SHIFT Announces Inaugural Emerging Leaders

Grace Anderson - Santa Cruz CA

Grace Anderson. The national manager of the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors Program, Anderson is one of more than two dozen participants in the inaugural Emerging Leaders Program.

Active engagement with the outdoors has produced some of the country’s strongest and most inspiring conservation leaders. Today, with the constituencies of conservation aging, outdoor recreation offers a remarkable opportunity to reinvigorate our economy, public health and the protection of our public lands—but only if it includes the next generation of Americans, in all its diversity.

More than two dozen participants in the inaugural Emerging Leaders Program will represent that next generation at the 2016 SHIFT Festival Oct. 13-15 in Jackson, WY.

The inaugural class of Emerging Leaders include people like Grace Anderson, the national manager of The Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors Program; Sawyer Connelly, the Campus Outreach Coordinator for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers; and Ciarra Greene, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, a master’s student in STEM Education at Portland State University, and a coordinator at Wisdom of the Elders, where she leads habitat restoration work on public lands.

“The future of our public lands depends on the next generation of stewards,” said Christian Beckwith, SHIFT’s Director. “If the participants at this year’s Emerging Leaders Program are any indication, that future is in good hands.”

Designed in conjunction with The Teton Science Schools (TSS), The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) convenes a gathering of rising stars, 21 and older, who have distinguished themselves in the fields of outdoor recreation, outdoor education, land-management or conservation.

The participants will spend three days at TSS’ Journeys School campus before transferring to the Snow King Resort Hotel and the opening of the SHIFT Summit on October 13.

Certain “ELPers” (as SHIFT organizers refer to them) have already been tapped for deeper participation at the Summit. Anderson will moderate a panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 14, on Outdoor Recreation and Cultural Relevancy, while Taimur Ahmad, the founder of Princeton University’s Wilderness Society, will participate in a panel called “Public Lands, Urban America.”

“Wherever possible, we’re integrating the ELPers directly into SHIFT’s proceedings, where they can inform the outcomes,” said Beckwith.

Beckwith notes that the idea is to place distinguished young leaders alongside the seasoned “veterans” of the movement so the work that results is informed by the millennials’ perspectives.

“We want SHIFT to be the place where the leaders of today meet, and interact with, the leaders of tomorrow.”

Given the young leaders SHIFT is bringing to ELP, the former might learn a thing or two from the latter.

ELP Participants 2016

Taimur Ahmad, The Wilderness Society

  • Taimur graduated from Princeton as a leader trainer for Outdoor Action, the largest college outdoor education/orientation program in the country. He started his own club, the Princeton Wilderness Society, to offer peers a chance to organize their own independent adventures. Currently the Recreation and Forest Policy fellow at the Wilderness Society. “Quite simply, I cannot imagine how much less joy, richness, and beauty, as well as how many fewer opportunities for reflection, challenge, and growth, I would have had if I had never found nature.”

Grace Anderson, The Sierra Club

  • Grace manages the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors Program, and is a member of the Outdoor 30 under 30. Grace was a member of Expedition Denali (First all-African American Denali attempt). “I chose to do this work because of the feeling that I got the first time I stood in Joshua Tree National Park. That place opened a new world for me that I wasn’t yet aware of yet.”

Kaitlyn Bernard, Appalachian Mountain Club

  • Kaitlyn is the Maine Program Associate for the Appalachian Mountain Club, the nation’s oldest conservation, recreation, and education organization. In this position, she splits her time between direct advocacy and lobbying work on state and federal policy issues and connecting people to the outdoors. She coordinates a statewide activity series called the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend and is the chair of the Maine Outdoor Coalition. Kaitlyn also sits on the board of directors for Teens to Trails and the Outdoor Sport Institute. In her spare time you can find her running, hiking, or XC skiing – in fact, she coaches a high school Nordic team in the winter. Kaitlyn is a graduate of Colby College, where she studied Environmental Policy and Environmental Education.

Mabari Byrd, PowerCorps PHL

  • Supervises, mentors, project plans for 10-12 AmeriCorps members doing a variety of environmental sustainability and community development projects across Philadelphia. “I truly believe that this work chose me based off of my own personal journey. From walking the trails of the Wissahickon, to working as a summer camp counselor and exploring/traveling to all our city parks, I adore mother nature. For me, having the option to infuse the best of both worlds was and is still a no brainer in regard to why I love to serve in this kind of professional capacity.

Madeleine Carey, WildEarth Guardians

  • Madeleine works in the heart of the Mexican gray wolf recovery area to promote and execute a grazing permit retirement program. “So often, we look for ways to dress up our passions as activism or utilitarian endeavors when often the most effective thing to do is to leave passions passions and dedicate other parts of ourselves to our values. My work in conservation is just that, work. But it leaves me time for my passions (riding, running, skiing) and allows me to achieve a higher level of excellence at my activism and change making.”

Elizabeth Case, Cycle for Science

  • Elizabeth designed and taught 1000 kids physics, solar energy, and outdoor recreation on a cross-country bicycle trip in 2015. “I am trained as a physicist and hope to live my life as close to the earth as possible. It’s vital to teach the next generation of scientists not only the fundamentals, the physics, the math, but about the earth, the oceans, and our human impact so they can link, and change, our future.”

Sawyer Connelly, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

  • Sawyer Connelly is the Campus Outreach Coordinator with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Originally hailing from the Acadian forests of northern New England, he believes in our hunting and fishing heritage in the traditions of Teddy Roosevelt, protecting Americans birthright to public lands, and civic engagement. He developed a love for the indomitable western landscape, public lands, and wildlife while studying environmental science and English at Colorado College and serving as a research fellow with the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project studying large landscape conservation. In his free time he enjoys time with his German Shorthaired Pointer, Moshup, skiing, hunting, fishing, and biking.

Michael Davis Jr., YMCA BOLD/GOLD

  • With YMCA Boys Outdoor Leadership Development School (BOLD), Michael takes young men from the community on eight-day backpacking trips through the North Cascades and Olympic Coast Wilderness. Michael also Coordinates the Let’s Move Outside program for Seattle, after leaving a life of investment banking. “Many of my friends, family and students ask me why I made the switch from investor to instructor and the simplest answer for me to say is I would rather be paid in sunsets and smiles than dollars any day. I also have this desire to positively impact those in my community to not only better themselves but the environment around us.”

Chloe Decamara, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

  • Chloe, a native of western North Carolina, began her relationship with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) shortly after obtaining her BA from UNC-Asheville. She started as a volunteer helping around the office a couple times a week, which led her to apply for a seasonal position coordinating trail maintenance crews in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer of 2014. The following year, Chloe pursued and achieved her long-time goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (A.T.)thus solidifying her long-term relationship with the A.T. Thru-hiking the A.T. exposed Chloe to the awe-inspiring beauty of the eastern United States. After completing her hike, she understood that everyone deserves to experience the reaffirmation of humanity and goodwill that can be found of the Trail, and was determined to ensure those opportunities could be taken advantage of through the protection and stewardship of the Trail. Chloe has been full-time with the ATC, as the Smokies Stewardship Coordinator, for almost one year working directly with hikers (current and aspiring), trail crews, volunteers, and Park personnel.

Ruby Jean Garcia, Latino Outdoors

  • Ruby Jean was born and raised in Fresno, California, where agriculture inspired a love for outdoor spaces. Growing up, she was intrigued by nature’s restorative qualities and humankind’s capacity for growth. Eventually, these interests merged into a deep-rooted passion for outdoor recreation, an endeavor Ruby Jean believes to be an avenue for empowerment. Today, she lives in Arcata, Ca., where she advocates for a more diverse outdoor recreation culture. She holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Recreation Administration from Humboldt State University, and is now working towards her entry to their Public Sociology program. Ruby Jean serves as the Executive Projects Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, an organization that suits her passion for people and the outdoors. Her strong interests include Diversity and Inclusion, Self-Determination, and Community Development. In the future, she plans to continue her education using these interests to guide her research. “Outdoor recreation has been my personal antitheses to oppression, and I want to share this gift with as many people as possible. This is my greatest passion.”

Christian Gering, Conservation Legacy/Environmental Stewards

  • Christian currently helps 33 tribal members from various tribal communities across the nation to get involved with their community’s water resources department. Christian is also an avid ultra/trail runner. “I understand my current position as a Program Assistant is not too glamorous but I continue to seek guidance from many of my fellow coworkers on how to put in place a field crew in my home community of San Felipe Pueblo (I am a Pueblo Indian). It will be only a matter of time of when I will be able to involve Conservation Legacy with my community, so we can continue the legacy of stewards to our homeland and engage youth back to our old foot trails.”

Ciarra Greene, Nez Perce Tribe/Portland State University

  • Ciarra Greene is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe.  Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) culture and traditions emphasize environmental stewardship and drives Ciarra’s academic, professional, and personal endeavors. She has her BS in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University (2012), where she researched environmental transport and stabilization of uranium on the Navajo Reservation, and completed internships with the Nez Perce Tribe, Dept. of Energy (Hanford), EPA, and Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals. Previously she was employed at the Arizona Science Center as STEM instructor, the Nez Perce Tribe Water Resources Division (Wetland Program Field Assistant and Water Resources Specialist), and Wisdom of the Elders (Educator and Workforce Development Coordinator). Currently Ciarra is pursuing her MS degree in Science Teaching at Portland State University, actively participates in the Portland Parks and Recreation Native American Community Advisory Council, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. “The earth is part of my body I belong to the land out of which I came. The Earth is my mother.”. “I have heard this quote since I was a young kid; I learned to understand and appreciate it as an adult.  Learning and sharing how our ancestors traditionally lived holistic, healthy, and sustainable is foundational in promoting the sacredness of our local and traditional environments.  Conservation is essential in continuing to practice our traditions.”

Hillary Henry, Gunnison Public Lands Initiative

  • Hillary is the Community Coordinator, and sole staff person for Gunnison Public Lands Initiative, a coalition of local conservation and outdoor rec groups working together to protect public lands in Gunnison County. Hillary considers her most important role to be facilitating dialogue between non-traditional partners. “With climate change and population growth rapidly altering the Western landscape, communities must think ahead if they want to preserve their wild places for future generations.   Labels – rancher, recreationist, sportsmen, conservationist – also frequently get in the way of people finding solutions for the lands they all love. I believe communities are stronger when people connect over what they have in common and find ways to make their differences secondary to their goals.”

Maya Hunger

  • I am a sea kayak and bike guide in the San Juan Islands. I moonlight as a freelance journalist for the outdoor industry and as backcountry/galley chef focused on sustainable eating practices. I got my B.A. from Fairhaven College in Political Ecology and Multimedia Journalism.

Jasmin-Marie Jones, Student Conservation Assocation

  • “Jas” is an interpretive Park Ranger at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Jas describes the challenges of reaching out to all communities in her region, representing an age of people who would rather spend time looking at screens than outside. “Through the help of the SCA I was able to find a niche in the conservation world. It is the kind of work that makes you proud of who you are. We are the next generation and we have big shoes to fill to protect the wonderful outdoor places of our world.’”

Rachel Leinweber, Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance

  • Rachel Leinweber grew up in a family owned small business, Angler’s Covey Fly Shop, in Colorado Springs. She fell in love with the combination of retail and the outdoors and started Pikes Peak Outfitter, a rental and retail paddle shop, while she got her business degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Rachel also assists in the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, an initiative to make the incredible natural and recreation assets of the Pikes Peak area an economic driver for the region. Passionate about fly fishing, paddling, advocacy for public lands and conservation, she also takes pride in leading and mentoring high school students in her community.

Drew Lehnerd, Penn State Environmental Center

  • Drew assists with the coordination and facilitation of the AURORA Outdoor Orientation Programs at Penn State. He works to develop leaders through outdoor recreation, and help those leaders work with incoming Penn State freshmen to ease their transition to college life. He also assists with instruction of the Adventure Based Program Leadership Course in Penn State’s Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management Department. He graduated from Penn State in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Geography. He has a passion for teaching and all things outdoors, and hopes to continue to use outdoor recreation as a means of educating people and developing leaders. He has also worked as a guide, snowboard instructor, and ski tech. His interests include snowboarding, biking, skiing, paddling, backpacking, crocheting, sailing, and skipping rocks.

Claire Martini, Grand Canyon Trust: Uplift

  • Claire Martini works to amplify youth voices for climate justice on the Colorado Plateau as coordinator of Uplift Climate, a unique youth-led program of Grand Canyon Trust and Landscape Conservation Initative. Since Uplift’s inception in 2014, organizers have engaged hundreds of young climate leaders in multicultural conversations to build regional community and landscape-scale collaborations. She holds a B.A. in Geology from Whitman College, and is currently exploring a return home to the Pacific Northwest. “So often, we see outdoor recreation as an escape. I would like to share perspectives  on recreation as a deepening, of our relationship to place, our narratives of community, and search for ways in which  recreation might serve to facilitate moments of political awakening.”

Eric Melson, IMBA

  • Eric is the IMBA Montana Associate Region Director, working collaboratively between the recreation and conservation communities to protect critical areas yet provide access for sustainable, human-powered, quiet forms of recreation. “My background is in protected area management, and I worked in Wilderness for nearly a decade. I sit on the board for the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance. Yet I’m also a dedicated mountain biker, paddler, skier, angler, hunter, backpacker. The next generation of conservation leaders are all of these things, and combined we are building bridges between these communities to promote public lands and protect the landscapes we play in.”

Maren Murphy, Montana State Parks

  • Maren Murphy has over eight years of experience in public land agencies in Montana and Oregon. She has a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from Portland State University specializing in recreation planning and public engagement. She is currently the Senior Planner for Montana State Parks and also serves on the board of the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals. In 2015, Maren received a Governor’s Award for Excellence recognizing her contributions to the State of Montana. Maren previously worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S Forest Service, and Portland Parks & Recreation, and is a proud graduate of NOLS. In her free time, she enjoys hiking on the trails around Helena and exploring the backroads of Montana with her husband and their 15-month old daughter and red heeler.

Magdalena Noriega, Student Conservation Association

  • Maggie Noriega studies forestry and restoration ecology at the University of Montana. Originally from Seattle, Washington, she started her conservation journey when she was 15 by working with the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps. After that, she knew what she wanted to do with her life and everything else fell into place. I went back to Yellowstone for another season,  spent a season with the SCA in the Tetons, and most recently was in Rocky Mountain National Park as an NPS Academy intern with the SCA. “Can you tell I love the West? I’m so excited to be back in Jackson, and am so happy to be surrounded by people who all have the same amount of passion and love for the environment!”

Alfonso Orozco, Latino Outdoors

  • Alfonso is the Wyoming Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, where he works to engage members of the Latino community in the outdoors. His goal is to break down barriers preventing Latinos from participating in the outdoors. These barriers include language, knowledge, and culture. He believes in creating more stewards by removing those barriers and creating positive connections between people and natural places.

Michelle Piñon, Latino Outdoors

  • Michelle independently launched the Latino Outdoors Washington Chapter with ten outdoors experiences for Latino families, over 100 participants aged 2 to 64. “This work is who I am. I grew up in the inner-city of Los Angeles with minimal outdoor recreation opportunities. Yet, I wasn’t saved by any nonprofit or outside program. What finally got me outside, what finally prompted to see myself as a adventuress, was my sister. Cristine Piñon is a remarkably strong Latina – in many ways a trailblazer for my family. I do this work in her honor. I recognize the many barriers that I confronted as I’ve forged my own path in this world. I want to lessen the burdens of other familias so that, eventually, the wilderness truly becomes a home for all.”

Jill Sanford, Sierra Business Council

  • Jill is a freelance journalist and communications content writer with a passion for outdoor recreation and solving environmental and economic problems in the Sierra. She is a published journalist with over 5 years experience writing for both local and national audiences. Jill is committed to bridging the gap between urban and rural resource users and encouraging downstream city dwellers to fall in love with wild, natural places through recreation. “In 2014 I was asked to write an article on the 50 year anniversary of the Wilderness Act for Mountaineers Magazine,” Jill explains.I was lucky enough to interview Doug Walker for this story. To this day I can pinpoint that conversation as a pivotal moment that launched my career and identity as an environmental advocate. He inspired me to protect and preserve what I value the most and I am honored to be one of many he motivated in his lifetime.”

Amie Schiller, Student Conservation Assocation

  • Amie just finished a yearlong SCA position as a trails partnership intern, tasked with supporting, developing, and providing outreach concerning NPS trails. She studied Wildlife and Fisheries Biology at the University of Vermont, and served as a 2015 NPS Academy session as a biological technician at 7 NPS units in South Dakota (mainly Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands). “It’s challenging to try to change status quos in the way we approach problems when people have been used to solving their problems a certain way for a long time.”

Elizabeth Sodja, Utah Conservation Corps

  • Elizabeth has been involved in conservation and outdoor recreation since freshman year of college. Additionally, Elizabeth created ‘Aggie Outdoor Volunteers’ at Utah State, and was an Education Park Ranger at Zion National Park.” “While I am an enthusiastic recreationist and conservationist, I feel I can add the perspective of someone who has seen the dark side recreation can have on conservation. Within my 3 summers of working there, Zion National Park went from a busy but pleasant place at 2.8 million, to suffocating at 3.5 million. The Park’s resources are strained, the experience to the visitor is poor, and the park itself is getting smothered. Finding ways to encourage recreation outside of iconic or famous places is critical, not just for the sake of the parks and the lands that are suffering under too much demand, but for the sake of people looking for a wilderness experience who can’t find any. There are still places out there to be alone, how do we find and promote them more, and preserve THAT experience?”

Leandra Taylor, Middle Rio Grande Education, Employment & Environment Alliance

  • My name is Leandra Taylor. I am an Army Brat, born in Berlin, Germany and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Baylor University in 2014. Currently, I am the Ambassador for the Middle Rio Grande: Education, Employment & Environment Alliance (MRGE3) in Albuquerque, NM. I have always been interested in conservation and I believe the connection between people and nature is the most important aspect of conservation. The MRGE3 allows me the opportunity to facilitate partnerships between non-profits, government agencies, tribes, etc. to collaborate and better connect people with nature through education, outreach, and recreation.

Laura Nayeli Torres, Latino Outdoors

  • Laura works for NPCA and Latino Outdoors, leading outings from urban LA into Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. Laura directed the Rim of the Valley bike ride to get 70 people on bikes on a ride in Pasadena. ‘This is my calling in life. For a long time, I was unaware that the outdoors had career opportunities. I saw spending time outdoors as my therapy for urban life, my hobby and overall my opportunity for adventure.  My connection to the environment and connecting others to the environment has evolved over time and in many cases I was not fully aware of how one step would lead to the next. I do this work not only because it brings so much fulfillment to my life but because I deeply believe we all need nature and that everyone can reconnect with the land as our ancestors did. Moreover, protecting nature is part of increasing the quality of life for everyone. I want my future children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to explore and experience the magic of being in the wild.”

Joshua Tuck, Greening Youth Foundation

  • Hi! Name’s Joshua but feel free to call me Josh. I hail from the state of Georgia. I am pleased to be attending the SHIFT ELP program. My background is Public Policy and my professional degree, which I’m currently working on, is in City & Regional Planning. I have a passion for sustainable communities and hope to see a day when the innovation in designs for sustainability is a primary goal in most of our cities. I currently serve as an assistant to the National Park Service Regional Youth Volunteer Program Manager in Atlanta through Greening Youth Foundation. Let’s Talk!

Allison T. Williams, Bureau of Reclamation

  • Allison has worked in numerous internships and seasonal positions around conservation from 2012-2016—specifically, volunteer coordination, community outreach, diversity work, etc. It’s hard to get youth and adults to really want to travel to natural places or apply for internships that don’t pay a lot. It has taken a lot of not making money for me to survive but my passion and willingness has pushed me to take positions that really give me the freedom to reach out to different communities and strengthen broken relationships for the better.”

Janet Valenzuela

  • Janet Xochicuicatl Valenzuela is a Chicana Eco-feminist and studies in California State University Northridge, she is studying Chicano/a Studies with a minor in Decolonial Anthropology. She’s an environmental justice organizer in the city of Los Angeles and a project assistant with Good Heart Project: Chicano/a Native Sciences education that is relevant to conservation and recreational uses by creating an after school program that is for students in the 3rd grade and their families to advance their learning in math and science subjects by having the environment and their culture as the foundation to the curriculum. This is through a partnership between California State University Northridge and Elementary schools in the community to learn about the outdoors and improve their access to green spaces. Among this work, we have a field trip with the families to acknowledge them for engaging with the conservation movement in the Angeles National Forest and working with the Forest Service to build on having more relevance for people of color and people living in urban areas. Is currently an Intern for the United States Forest Service as a Field Ranger in the Angeles National Forest, and completed the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership academy with the support of the Wilderness Society and through all this networking for a better vision for access to the great outdoors for her “Going green is going Native.”

Brandon Williams, Student Conservation Association

  • Brandon Williams is a Conservation Biology major at SUNY Cortland in central New York with a strong passion for the natural world that started with a love for plants. What drives him to succeed in his academic major is the hope that younger generations will be able to be changed by the natural world like he was. He is happy to have been selected to participate in this year’s ELP program and looks forward to meeting like-minded people who also have a strong desire to see our land flourish!

Rachel Woods-Robinson, Cycle for Science

  • Rachel designed and taught 1000 kids physics, solar energy, and outdoor recreation on a cross-country bicycle trip in 2015.Outdoor recreation, such as bicycling, provides an incredible and stimulating means for curious scientists to get outside of their communities and into these target parts of the country. Our ultimate goal is to spread this idea to scientists all over the country and the world and to create a network of ‘STEM messengers’ like us zooming around and sprinkling science as they go.”

Zeppelin Zeerip, WZRD Media

  • Zeppelin is in pre-production stages of producing a feature length film documenting fight for America’s public lands, and is inspired by films like DamNation and Jumbo Wild. Zeppelin has met with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and the Artist/Writer Group Red Rock Stories. ‘The biggest challenge is inspiring people to take action. Our lands are falling victim to the tragedy of the commons, in which no one man or women is standing up to protect them, but many men and women are looking to profit from them. Our goal is to show why public lands are worth fighting for. Everyone that has ever camped on BLM land, fished on public access rivers, hunted on national forests, or climbed in the Utah desert knows the importance, but we need to reach a broader demographic and be able to inspire those who have not directly felt the impacts of our public lands to stand up.”


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