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Partners in the Parks: 10 Years of Engaging Honors Students in the Outdoors

Partners in the Parks Zion National Park trip 2016Partners in the Parks (PITP), a national program that began at Southern Utah University, celebrated 10 years of student involvement and service with the National Park Service (NPS).

PITP unites directly with the goal of the NPS Centennial – to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates. This is the vision the Partners in the Parks initiative was founded on and remains true to today.

In 2006, Paul Roelandt, superintendent at Cedar Breaks National Monument partnered with SUU Honors Program Director Matt Nickerson and Dr. Todd Petersen, director of the EDGE Program, to author and successfully apply for the Centennial grant. Over the next few years, they worked with colleagues from the NPS and National Collegiate Honors Council to build Partners in the Parks. 

This outdoor-centric program is a week-long immersive and academic experience for select Honors students from different colleges and universities across the country. Since its inception, PITP has engaged more than 500 Collegiate Honors students in 37 National Parks, Monuments, and Recreational Areas. Through PITP, college students can gain problem-solving skills, are given opportunities to think critically, and enhance their ability to be resilient.

“For students, this experience provides a great vehicle for exploring the country,” said Jayci Bash, associate director of the SUU Honors Program. “We should be tourists in our own country before we visit other places. To see our nation’s most treasured places is a huge benefit for these undergrads.”

During the projects, students engage in stewardship to the park and help administrators with behind-the-scenes tasks of running the operation. Students are taught how to recreate responsibly and experience the park through hikes, climbs and tours. Students also foster a lifelong stewardship to the parks, learning to respect and appreciate these natural wonderlands found in their own backyard.

“This program is all about helping the youth of America appreciate the value of the national parks,” said Paul Roelandt, superintendent of Cedar Breaks National Monument. “The next generation of stewards are the ones who have the power to protect these pieces of natural wonderlands. Through Partners in the Parks, we will continue to offer academic adventures to students and are hopefully starting a new phase of internship opportunities.”