A project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) with the intent of encouraging college students to focus on conservation careers through work-study projects, convened at the National Conservation Center (NCTC) during the last weekend in October. The project, TogetherGreen Youth, selected 19 college students to work as “fellows” during the summer and fall of 2011.

While conferencing at NCTC, these college fellows shared their experiences of working on community conservation projects, celebrated their successes, and met with conservation professionals. With collaboration from the Service, the National Audubon Society, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the college fellows worked at zoos, aquariums, Audubon centers, and Service facilities in or near four cities: Charleston, SC; Columbus, OH; San Antonio, TX; and Seattle, WA.

Selected by staff from each of the participating facilities, students hired for the summer worked as environmental educators to teach summer programs offered at each site. After a brief respite, they returned to their college classes, while maintaining their education work at their site for credit. Additionally, each fellow worked with their staff supervisor to plan and implement a small community-based project that promotes conservation and uses the skills the students learned over the summer.

Fellow community projects, supported by a Service grant, included building a nature trail on a local schools’ property; engaging families in citizen science programs; collecting data on flora and fauna; preventing the introduction of invasive fish species to rivers; and using social media to promote environmental awareness and stewardship.

During their October weekend at NCTC, the fellows used the opportunity to meet and seek advice from five alumni TogetherGreen fellows and mid-career professionals chosen for a TogetherGreen Toyota Fellowship, upon which this grant was patterned. They also received a presentation from the NCTC Division of Education Outreach Team Leader Georgia Jeppesen on Service career options, as well as information on graduate programs and professional associations in conservation from the National Audubon Society and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The TogetherGreen college fellows rounded out their weekend with NCTC’s challenge course (held at the gym due to six inches of snow!), a bonfire, and the opportunity to bond with others in their program that they had never met. Below are a few comments about the weekend and their fellowships:

“Thank you for an inspiring weekend. I am truly new to this world of conservation and I like the view from here. Meeting you and your colleagues was a great experience for me. I know that I have something to offer this field, and when I find my way, I won't disappoint.”

“I want to thank each of you for making this past weekend's TogetherGreen Youth conference at NCTC an absolutely unforgettable experience. It was truly inspiring to be in your company and learn from your endeavors. I'm grateful for the foundation you've created for each of us as TogetherGreen Youth fellows, and look forward to working with our newly-created team.”

“I just wanted to thank you for last weekend. It was truly a boost for our projects. I know I can speak for everyone when I say that it has changed our lives and our future careers. You guys truly feel like a new family, which is beyond description.”

For the remainder of the semester, the fellows will be completing their community education and conservation projects, creating a short video about it, writing a white paper, and posting their profiles on the youth portal. At least four of the TogetherGreen fellows will be hired full-time next summer by their facilities, showing that the goal of this grant—to get college students interested in conservation careers—is being met.