There has been plenty of discussion lately about the need for our nation’s education system to better engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM) as our country falls behind the global competition in these areas. According to one recent study, the United States ranks 14th in science out of 31 countries-prompting President Obama to launch a new education initiative to expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program has been successfully providing these kinds of opportunities for underserved students for the past 17 years, and we’re extremely proud of the growth and successes we’ve seen. According to a recent alumni survey, 34% of LEAF graduates went on to major in life sciences vs. 6% of national average. And 52% volunteer for environmental causes vs. 3% of national average.

In partnership with environmentally themed high schools currently in four states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Georgia) the program provides paid summer jobs for students on Conservancy preserves around the country and the opportunity to experience nature alongside practicing scientists and conservation managers.

Together with the Ecological Society of America, we are also connecting educators from environmental high schools to share their best practices to enrich the classroom experience and bring environmental science to life in America’s cities.

Recently the Conservancy received a $3.1 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation to expand our signature LEAF program to empower the next generation of conservation leaders.

The Toyota USA Foundation’s generosity couldn’t have come at a better time. The Conservancy is committed to nurturing the next generation of green leaders and helping prepare them to address our world’s most pressing environmental challenges. By 2012, we will be serving additional environmental high schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago. We expect to have over 20,000 students involved in LEAF in the next few years!

We’re excited for what’s to come this year, and expect nothing but continued greatness from our young leaders. To learn more about LEAF,you can visit

Brian McPeek is the Chief Conservation Officer of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Brian on Twitter @bcmcpeek.

(Image: Students from New York city’s High School for Environmental studies (HSES) climb Algonquin Peak in the MacIntyre Range in North Hudson, NY., during a Conservancy sponsored nature studies internship.. Image credit: © Amy Deputy Photography)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I think it is very admirable and womderful that the Conservancy is taking a lead to get students out in the natural world. So many young people never leave their apartments much less their neighborhood.

    I believe that this program needs to be expanded to suburban schools as well. Suburbia is losing its wild places at an alarming rate and its children do not play outside or appreciate the natural world around them. Also, I think it should be opened up to high schools without an environmental theme. There are many high schools where the science teachers would embrace such a program. States like Texas are in dire need of exposing the next generation to the natural world around them.

Add a Comment