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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

February: Creating the Next Generation of Conservation Professionals

Students at South Atlanta High School dig in with shovels and mattocks to install a bird-friendly native plant garden on campus. Photo by Melanie Furr.

By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director

Georgia is a diverse state, both in terms of its habitats and its people … from the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between. Georgia is also one of the fastest growing states in the nation, and metro Atlanta is at the epicenter of this growth. As people continue flocking to Atlanta, the need for knowledgeable conservation professionals will continue to grow. We need leaders who can creatively address Georgia’s myriad of environmental challenges – from climate change, to habitat loss and degradation, to air and water pollution, to equitable access to parks and greenspaces, and more. Georgia Audubon, in partnership with other conservation organizations, is working to build the next generation of environmental leaders that not only reflect the state’s diverse population but also are well equipped to build a more resilient future for Atlanta and beyond.

Through targeted education and community engagement, Georgia Audubon and our partners are working to provide exposure and experiential learning opportunities for youth to introduce them to conservation and environmental career paths and job opportunities. 

Georgia Audubon has partnered with Zoo Atlanta to connect middle and high school students with avian conservation professionals through a program entitled Wildlife Conservation Careers: Birds! Students get a behind-the-scenes look at careers in bird conservation and learn conservation techniques, ranging from animal care and training to captive breeding and habitat creation. Students are also provided with resources and next steps to pursue their interest in wildlife conservation, such as volunteering, internships, and job opportunities. 

A similar program has been offered online by Georgia Audubon and The Amphibian Foundation to introduce middle and high school students to Georgia’s native birds and herpetofauna. The Backyard Conservation series provided a behind-the-scenes, participatory demonstration of how scientists collect data in the field of wildlife conservation and answers questions about related conservation careers. 

In an effort to expose a diversity of students to conservation careers, we must also expose these students to diverse role models who are actually working in that space. Through a grant from National Audubon, Georgia Audubon recently launched the Conservation Careers Series, featuring Black and Brown conservation professionals sharing the paths they took to get to their positions, what a typical work day looks like, and answering questions about their careers and career paths. This online series is free and open to the public. 

For older students looking for a deeper dive into conservation careers, Georgia Audubon offers the school-year-long Audubon Urban Ecologists (AUE) Program in partnership with several metro-Atlanta conservation nonprofits, including founding partners The Amphibian Foundation and Trees Atlanta. AUE exposes youth in grades 8 through 12 to the fascinating, rich ecology of our city, while providing opportunities for hands-on field experiences, career exposure, and fun with their peers. In addition to a first-year program for new students, a second course is offered for returning students who want to continue their exploration of conservation careers.

For each of these programs, scholarships are available to cover the cost of participation for students who cannot afford the program fees through grants from National Audubon and the member-supported Georgia Audubon Scholarship Fund.

Finally, Georgia Audubon is also working with Greening Youth Foundation to build a conservation workforce development program to train and employ young people of color in habitat conservation work in Atlanta and beyond to help them to launch careers in conservation.

Once this final piece is in place, we will have created a conservation career ladder program to offer multi-step, immersive programs that work with students beginning in middle school and moving with them through high school and beyond to introduce, engage, and ultimately employ youth from a diversity of backgrounds in conservation career path positions.


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