Renewing My “beLEAF” in the Future of Conservation

By Randi Shaw, Stewardship Manager

This past summer, when I met The Nature Conserverancy's latest interns in our Leaders for Environmental Action in the Future — or LEAF program — I expected a typical chat introducing curious teens to stewardship and hands-on conservation. Joining them at Smith Preserve, where they worked with our partners at the Skagit Land Trust, I thought the most stunning part of my day would be this view:

 Smith Preserve, located off the Sauk River in the North Cascades. Photo by Randi Shaw

Smith Preserve, located off the Sauk River in the North Cascades. Photo by Randi Shaw

I was very wrong. While the interns were quite interested in the importance of on-the-ground stewardship and how I built my career in the field, I ultimately expected our conversation to drift to the usual concerns of adolescence and high school. These young women from the Science and Math Institute in Tacoma, on the other hand, brought much deeper perspectives and questions:

"How do you perceive the rise of women in environmental fields?”

“Why do you think women have been so successful in the environment but are still so underrepresented in other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas?" 

  (L to R)  Led by teacher/mentor Carol, the 2017 Washington LEAF crew included Olivia, Isabel and Jackie. Follow all LEAF intern adventures on Instagram at #tncleaf2017.  Photo by Randi Shaw / TNC.

(L to R) Led by teacher/mentor Carol, the 2017 Washington LEAF crew included Olivia, Isabel and Jackie. Follow all LEAF intern adventures on Instagram at #tncleaf2017.  Photo by Randi Shaw / TNC.

We proceeded to talk at length about various social dynamics in our science and technology fields, what it means to do field work when you aren't the stereotypical face of that work and the importance and difficulty of being a pioneer — the only girl in your applied robotics class, for example, or someone who doesn't identify as a binary gender trying to apply for a LEAF program, which expects you to pick a boy or girl crew.

It was a rejuvenating conversation, one that gave me energy for keeping the doors open to all kinds of people in our work. And it was an important reminder that younger people are thinking hard about what world they are growing into. 

While their future holds promise along many paths, these LEAF interns plan to keep conservation close:

  • Jackie is headed for the medical field but wants to be a conservation volunteer throughout her life.
  • Olivia has been planning to go into microbiology, but is also interested in youth outreach and education about conservation.
  • Isabel is interested in medical research but wants to increase sustainable practices in that field.

After their LEAF internships, these young women believe you can fold conservation principles into anything you do. The future of conservation is in very capable hands indeed!