Stories from the Field

Alumni Spotlight: Anya Gupta

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It’s pretty impressive to say that I’ve been obsessed with a place since I was 13—thanks to the NatureBridge program!” For alum Anya Gupta, that place is Yosemite National Park. Starting with her eighth grade trip to NatureBridge Yosemite in 2014—a trip that Anya declares “changed my life”—Anya has been pursuing paths that would allow her to return to Yosemite to explore, discover and serve. Even when she is physically distant from the park (as she is right now while completing dual bachelor’s degrees in Earth Climate Science and Environmental Science at Duke University), Anya keeps Yosemite close to her heart.

It was a moment at Devil's Elbow with her classmates and her NatureBridge educator when everything clicked for Anya. Educator Ayla Mae Wild queried if anyone knew the name of the geological formation called El Capitan, and Anya surprised everyone by piping up with the correct answer: a pluton! “I remember hating my earth science class in seventh grade,” Anya recalls. The rote memorization of vocabulary made her miserable, and she repeatedly wondered, “Why am I doing this?” Sitting in the shadow of El Capitan that day, Anya realized that there were real-world applications for the terms and concepts she’d been learning in the classroom. “The NatureBridge experience really complemented my experiences,” she remarks—and it inspired her to learn more.

It was so amazing to be in this natural space and look up and see these granite faces…very distant from the stress and anxiety of starting a new school… I felt very grounded and at peace at Yosemite.
Anya Gupta, former NatureBridge student

Anya remembers asking her educator the fateful question “Can you work here?” during her class’s challenge hike to Union Point. When Ayla affirmed that working at Yosemite National Park was indeed a potential career path, Anya made up her mind that she would be back. Following her class trip to NatureBridge, Anya and her family returned to Yosemite and completed an impressive hike all the way from Glacier Point down to the Valley. “Our family outings started to change after I had more interest in spending more time outside,” Anya reflects. “We wound up doing much more exploration of public lands after that NatureBridge trip.” With her family’s support, Anya started to dream of a future that would center her in the outdoors, maybe even at Yosemite.

My goal was, I want to be a park ranger before I turn 20!
Anya Gupta, former NatureBridge student

After serving with the Youth Conservation Corps in Yosemite the summer after her junior year of high school, Anya began applying to colleges and formulating a plan for herself: “My goal was, I want to be a park ranger before I turn 20!” During her gap year, Anya worked as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) park guide at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Later, she spent her first summer working with the National Park Service (NPS) at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Finally, in 2022, Anya achieved her goal of returning to Yosemite with NPS, working as a ranger at the Wawona campground and collecting fees at the park’s south entrance.

Today, Anya is completing her bachelor’s degrees at Duke, and she will be graduating at the end of this term. In the spring, she hopes to travel and pursue additional outdoor training and certifications. But even if those travels and studies take her far afield, she remains hopeful that her trail will wend its way back to Yosemite in time for her to experience her first fall season in the Sierra Nevada. “I’m super inspired by that mountain range and the people I’ve met there,” Anya says with appreciation. Those inspirational individuals include her original NatureBridge educator, Ayla Mae Wild, and her current mentors, Mark and Shirley Spencer (Shirley also taught at NatureBridge when it was known as Yosemite Institute), who have been sharing their deep love and knowledge of Yosemite with Anya since she met them during her YCC summer.

In a world that is becoming increasingly digitized…NatureBridge programs are a really important way for youth to be fully present with themselves and with the natural world.
Anya Gupta, former NatureBridge student

While it is indeed impressive that Anya has been inspired by a place since she was a middle schooler, it’s even more impressive to see the motivation, determination and love that she has embodied along her journey, a journey which began at NatureBridge. Congratulations and happy trails, Anya!

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