly 156 miles of Olympic and Yosemite backcountry. During their time on the trail, Scholars studied topics including forest ecology, water quality, fire ecology and soil science. These topics, unique to the landscapes they traversed, were analyzed for the ways in which they intersect with initiatives around climate change and preserving biodiversity.

Biodiversity is critical to the Olympic National Park as it helps to preserve species that are endemic or are endangered elsewhere and gives them optimal conditions to grow. Without biodiversity, the park would look nothing like how it currently does.
Millie S., 2019 Alcoa Scholar

While conducting these hands-on science investigations, Scholars discussed the implications of their findings and how they relate to the impact of climate change in national parks, as well as on a global scale. Once back on campus, Scholars had the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Each group showcased their findings at a Science Night where they shared their research with the larger NatureBridge community, NatureBridge board members, biologists, ecologists and geologists, a member of the local Olympic Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Yosemite visitors and National Park Service staff.

In addition to studying science in the backcountry, students simultaneously developed self-awareness, built relationships, practiced responsible decision-making and defined their own roles in sustainability and climate change.

The NatureBridge Alcoa Scholars program taught me how to protect and preserve the environment, and why it is so important to do so. To read about the effects of climate change is one thing, but to see for myself what is happening in the world, such as at Anderson Glacier, really puts into perspective just how much action needs to be taken. Throughout this program I also learned a lot about myself and my capabilities, and gained confidence in myself and my ability to actually do something to make a difference.
Georgia R., 2019 Alcoa Scholar

Thanks to a generous grant from Alcoa Foundation, the 2019 Alcoa Scholars explored alpine lakes and glacial lakes, enjoyed wildflowers and rock formations, and experienced wildlife ranging from bald eagles to bears. They slept under the stars, formed long-lasting friendships and for some, saw snow for the very first time. Most importantly, these Scholars emerged from the backcountry with a stronger connection to the natural world, increased environmental literacy and the confidence to make positive changes within their schools and communities back home. 

Here are what some of our Scholars hope to accomplish in their communities upon their return:

“As I return home I will pass on my knowledge and understanding of the environment and what we can do as a community to make small changes to minimize our impact on climate change.”—Kate H.

“I just turned 18, so I hope to start making the most out of my vote and voice back home. I'm also considering making more personal changes, such as transitioning to a vegetarian diet and setting time limits on my showers.”—Philothei S.

“I am committed to supporting businesses that are serious about sustainability, as well as at home I will continue the smaller simple tasks. On a bigger scale I am prepared to share with other young people the small things that they can do, or even bigger things, and help them realise that their age does not determine their ability to achieve extraordinary things.”—Wil M.

“I think the strongest tool we have currently is education. It is important to continue to spread the work on how necessary and beautiful natural areas are to our world.”—Rosey W.

We are thrilled to watch these Alcoa Scholars grow as environmental stewards and look forward to their accomplishments in preserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change and teaching others about their impact. 

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