Natural Resources Conservation Academy Inspiring Young Conservation Ambassadors

Wading hip-deep through rivers, wandering off forested trails to gather wild blueberries, and hiking through tall grasslands. At the end of the day, UConn’s Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) strives to instill a sense of adventure, excitement, appreciation and wonder for local environments, biodiversity and natural resources in Connecticut teens.

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Despite the intrinsic interest in nature by high school students participating in the NRCA, most―regardless of where they live or the schools they attend―have rarely explored nearby nature areas before participating in the NRCA. In a recent NPR segment on the NRCA (listen to the story here), Amanda Hernández (a Bridgeport rising senior) told NPR’s David DesRoches, who joined us during the field experience, “This is like, something I never see in my life.” She continued to say, “All I ever see are sidewalks, factories, and like cars. And this is just like amazing for me. This is like a Narnia. I thought this was fake, I see it in the movies, and I’m just like, ‘Where is that?'” New Haven rising senior, Jalyn Johnson, is also featured in the NPR segment, as she excitedly learned how to use radio telemetry to study the movement of wildlife.

Amanda is not alone in having few outdoor experiences. Indeed, this disconnect of today’s youth from nature is what inspired Dr. John Volin to found the NRCA. Former NRCA student Jenique Blair (a Hartford junior) told us that she had been interested in the environment since middle school and was an advocate for a recycling program at her school. Regardless, Jenique said “[During the summer], I mostly hang out at home. Even when I go out, I don’t go outside, I go from building to car to building.”

During the 2015 NRCA field experience, Jenique said, “At first, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I wanted to learn something with the environment. As the days progress, [I thought], this isn’t as hard as I thought it was, I think I can do this. And as the days went on more, [I thought] oh my goodness I love this. I am learning this, I know I can do it, and I want to do it. Give me more. And as the days went on, [I thought] I can do this, I know how to do this, and I’m going to do this as soon as I leave.” After the field experience, Jenique returned home and began working with Hartford’s Community Solutions and NRCA faculty to determine areas in need of restoration along the Gully Brook. Nestled within Hartford’s urban neighborhoods and adjacent to Keney Park, Jenique spent a number of field days in the brook studying macroinvertebrate (e.g., aquatic insects) and amphibian communities for her 10-month NRCA conservation project. On March 14, 2016, Jenique, along with the 23 other NRCA students, presented their conservation work at the 10th Annual Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources, officially graduating as a Connecticut Conservation Ambassador.

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Part of the 2016 NRCA cohort during geospatial day at the NRCA field experience with CLEAR’s Cary Chadwick and Emily Wilson

Similarly, the 2016 NRCA cohort left the summer field experience with excitement, new knowledge and inspiration as they begin their local conservation projects throughout Connecticut. Such enthusiasm is essential for completion of 10-month service-learning projects, and to inspire the next generation of young scientists and conservation ambassadors.

To learn more about the NRCA, visit http://nrca.uconn.edu/ or contact the the NRCA coordinator (nrca@uconn.edu) to learn how you can partner with the program. The NRCA is made possible through private giving. If you are interested in supporting the NRCA today, visit here.


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