Wayne Lasuen is a campus recruiter for the Student Conservation Association.

Monday, 23 Sep 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn.

Everyone who grows up in a small town — in my case, Mountain Home, Idaho — dreams of going elsewhere, but most people just stay put. To make matters worse, those who stick around get jealous of the people that do manage to leave. I was in the former group; I never traveled but always dreamed of going places. Life is scary and sometimes, no matter how old you are, someone has to show you that you can do new things in spite of your fears. When my mom saw what I was turning into — a scared, immobilized 22-year-old — she took me by the hand, told me I should get out of Idaho, and promised to help me do it.

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At her urging, I applied to the Student Conservation Association, which is the nation’s largest provider of conservation service opportunities, outdoor education, and leadership training for youth. SCA’s mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and to inspire lifelong stewardship of our environment by engaging diverse young people in hands-on service to the land. SCA became a part of my life on Oct. 8, 2001, a day I will never forget — almost a birthday to me. That is the day I got offered an internship in the Adirondacks, a 6 million acre park in upstate New York.

That day was also a fork in the road of my life: I had to ask myself, Do I stay in what I know to be a safe place, or do I let life take me on a new journey? I knew that I didn’t want to stay in Idaho forever, and did want to see new parts of the country, so I chose to venture forth, not knowing what lay ahead. All I knew was that I had one week to say goodbye to my friends and family, everyone and everything I had known all my life. As Saturday approached, I had second thoughts about leaving — but I knew that if I wanted to change, this was my chance.

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I have always been a person to help others, but looking back, I realize that I never helped myself. Accepting the internship with SCA was the first time I chose to do something for myself (although the work I was going to do would help other people as well). As I got on the plane to head for New York, I felt like a new person, but I never dreamed that what lay ahead would impact my life as much as it did.

In the next week I will take you with me to the Adirondacks to show you how the work I’m doing now for SCA has changed my life.

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Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn.

Working in the Adirondacks was a great experience for me. I was thrown together with 20 people from all over, all with different views and thoughts but one shared goal: to help people become aware of and protect the environment.

The first internship that I did with SCA was a 10-month program. We spent the first five months teaching environmental education in the local schools — everything from holes in the ozone layer to the habitat of deer. The other five months we worked on trail maintenance with the State of New York.

When the program finally ended in August, it was difficult to leave — so I didn’t. Instead, I applied for and received another internship, this time as a recruiter for the organization. My job now entails traveling around to different colleges and speaking with students and professors about SCA and how it can help students reach their goals.

I’m spending this month at the University of Minnesota, talking with anybody and everybody about the need to protect the environment and the possibilities for personal growth that can come from doing so. People here are great; they listen and are very interested in what SCA does. Still, it was hard to go back to urban life after five months of living in the woods. (Not to mention the cold! I think Minnesota skips fall and goes straight to winter.)

It’s great to see so many people here interested in what SCA has to offer. One of the facts that I share with potential recruits is that, in the next five years, 60 percent of the people currently working for the Department of the Interior will retire. Now is the best time to get your foot in the door for one of these positions, and SCA can help. High school graduates, college graduates, young or old — the organization has no age limits. We offer over 2,000 internships in all 50 states lasting anywhere from three to 12 months.

Oops, do I sound like I’m getting ready to give a presentation to a class? Well, I guess I am. Giving presentations still makes me nervous, whether I’m going to speak to one person or 50. I’d better prepare. Tell you all about it next time!

Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn.

Getting up this morning was tough. I was at an outdoor club meeting last night that went until 10:30 p.m. — one of four presentations I gave yesterday. In total, I must have talked to over 100 people. The outdoor club was a good group; the members’ interests ran the gamut from journalism to outdoor recreation, and they asked a lot of questions.

The great thing about SCA is that we don’t pressure people into doing anything — and the great thing about this internship is that I’m not pressured, either. I don’t have to convince a certain number of students to sign on; just let them know what opportunities exist out there. Maybe they won’t be interested right now, but two or three or five years down the road they’ll remember my talk and decide to go for it.

I get so excited every time I talk about this program, probably because I know how much it has helped me, as well as many others. But most of all I get excited because I believe in what SCA does. And a lot of the students who listen to me get really excited, too. A program that pays you to live in a state or national park for a year? Many people think this is just too good to be true. Most people think there must be a catch; I get a lot of questions from students concerned that they aren’t majoring in biology. But you don’t have to be a biology major in order to get an SCA internship; all you need is the willingness to learn. People without any background in biology might have to work a little harder, but they can definitely do it.

I also encourage everyone who comes to my talks to take a look at the SCA website. Grist readers can appreciate the usefulness of online publications, and the SCA site contains information on everything having to do with the internships — from timelines for applying to internship locations. You can even fill out the application online.

Well, it’s off to another presentation for me. Talk with you later.

Friday, 27 Sep 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn.

Yesterday was a very busy day for me. I had four presentations and talked with about 80 students. I get very excited when I give these presentations because I can sense interest and excitement in the crowd as well. Yesterday, I’d say about 20 of those students were interested enough to follow up on the possibility of an SCA internship.

I always say 20 is better than none; you can’t expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon. There are always those students for whom our program just won’t work out. Some have a serious boy- or girlfriend, some don’t want to leave their hometown. I always tell this latter group that I was as nervous as anyone when I left to do my first internship. But you make so many new friends that the loneliness doesn’t last long. By the end of the program, the members of my group were more than close friends; we were like family.

In fact, now that I’m on my own at the U. of M., I find that I expect to come home at the end of the day and hang out with all my friends from the Adirondacks. Now I really am somewhat lonely. I am a people-person, so this job can be hard on me. But I know if I help one person get an internship it will be worth it; I know that they will have a great time, grow, and spread the word to friends and family. And sometimes that is the best way to help a program grow.