This year marks the second year of the “Visions of You — Picture Your NPS” program which is a collaboration between the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Eagle Rock Internship Program, also known as the “Pathways to Parks” Program.
Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, is a year-round; residential; full-scholarship; Estes Park-based high school for students ages 15 to 17. Eagle Rock provides students who were not able to succeed in traditional schools an opportunity to earn their high school diploma. Together with the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide Research Learning Center, the students of Eagle Rock partner to provide students with the opportunities to provide multiple entry points to employment with the National Park Service.
“Visions of You” is a way for students of Eagle Rock to visually explore and interact with the National Park Service through four major goals: To encourage interns to actively see, experience and connect with the Park; to provide professional development that accommodates a diversity of learning styles; to provide interns with opportunities to express their creativity and their observations of the park; and to provide feedback about the student`s perceptions related to their internships.
“I lived on a 45-acre farm growing up,” said Rafael McLeod, Las Vegas, N.M. “I like working hard and outdoors, so this seemed like a great fit for me. I could see working in the park for a career, maybe for the Hot Shots.”
Throughout the program, students work in the field, in the park, and in the classroom. The field work and classroom study, and weekly themes combine to form the best combination of experiences for the students to learn about working in, and with, the park both in a volunteer and a full-time paid position basis. Students begin working in volunteer positions, which are followed by a full-time, paid, temporary position at the park. Professional development experiences and training are provided throughout the Internship Program.
Students use digital cameras and computers, using their comfort levels, to connect with the park and to overcome any unfamiliarity with it. “The interns` photos are beautiful, inspiring, and surprising,” said Ben Baldwin, NPS. “For example, we received no pictures of buildings, paperwork, or paychecks.”
The photographs are not only helpful to the interns, they are also a great reminder to the veteran NPS workers to slow down and to take time to remember how appreciative they are to work in the places that they do.
The professional veterans place emphasis on helping the students to receive the most out of their experiences through development of knowledge, abilities and skills that prepare to make a transition from the volunteer to the paid employee of the park.
“My mother died and I lost touch with nature, said Natalie Osorio, Orange County, N.Y. “She was really into nature. This was an opportunity to reconnect.”
A focus on bridging the critical years between high school and college when students are making decisions that will influence their career choices is key to the Internship Program. While connecting with nature, exploring working with the National Park, and pursuing interests in science and public lands, students receive hands on education and experiences that will guide them in a path to a career working with the national park system with many diverse opportunities based on their level of interest and commitment. For most interns, “Visions of You” is the students` first substantial interaction with the National Park Service and serves to show them firsthand what working with the NPS is like.
Freshman orientation projects at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Texas A&M University inspired “Visions of You.” They helped first-year students to be aware of, and to better adjust to, the new university environment that was new to them.
RMNP and Eagle Rock hope to continue the “Visions of You” program for years to come.