Have you ever owned a t-shirt, a blanket, or even a hat that you loved so much and took it with you wherever you went? I sure did. I owned a hat, but not just any hat. It was a very special kind of hat. A hat that connected me to a particular organization, a particular group of people, and a unique experience. This hat was given to me by the National Hispanic Environmental Council or NHEC. NHEC is a nonprofit organization that among its role as an environmental policy and advocacy organization also provides educational opportunities to students interested in natural resources and environmental careers.
That hat was meaningful because the NHEC was influential in my decision to study biology in college and pursue experiences in field studies and conservation. Sadly, I lost the hat while studying abroad in Peru and thought that I would never see it again but, I was wrong. Last Tuesday I was fortunate to help with a field trip for none other than the NHEC students! They came to the Hebo Ranger District to learn about the different aspects of the Siuslaw Forest and the professionals that work hard to take care of it. The other EFTA interns and I teamed up to share some information about the sand dunes of the Oregon coast and the species of shorebirds that depend on this ecosystem. Staff from other departments also presented on their work in the Siuslaw and about their own career paths.
I was absolutely thrilled to hear that the Hebo District was hosting this group and fascinated by the coincidence that they were coming to the same ranger district where I am interning at. It was great to see the surprised look on their faces when I told them I was also a NHEC student not too long ago. What is so unique about this program is that students meet professionals that are doing the type of work they read about in their college textbooks. Most importantly, you get to see professionals that look like you or come from the same socioeconomic background and are doing something they love. To a Latina student studying wildlife and fisheries biology nothing is more powerful than to see a Latina fisheries biologist working in the Forest Service or at any other agency or institution. The NHEC founders were right when they said “….because it’s our environment too”. Latinos and other minority groups deserve a seat in the “national environmental decision-making table” and I am so happy that the Forest Service is helping to shape the group of people that get to sit at this table by supporting these types of outdoor field trips.
Oh, and look at those awesome hats!!