More than 60 years ago, with America’s national parks in danger of being “loved to death,” the Student Conservation Association (SCA) formed to help protect overwhelmed public lands and provide young people with the benefits of hands-on service and experience. Today, as climate change poses urgent, worldwide risks and a growing segment of our youth suffer from “nature-deficit disorder,” this remarkable organization with nearly 100,000 alumni is forging powerful connections between young people and the great outdoors to ensure a new generation will value and help preserve our natural world, and to show how early stewardship can spark a constellation of individual skills leading to lifelong leadership and success.
Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam is the Founding President of the Student Conservation Association, the nation’s first and largest youth conservation service organization. In her senior thesis at Vassar College in 1955, Liz conceived of a modern-day version of the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). To address a growing crisis in our national parks, Liz proposed matching student volunteers with conservation projects to benefit both students and the parks. With the help of family, friends and mentors, Liz brought her idea to fulfillment in 1957 when the first Student Conservation Association volunteers – 53 high school, college and graduate students – served in Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks. Today, SCA (www.theSCA.org) is the national leader in youth service and stewardship. Still active as SCA’s premier ambassador and honorary director, Liz has received numerous awards for her work. In 2010, she became the first conservationist to earn the Presidential Citizens Medal, bestowed at the White House by President Barack Obama.