$2.6 million grant funds program to increase diversity of conservation leaders

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Students in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program explored the natural history of Big Sur to develop conservation research projects as part of their training in field research and conservation leadership. (Photo by Abe Borker)

Scholars from the 2019 cohort collect samples of aquatic insects from Big Creek in the Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve. Left to right: Desiree Pante, Christian Clark, and Jessica Romero. (Photo by Paloma Marcos)

Scholars learned to identify aquatic insects for a project measuring biodiversity across aquatic habitat types. Left to right: Cean’e Batten, Tina Cheng, and Omar Torres. (Photo by Leslie Vargas )

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has awarded renewed funding for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at UC Santa Cruz with a grant of $2.63 million over the next four years. The program was established with an initial four-year grant in 2015, with the goal of diversifying the conservation field.

Each year, the program recruits 20 early-career college students to participate in two years of experiential training in field research and conservation leadership. The scholars represent a diverse spectrum of cultures and backgrounds, which helps to cultivate an inclusive and rewarding experience, according to the program’s faculty director Erika Zavaleta, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“We are excited to build on our successes to date and will continue to refine our program over the next four years,” Zavaleta said.

The program’s participants so far have come from 34 U.S. states and territories, representing over 50 colleges and universities across the country, as well as a broad range of disciplines, including the arts, creative writing, sociology, engineering, computer science, policy, law, business, and biological sciences.

Each cohort brings much-needed diversity to the conservation field, Zavaleta said. While not all of the scholars are from underrepresented backgrounds, she noted that the 2019 cohort includes Native American, Native Hawiian and Pacific Islander, African-American, and Latinx men and women who are passionate about the conservation of wildlife, land, and biodiversity, and just and effective means to achieve those goals.

The program begins with an intensive summer field course in conservation research, practice, and leadership. Traveling with a close group of peers and mentors, the scholars visit sites in the UC Natural Reserve System, getting hands-on experience and building community.

The second year involves a paid summer internship with a conservation organization or agency. Hosts for the internships have included the National Marine Fisheries Service, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Conservation Metrics.

Alumni of the program are pursuing a variety of paths in conservation across a range of sectors, including academia, non-governmental organizations, and tribal, state, and federal government. Many of the scholars have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in conservation fields, and several alumni have received prestigious fellowships and scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, Truman Scholarship, RAY Clean Energy Fellowship, Udall Scholarship, and Princeton in Africa.

“Our scholars and alumni are already becoming leaders and influencers in conservation and beginning to bring to fruition the program’s vision of a diverse group of future conservation leaders,” Zavaleta said.

In addition to renewed funding for the next four years, the UC Santa Cruz program has also received a $100,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to host a gathering of Native American Conservation Scholars in the coming year, for which Zavaleta worked with Mary Adelzadeh, a member of the program’s advisory board. A member of the Navajo Nation and herself an alumna of a graduate-level Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship program, Adelzadeh aims to create a network of Native American Conservation Scholars to help connect, amplify, and support Native voices in conservation.

“This gathering will provide networking and education on career opportunities, and create synergies through idea and information exchange,” she said.

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at UC Santa Cruz draws on UCSC’s deep resources and strengths in hands-on conservation, building close cohort communities through shared experiences and connections between students and mentors. The program emphasizes cultivating the skills and tools essential for career success, leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

UC Santa Cruz is the only Conservation Scholars site at a diverse, minority-serving institution with campus-wide strength in conservation, experiential learning, and educating first-generation college students and students of color.

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at UC Santa Cruz is currently recruiting for its 2020 summer cohort. More information and instructions to apply can be found at conservationscholars.ucsc.edu.