EPE TIG Week: Rupu Gupta on Creating Pathways to Environmental Careers via Nature-based Learning

Hi, I’m Rupu Gupta, Co-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group and Researcher at NewKnowledge.org, a research and evaluation think tank.  Earth Week brings with it an ideal time to critically consider the potential of environmental education programs to create opportunities for professionals to protect the planet for a living!

Rad Resource: I have been leading the evaluation of The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) Program.  This national conservation internship program aims to create skilled and empowered environmental stewards. Across different cohorts, we have consistently found that high school youth are motivated and keenly interested in pursuing higher education in environment-related majors and joining environmental careers.

With the most recent cohort of this program we expanded our evaluation framework to study how the interns conceptualized and thought about the activities involved and the skills that are necessary for in environmental careers. Our multi-phase evaluation revealed striking shifts in how the youth perceived environmental careers.

Before they participated in the internship, teens had vague understandings of environmental jobs. After the program, they recognized that persistence and impacts on ecosystems, animals, and people were the defining features of these careers. They could also connect these attributes to different disciplines (e.g., law, environmental education) and activities (e.g., conducting research, participating in activism). Moreover, five months after the internship, their perceptions had grown sharper, so that they could think about the skills, activities, and recipients in discrete ways.

Lessons Learned:

  • Emphasize the multiple disciplinary pathways to environmental careers– programs need to create greater awareness of the diverse educational backgrounds that can contribute to an environmental career.
  • Character traits are critical in an environmental career – a determined, action-oriented personal attribute was perceived by the youth to be a key component of careers aiming to protect the environment.
  • The environmental workforce may be a psychologically resilient group – if persistence, a character-based aspect is a necessary aspect of the job, its implications on being adaptive and responsive to changing circumstances are worth studying.
  • Pathways to environmental careers for youth need to be extended – beyond broadening the career horizons for youth to pursue environmental careers, conservation programs need to create access to these careers for youth, and especially those from racial and ethnic minority groups.
  • Every day can be Earth Day! A more diverse environmental workforce means greater, sustained engagement in environmental protection by a larger segment of the population, and more professionals working, in their own unique ways, to save the world!

Rad Resources: Read more about Diversity in the Environmental Workforce to discover more about the possibilities of environmentally-minded careers!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “EPE TIG Week: Rupu Gupta on Creating Pathways to Environmental Careers via Nature-based Learning”

  1. I wanted to thank you for your post. I graduated nearly ten years ago from an environmental program and have been fortunate enough to be working in the field ever since. I am currently completing a Master of Education program and as part of it studying program evaluation, a topic that is new to me. I appreciated how your post connected my two fields. I particularly appreciated the lesson learned about pathways to environmental careers for youth needing to be extended. I have been evaluating the School Grown program (http://foodshare.net/program/schoolgrown/), which is a program that creates working opportunities for students, particularly those from racial and ethnic minority groups as you indicated is important.

    Working in the environmental field, it can seem daunting how much there is to know and understand due to how complex and interrelated environmental issues can be, so I definitely agree that there is and needs to be multidisciplinary pathways to environmental careers. Collaboration may offer a way to bridge the knowledge gap and reduce that daunting feeling that can be experienced. Was collaboration considered or identified as part of your evaluation of the LEAF program?

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