• Expedition: Jun 19 - Jul 14, 2000
  • Environmental Science Academy
  • Yosemite National Park

EXPEDITION I consisted of 11 fabulous students from the Environmental Science Academy (ESA). THE ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE ACADEMY (ESA) is an educational outreach program for students living in the Livingston and Merced areas of California. The four-week program introduces high school students to areas of wilderness through a partnership with the US Forest Service, National Park Service and the University of California (UC) system.

Students are brought to Yosemite National Park to study the flora and fauna as well as the geology and history of the park. This provides an opportunity for students to develop an appreciation for " wild places." Teachers from Livingston and Merced, UC students, and two Minnesota interns aided in the Environmental Science Academy program.

EXPEDITION I arrived in Yosemite on June 19, 2000 and stayed until July 14. They were joined by two interns, Kevin and Janel, who were in Yosemite for the summer through a special program developed by UNILEVER. Expedition I spent time in Hite's Cove, Wawona, Yosemite Valley, Tuolomne Meadows, and also made visits to three University of California campuses. While involved with the ESA and the WildLink Program they:

  • learned about the flora and fauna of an area in the Yosemite Wilderness
  • collected data for the GLOBE program
  • explored different options for college
  • learned how to backpack using Leave No Trace principles

Janel's Journal


It has been one week since I have met the students of the Environmental Science Academy and already I can feel myself being drawn to each and every one of them. Upon entering Merced High School where our first two days were held, I realized how unexposed I have been to people of other cultures. All my life I have grown up in a middle class, predominately Caucasian suburb of the Twin Cities, in Minnesota. I can recall once or twice having a person of color sit beside me in the classroom, but for as long as I can remember I looked like everyone else. Now in a classroom in Merced, CA I found I was the only white student in the bunch along with the other intern Kevin. I questioned how accepting these students would be to my culture and I knew I would try my hardest to learn about their backgrounds so that I could understand their way of life.

The first two days were spent at the high school in Merced to learn the necessary techniques for the GLOBE protocols that would be conducted at Hites Cove. Right away I was thrown into a group with three other students and found that pronunciation of names was the first battle to be dealt with. Over half of the students were Latino and although I had studied Spanish for three years, being in a real life situation was extremely different. I knew that I needed to learn names quickly so that conversation with these students would be more personable. It took a few days to overcome that obstacle, yet all the students were extremely patient with me along the way.

The curiosity and determination to learn the GLOBE protocols was extremely evident in the actions of each and every student. I was intrigued with their willingness to ask questions and to find a deeper understanding for the wilderness they would soon experience in Hites Cove.

A backpacking trip to historical Hites Cove was a good icebreaker to get to know the students one on one. Perhaps the most profound cultural shock was listening to the comments made by one Hmong boy about the possibility of catching fish for dinner. His wishful thinking to catch not just one fish, but many fish was to throw a hand grenade into the water and wait for the fish to float to the top. Obviously, he was joking, but there must be some genesis of such an idea that may have come from his life growing up in Laos and surrounding countries. Yet during the three days of backpacking in Hites Cove, this boy showed the greatest amount of enthusiasm for what we were doing and with every passing day I believe he felt a greater kinship with wildness. On our last night around the campfire, we were all asked to share our favorite part of the Hites Cove trip. I found I had enjoyed my experience with wildness more than ever before because I was able to share in it with a diverse group of people who looked at wildness in a different light than I did. Most of all, I realized that my being there added to the diversity of the group which made all our lessons learned that much richer.


The second week with the ESA students was spent in Wawona and Yosemite Valley taking in various talks from Naturalists. Each talk was interesting in its own way, however, the highlight of the past week was our time spent at Glacier Point. The four hours we were up there overlooking the Yosemite Valley was the first time ESA 1 and ESA 2 students were together. It was amazing how everyone interacted, shared stories and separated from their usual crowd to get to know those otherwise never spoken to. The laughter resonated off the rocky landscape and I marveled at the ease at talking the other ESA students from the younger group. It was then decided to play a group game which everyone took part, which just added to the laughter. After the game, a girl and I who I have become good friends with over the past two weeks went off to talk and hang out for awhile. We talked about everything, her home life, school, boyfriends and what she hopes to be someday. I found that we were both very much alike in our goals and desires for our future. Even across cultures, hers being Latino and Italian, there are always basic human characteristics that if touched upon, can connect you with a person otherwise thought to have nothing in common with. I have always been taught that people all over the world are essentially the same and that is where a general respect for all people should originate from. But until this common thread of humanity is experienced, it is so easy to separate oneself when looking into the eyes of diversity.


The past week was spent with both ESA groups touring different UC campuses in order to expose them to their college options. The first day was spent at Santa Cruz where both groups took in a lecture about the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon. The highlight of the day, however, was the trip to a marine lab in Santa Cruz. All the students enjoyed the ability to touch some of the marine life like starfish and sea urchins. I had had such an experience through the high school I graduated from and having the ability to actually touch marine life brought their need for protection that much more tangible. I'm sure this experience had the same effect on many of the students. The next day was spent at Berkeley which seemed to be the favorite choice of the three colleges because of the urban life it offered. Being outside of San Francisco, Berkeley offered an urban experience that many of the students were drawn to after growing up in a rural and agricultural community of the Merced/Livingston area. All the students were captivated with the museum of terrestrial invertebrates shown by one of the professors at the college. Many of them asked so many questions that the professor never had a moment's rest and he lead our group to each and every organism asked about. The professor was pleased with the group's curiosity and through given to each question. The next day was spent at UC Davis where a general tour was given. Throughout the last three days there was one thing that stood out of the two groups of students that greatly impressed me. Everywhere we went and with every speaker listened to journals were vigorously being written in. Even though their journals were part of their grade for the class, it was obvious that each student took in what was being told to them and eagerly wrote it down so as not to forget what they had learned. It is obvious that these students are motivated and are creating the foundation needed for a general respect for the environment.


Three days during this week were spent camping with the ESA 1 group in Toulumne Meadows. At first, the group was reluctant to include us, but it only took a few hours until Kevin and I were taken in. More of an age difference than there was with ESA 2 may have been the factor that kept the students from including us that first day. In the evening we had a law enforcement ranger by the name of Stephen Willis talk to the students about possible job opportunities in National Parks. Even for me, it was interesting to learn about all the behind the scene jobs that the average visitor never gets to see. Many of the students seemed interested in the law enforcement and Search And Rescue positions available in the park. Because of this talk, I believe many of the students were able to picture themselves interning in a National Park in just a few short years, which could one day lead to a permanent position in any National Park. The moment I knew that I was welcomed by these students was when I was assigned a group to work with on their presentations for the upcoming banquet. I knew I had to keep the group on task, yet I didn't want to sound too much like an authority figure because if I did this, I worried that they would not think of me as a friend. So, I decided we should make a secret club house in the back of one of the suburbans with a secret hand shake needed to get in, and all the students loved the idea and they could see that I was in to a good time just as much as they were. Of course we got the work done that we needed to and for the next two days I heard my group calling me to join them in the club house and I knew that I had found a way to bond with them as a friend, and also be the leader they needed to get the task done. After the three days of camping was up, I felt a part of the group and couldn't wait to see all of them at the banquet the following week.

Kevin's Journal


For the first two days of my stay in CA I was introduced to the group of students that I would be spending the next few days with in the back country with a leave no trace emphasis. This in itself was a slight challenge as the students had already been through one year of an ESA (Environmental Science Academy) which made it seem more difficult to break into the group. In addition to that Janel and I were the only white faces in the crowd and it seemed a bit intimidating. At first I must admit I was a somewhat shy, that is until we left for Hites cove. Hites Cove proved to be the perfect intro to the group, it made it easier to get to know the students and to get to know a little about their backgrounds. The trip gave us the chance to work in a group setting with the students and to get our first experiences with the GLOBE protocols, which we would be focussing on during our stay. By the end of the week I felt like I was more a part of the group and I felt comfortable with everyone in the group. To not only work with a diverse group but also to add to the diversity so far has been a neat experience for me.


This week it felt like I felt like I was part of the group. People were joking around with me and I no longer felt as if I was an outside observer. I participated in the same activities as the students and felt like one of the students myself. In fact one night at glacier point some of the students decided that while we waited for the sun to set they would do my hair. I ended up looking pretty crazy but it was a lot of fun. It was neat because some of the students who I had yet to connect with helped out with my hair and it was a good icebreaker. By the end of this week I felt like I was just hanging out with friends. At first I was somewhat surprised by how willing to accept Janel and the students were. The students were very welcoming which made it easier to talk to them and have fun with them. This week also provided an introduction to the students from ESA 1 which we will be working with a little later in our stay here. At first the younger students of ESA 1 seemed to be just that younger. Upon spending some time with a small group of them I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are more mature and more fun that I had first perceived. To be honest at first I wasn't sure if I would be able to connect to the ESA 1 students. I seemed to be drawn more to the instructor and cameraman than the students, because they seemed to have more in common with me. I was caught in the middle of two groups, the group of freshmen and sophomores in high school and a few people that were in college or had recently graduated, I wasn't sure who to talk to. I am glad to say that I was able to get past all that and meet a group of fun students and instructors.


This week entailed the students visiting three universities of California College campuses. It provided a unique way to see how the students responded to different aspects college life. The campuses we visited were U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz and U.C. Davis. Both groups of students went on all three-campus visits.

The student's next visit was to the University of California Berkeley. Berkeley seemed to get the most positive response from the students. While at Berkeley we toured the campus, visited a large collection of terrestrial vertebrates, and stayed in the dorms. The students reacted to the dorm life with an unexpected enthusiasm. They were excited to get a glimpse of college life. The tour of the vertebrate collection fascinated the students and the questions kept on coming.

The third campus we visited was U.C. Davis. The students seemed to have the least reaction to Davis and there seemed to be the least amount of interest in the campus. We toured the campus and the library while at Davis. The week was a week of discovery for the students. They discovered what college life would be like. They discovered what college food would be like. They discovered or really cemented the idea that they wanted to go to college and that they could go to college.


This week we camped with ESA 1 in Tuolumne meadows. It provided a third and more thorough opportunity to get to know the students from ESA 1 a little bit better.

The first day we set up camp and heard a talk from a ranger named Steven Willis. The talk entailed a description of his duties and his experiences in National Parks and a brief description of available career opportunities in the Park service. I struggled to remember and pronounce names for the entire trip, but thankfully the students were patient with me. I participated in all of the various activities that the ESA 1 students were involved in. At first on this trip most of the students seemed to shy away from Janel and I, which seemed odd as we had spent a small amount of time with the students earlier, but after the first day we were treated as if we were one of the group.

The second day I went to Mono Lake. A Forest service ranger named Larry Ford spoke to us and spent the day with us teaching us about the Lake and its unique features. This day was the first full day Janel and I had spent with just the ESA1 students. The day provided a glimpse into what the group dynamic was and to what roles some of the students played within the group. It also gave Janel and I a chance to see how we would fit into the group. Janel and I were treated as if we were part of the group and also as if we were leaders of the group. Our roles varied with each situation presented.

The third day we visited the Hetch Hetchy Dam. The students had a historic debate as to weather or not the dam should be put in Yosemite National Park. The debate was lead by Ranger Holly…… Janel and I were placed on a council, which would decide if the dam should be put in the park or not based on the presentations of the various groups. This was a fun day as Janel and I had already had a similar debate and had researched the Hetch Hetchy Dam in the past. The trip overall was a fun way to really get to know the students of ESA 1.

WildLink is a proud partner of the National Park Service, National Forest Service, and Nature Bridge.