People and Place: NPSA 2024 March Experience in Grand Teton National Park

By Liz Haley and Karla Hernandez

Day 0: Leadership

With confidence and no hesitation, we immediately accepted to return to NPSA, this time as peer mentors. To support the cohort to the best of our abilities we had to prepare and of course lead by example. We were delighted to return to the March Experience at Grand Teton National Park, especially since exactly one year ago we were in the same shoes as the new members. Once landed, we were reunited with our very own mentors from the previous year, folks from the American Conservation Experience and the National Park Service. During Day 0 we came together with Teton Science Schools to devise and review the plans for the week. This included crucial conversation regarding partnerships, responsibilities, the experience, and intersectionality of our own identities. Day 0 served as a refresher for us and it set the leadership team for a successful and rewarding week.

Day 1: Welcome 2024 NPSA Cohort

The NPSA March member experience is always jam packed with excitement, and this year was no exception. In fact, a low visibility winter storm made the schedule even MORE consolidated, with flights being delayed and canceled left and right. We were grateful for everyone’s safe arrivals on Day 1 as we shuttled members from the airport to Kelly Campus throughout the day. The travel difficulties did not dampen their spirits, but rather deepened their engagement and immediately forged friendships as we met that evening introducing the NPSA program. After dinner, they quickly established a nightly routine of games, deep talks and stargazing that would follow for the rest of the week. This cohort was becoming fast friends in a way that is sure to support them throughout their summers and beyond, no matter the distance between parks. It was as if they had met already and were reuniting as old friends.

NPS Academy Group Image

Members bonding over games.

Day 2: Connecting to the Roots of People and Place

Despite being snowed in, the members were in good spirits as this was the first official NPSA day. After breakfast, we kicked off the day by doing an iconic name game dance chain and then moved into creating the group agreements for the week. Members shared what they valued and how they could best support one another during and after the March experience. After, Ranger Steve Phan introduced the NPS and NPSA and also shared his inspiration to work in the park service, people and place. The members noted how moved they were by Steve’s presentation. As promised, after spending the morning becoming familiar with NPSA, TSS led a highly anticipated snowshoe hike and introduced place-based learning. This was a great way to become familiar with the campus. As the day came to an end we learned how powerful and impactful vulnerability is. The cohort also learned about reciprocity and our relationship with the land and nature from NPSA alumni, Cameran Bashnsen.

NPS Academy photo

Group agreements inspired by NPS arrowhead

Day 3: Exploring the Diversity of People and Place

After maintaining secrecy for days, the mountains finally revealed themselves at sunrise. By the 3rd day members were fully comfortable, connections and conversations were occurring organically, and laughter and anecdotes filled the room. After having breakfast we kicked off the day with a review of the day and icebreaker before moving into a dialogue of the challenges and opportunities of diversity. During this dialogue members created a safe environment where they had the opportunity to share about their own experience and support one another. To help navigate and conclude this dialogue we created a toolkit that they could use. This toolkit is meant to support the members during and beyond their time as an NPSA member. Next, it was time for the members to jump into hands-on learning experience through a physical science snow activity. After lunch and town exploration time, we returned to campus for a Q&A career session panel on Wildlife, Vegetation, Cultural and Social Sciences and NPSA alumni panel. Having the opportunity to learn and explore different career interests and hear from multiple different perspectives and experiences is supportive to the members as this helps them relate and connect with their network of people.

NPS Academy session

NPSA members in exploration sessions

Day 4: Foundations and Service of Legacy

Being the last full day of the March experience, the members were thrilled to soak in the day’s excitement. To continue preparing members for their summer terms, we started the day with a chat on legacy and mentorship and how this can look many different ways. Everyone’s legacy is different and personal and how we can find mentors unexpectedly and in friends. Members also had more career exploration opportunities after joining Fire, Historic Preservation, Law Enforcement and Search and Rescue Rangers on workshop sessions. After lunch, it was networking time and members mingled and connected with park rangers. For our legacy chat, we interviewed former NPS Director, Robert Stanton, where members learned about the importance of legacy, his work in the park service and his impact as the first African American NPS Director. Like the members, Director Stanton began his career in the park service as a seasonal park ranger. He started working as a seasonal park ranger in 1962 and 35 years later in 1997 he became the 15th Director of the National Park Service. After signing a collection of gratitude cards, reflection time and a filing dinner, it was time for the closing ceremony. The cohort felt closer than ever, tears were shed and hugs exchanged. We all laughed and we all cried as everyone shared their closing thoughts on the experience, our legacy and purpose. It became clear that no matter what, this was a week that will forever be in our hearts regardless of where life takes us.

Day 5: Until next time…

One final breakfast prepared members for their journeys back to different corners of the country. You would not have known that they just met a few days prior, and I think it is safe to say that everyone came out of this week with rekindled passion and new friends in many places.

Everyone was a little more confident, and seemed as if they knew they belonged. That they were in the right place at the right time, moving at the right speed. Heartfelt messages filled the group chat and every form of contact information imaginable was exchanged. This is not the end, but only the beginning.


Grand Teton Photo

Sunrise shine over Grand Teton range, picture captured by Amy Schaffer, NPSA 2024 member

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