The goals of the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit. Photo by Maketa Wilborn

Empowering Future Environmental Leaders: 2018 Northwest Youth Leadership Summit

This article was written by Graduate Student Spencer Gee. Spencer is a member of the C18 Graduate M.Ed Program Cohort, and works with North Cascades Institute's Youth Leadership Ambassadors Program.

On November 17, 2018 I attended the ninth annual Northwest Youth Leadership Summit at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center. While I was there, I interacted with leaders from the Washington-Oregon area and networked with other environmental and outdoor organizations in the Pacific Northwest. From the conversations and breakout sessions I attended, I was encouraged along with other participants and partners to empower youth leadership, develop environmental professionals, create a community, activate young leaders and amplify underrepresented voices in the outdoor and environmental communities.

Mountaineers Adventure Club member belays other participants up the climbing wall during the Summit. Photo By Megan Young

While there were many different opportunities and activities throughout the day, as well as experiential field trips on Friday, I personally valued the Opportunity Fair the most. The fair provided me with the chance to network with organizations outside of the North Cascades Institute and recognize the wide variety of programs, jobs, and events offered to individuals of all ages and experiences. My conversations with organizations such as the Student Conservation Association, Inspiring Girls ExpeditionsMt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and Washington Trails Association helped me, and many other participants, recognize the different paths available after graduation, both in the Washington area and beyond.

The Camp Long Trail Work Party during the Friday Field Trips. Photo By Britt Lê

Participants also found great value in the Student Open Space activity held at the end of the Summit. During Open Space, participants were given the chance to voice their own opinions and beliefs on pressing topics in the environmental field. Participants selected discussion topics, including environmental challenges, diversity and inclusion in the environment, and youth leadership opportunities. All participants were given the chance to converse with peers, mentors, and leaders about the changes, ideas, and questions created regarding the topic at hand. At the end of the Summit, those in attendance found the Open Space segment of the Summit to be “inspiring, inclusive, [and] supportive,” and reported that they “felt included and [that] it was nice to talk about beliefs in a safe environment.”

Participants interact with the National Parks Service at the Opportunity Fair. Photo by Megan Young

The Summit also provides participants the opportunity to form their own community of young people interested in the outdoors. It is important to open the opportunity to participate up to youth of all backgrounds, experiences, and phases of life as there are many chances for participants to discuss with one another the value of the environmental field to them, as well as their aspirations and dreams within and for the field. By inviting youth of different backgrounds to the Summit, participants are able to visualize themselves within the predominately white, cisgender, and heterosexual community of the outdoor industry in connection with those that hold similar beliefs, values, and lifestyles. Similarly, participants and organizations are able to discuss common challenges facing the industry, as well as programs designed to work towards environmental and social justice in the outdoor community.

The Northwest Youth Leadership Summit holds an important role in both the youth leadership and environmental communities of the Pacific Northwest, as the event brings attention to the large issues of diversity and inclusion of the outdoor community. By holding space for youth leaders to converse, recognize, and strategize solutions for these issues, the Summit creates a model that supports diverse opinions and ideas from a variety of outdoor and environmental participants. I hope to see other events around the United States begin to address these concerns within the outdoor community, both with youth leaders and current leaders.

Participants discuss environmental challenges during Open Space. Photo by Megan Young

In the end, I, and many of the other participants, had a wonderful time at the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit connecting with organizations and learning many skills to become an environmental professional. In each Breakout Session and Summit activity, I was amazed to see the amount of passion and interaction each of the participants brought with them. The Summit provided us all the chance to network with other like-minded youth and recognize the importance of certain topics within the field. I hope to have the chance to continue interacting with the individuals and organizations I was able to meet this year and attend the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit next year along with the future environmental leaders.

Overall group photo of the 2018 NWYLS. Photo by Megan Young

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