published August 30, 2012

Promoting Undergraduate Academic Engagement with Americas Great Outdoors

- Glenn C. Odenbrett

The America's Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative was launched by President Obama to develop a 21st Century conservation and recreation agenda based on the premise that "lasting conservation solutions should rise from the American people – that the protection of our natural heritage is a non-partisan objective shared by all Americans." A significant aspect of the AGO Initiative is youth involvement in preserving and protecting America's public and tribal lands and waters, as well as our historical sites.

To promote STEM curricular development that capitalizes on the AGO Initiative, Tom Wood of George Mason University, Glenn Odenbrett of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement, and invited guests discussed the Initiative with attendees at the SENCER Summer Institute at Santa Clara University.

Tom reported on the recent White House Conference on Conservation: Growing America's Outdoor Heritage and Economy, and Glenn provided insight into the developing framework for the soon-to-be launched 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). Featured panelists from AGO-affiliated agencies and organizations included Ron Ketter from the US Forest Service, Jonathan Friedman from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Jay Watson from the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

Ron Ketter discussed the challenges facing the US Forest Service, including climate change adaptation and sustainable forest management, that could provide rich learning opportunities for undergraduates in STEM courses. Jonathan Friedman focused on the importance of college graduates interested in government service being able to acquire and demonstrate the knowledge, abilities, and skills requisite for careers in natural resource conservation. Jay Watson presented the wide variety of opportunities for students to engage in outdoor service throughout the US with the SCA.

Watson expressed appreciation for the "opportunity to talk face to face with science professors from around the country about paid, science-based internships available to their students in a broad array of disciplines" and the hope "that the Student Conservation Association can be of assistance in furthering the education and potential careers of their students."

Friedman saw "significant opportunities for both SENCER and USACE. Professors and collegiate faculty are eager to find locations in the field for their students to apply classroom lectures. USACE has a robust portfolio to be taken advantage of by professors and students. Opportunities for partnerships are plentiful," he said, "and Federal public land-management agencies are looking forward to working with the next generation of park managers, district rangers, and superintendents."

For ideas about how the activities of AGO-affiliated agencies, organizations and initiatives, including the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, can be integrated with SENCER courses, please contact Glenn Odenbrett at