This photograph by 20-year-old Wisconsinite Evan Eifler won first place in the
Youth Multimedia Contest. Eifler attended the conference as a youth delegate.
Youth was a byword at the
Conserving the Future
conference. And the 18 youth
delegates invited to Madison were
treated to a handful of events just
They got serious face time with
Dan Ashe just days after his Senate
confirmation as Director of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. They sat
down with national Service leaders at
the Youth Challenge Project, also known
as the youth summit. They met one-onone
with Service employees in a speedmentoring
session. They helped rid a
local park of invasive species one day
and had a youth social picnic at the same
park two days later.
The structured events were designed
to "force them to network and socialize
with the Service," says Magdalena
Tsiongas, a Conserving the Future
fellow who helped coordinate the
young peoples activities. But "in the
hallways, when people came up to
them, is what they enjoyed the most."
During such encounters with Refuge
System professionals, the youth could
learn about SCEP (Student Career
Experience Program), STEP (Student
Temporary Employment Program) and
who does which job at what refuge.
The highlights for youth delegate Nicole
Bradley were the youth summit and
the meeting with Ashe. The summit
"made me feel like I was actually doing
something to help, instead of just
listening," Bradley says. The Service
leaders "were so interested in hearing
our ideas. The stuff that was so simple to
us seemed kind of new to them."
Bradley knows that the hour-long
audience with the Director was a rare
opportunity: "Hes really the one who can
actually put everything into action."
And Bradley, an incoming freshman at
Iowa State University who changed her
major from premed
biology after the
blown away by
with the world"
Dewitt Jones on
the final day. "Not
only was he a
great speaker," she
says, "he took my
attention. He kept
it. He gave hope."
team chair Mao Lin (of the Gulf of
Maine Coastal Program) and Alaska
Region youth, partnerships and grants
coordinator Kristen Gilbertwas a
professional variation on speed dating.
It took place in a hot, stuffy, dimly lit
hallway of the historic Orpheum Theatre.
And it had to be cut slightly short
because of scheduling constraints.
Still, "the idea of speed mentoring is
very cool," says youth delegate Marco
Sanchez, a fisheries and wildlife major
at Michigan State University. "It wasnt
the best scenario. In two minutes, its
really hard to build up even a tiny
relationship with the person who is
mentoring you. It was good just to meet
a bunch of different people. And, for me,
I might contact two or three of them in
"It was a great experience," says mentor
Steve Agius, an operations specialist at
Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in
Maine. "I interacted with the mentorees
afterward throughout the whole
conference...I wish I had had that
opportunity 10 years ago when I was
doing contract work for the Service."
When asked how the Service could
do better by youth, Conserving the
Future fellow Tsiongas, herself a June
2010 high school graduate and an
incoming freshman at UCLA, offers two
First, she says, "we should look to be
bringing more SCEP and STEP students
out to [routine professional] conferences
when we have them."
Second, she says, when young people are
invited to such gatherings, there should
be an orientation session that introduces
the youth to the Service, demystifies the
flurry of strange acronyms and identifies
the mission, best practices and career
pathways of the Refuge System.
"If you just throw them in when they
dont know much about the Service," she
says, "that doesnt work" as well as it