Celebrating Stories of Young Conservation Leaders Virtual Event

The graphic is an announcement for a virtual event

Photos Courtesy of The Corps Network

During National Park Week, join the National Park Service Youth Programs Division, The Corps Network, and the National Park Foundation for the virtual event, "Celebrating Stories of Young Conservation Leaders: Advancing Sustainability and Environmental Justice in Parks and Communities," on April 25, 2023, from 1:00pm-2:30pm ET. In celebration of our national parks and Earth Month, speakers and panelists will share their park stories related to the service and conservation corps movement. Youth and young adults can help address the challenges of climate change as well as advance environmental justice and sustainability in our communities and on our public lands. Participating in corps programs is a great way to get involved. Attendees will learn what it's like to serve in a corps and how corps programs offer diverse young people opportunities to explore their identities while making our parks more resilient, beautiful, safe, and inclusive. Join us to discover how you can make a lasting impact when your park story begins in a corps.

Watch the event recording on our YouTube channel, or follow the NPS Youth and Young Adult Programs Facebook page to watch it there.

Event Details



  • Julie Gonzalez, Community Engagement Coordinator, Grand Teton National Park, National Park Service


  • Marie Walker, Chief Operating Officer, The Corps Network
  • Lise Aangeenbrug, Chief Program Officer, National Park Foundation
  • Rita Moss, Associate Director for the Workforce and Inclusion Directorate, National Park Service
  • Michael Smith, Chief Executive Officer, AmeriCorps

Panel Discussion

  • Daniel Agudelo, Park Ranger, Everglades National Park, National Park Service
  • Thunder Bushur, Former Youth Empowerment Steward, Conservation Legacy
  • CJ Franco, Stewards Individual Placement, Haleakala National Park and The Corps Network 2023 Corpsmember of the Year, National Park Service
  • Precious Vicente, Conservation Legacy and The Corps Network 2023 Corpsmember of the Year (for her service with American Conservation Experience)
  • Tai Vugia, Grand Teton National Park, National Park Service
  • Jared Whakinney, Park Guide, Oklahoma City National Memorial, National Park Service

Q&A Session (all speakers + speakers below)

  • George McDonald, Chief, Youth Programs and Experienced Services Program Division, National Park Service
  • Tracey Ritchie, Vice President of Education and Engagement, National Park Foundation

Closing Remarks

Watch the Event Recording

Screenshot of panelists from a virtual event
Screenshot from left to right: ASL interpreter Jackie, Julie Gonzalez (NPS), Daniel Agudelo (NPS), Thunder Bushur (Conservation Legacy), CJ Franco (NPS), Precious Vicente (Conservation Legacy), Tai Vugia (NPS), Jared Wahkinney (NPS)

NPS Photo

Have any questions? Please email us!

Additional Resources

Learn More About Our Participating Partners

National Park Service Youth and Young Adult Programs: nps.gov/subjects/youthprograms

The Corps Network: corpsnetwork.org

National Park Foundation: nationalparks.org

Conservation Legacy: conservationlegacy.org

Student Conservation Association: https://www.thesca.org/

American Conservation Experience: https://www.usaconservation.org/

AmeriCorps: https://americorps.gov/

Meet the Speakers and Panelists

Daniel Agudelo smiling in uniform
Daniel Agudelo smiling in uniform

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Agudelo

Daniel Agudelo is a Park Ranger at Everglades National Park. He would not be where he is if it weren’t for the experiences he had as an intern through the American Conservation Experience's Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP) in Tallahassee, Florida where he worked with the Southeastern Archeological Center (SEAC). That experience allowed him to think about the NPS as an actual career and as a result, he changed majors because he really enjoyed that internship experience. He also participated in the NPS Academy at Grand Teton National Park the following year, which cemented his desire to work for the NPS!

Ten years later, he is now a Park Ranger and Nike Missile Site Coordinator at Everglades National Park. He helps connect visitors to the wonders of the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. To Daniel, Everglades National Park is vastly different than the parks out west. There is beauty all around, and the park engages all five of your senses.
Julie Gonzalez in uniform
Julie Gonzalez in uniform

Photo Courtesy of Julie Gonzalez

Julie Gonzalez (moderator) is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Grand Teton National Park. Her NPS journey started in 2015 with an internship program called the National Park Service Academy, at the time hosted in partnership with the Student Conservation Association. The internship took her to Glacier National Park where she fell in love with national parks and connecting people to the outdoors. From there Julie worked multiple seasons in Mount Rainier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks doing interpretation, education, and community engagement for the National Park Service. Somewhere in the middle she worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in San Diego, California under the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program.

In her current role, Julie works to connect youth, families, and underrepresented communities to the outdoors through environmental education and youth workforce development programs. She works in partnership with organizations like the American Conservation Experience and Groundworks USA to make this happen. As a Mexican-American first generation woman, she knows the power representation can have in helping others feel welcomed in outdoor spaces. She strives to create an environment where people feel a sense of belonging and can show up in the outdoors and feel comfortable. In her free time, she is on a raft floating the Snake River, skiing down the mountain, biking on dirt roads, or hanging out on the couch with her husband and goldendoodle.
CJ Bio smiling in uniform
CJ Bio smiling in uniform

Photo Courtesy of CJ Franco

Christopher (CJ) Franco Jr is currently working with the National Park Service as a trail crew member in Haleakalā National Park. His main mission is as a historic preservationist and also maintains cabins and trails in the park. Before starting his job the NPS, he served three terms with Conservation Legacy. His first term was with the Conservation Corps North Carolina, where was a crew member and was deployed with his crew to New Jersey to participate in the Hurricane Ida disaster relief operation. In the operation, he ended the deployment as the Incident Commands, Chief Logistics coordinator. After ending his first term, he joined with Arizona Conservation Corp as a crew leader and excelled in providing an educational experience for his crew. He then accepted an internship with the Stewards Individual Placement at Haleakala National Park. The internship program was a Traditional Trades Advanced Placement (TTAP) focusing on Historic Preservation. He then ended his internship and landed a position with the park as a Covid hire.

Born in Maui, Hawaii his family relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada when he was 11 years old. He attended his primary schooling there and afterwards began working at national parks as a concessions worker under Food & Beverage with multiple concession corporations. He worked at Mount Rainier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve as a cook before realizing he wanted to do more conservation work. He drew this inspiration from his great grandmother and motivation from his nephews. He hopes to provide future generations with well preserved wilderness and available resources to explore their interest in conservation. Hoping to influence youth development towards joining the fight towards conservation.
Precious Vicente in uniform
Precious Vicente in uniform

Photo Courtesy of Precious Vicente

Precious Vicente currently works for Conservation Legacy as a Program Coordinator. She recently served as a National Park Service Park Ranger at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, where she was a cultural resource to guests as well as to staff. She previously served with the National Park Service through the Historic Preservation Training Center's Traditional Trades Apprenticeship Program (TTAP) through American Conservation Experience (ACE) in search of new opportunities and with a passion for learning about her Hopi and Akimel O’odham heritage. Her Corps experience allowed her to explore her culture and to create connections within the National Park Service (NPS).

During her time with TTAP, Precious helped to preserve 4,200 feet of prehistoric earthen walls and 25 feet of 1930’s historic adobe walls. She continued to a second internship with Conservation Legacy as a cultural education intern. While there, she worked alongside NPS staff giving educational programs to the public and building tribal connections. She received an AmeriCorps Education Award for her efforts.

Tai Vugia posing on a mountain
Tai Vugia posing on a mountain

Photo Courtesy of Tai Vugia

Tai Vugia most recently served with the American Conservation Experience through the National Park Service Academy program, as part of Grand Teton National Park’s interpretive team. He previously worked as a corps member on public lands across the American west. Having served with the National Civilian Community Corps and Washington Conservations Corps, their time working in the field fostered a strong connection to the land and its stewardship. Tai

Aligned with the program’s mission of outdoor equity and bringing historically underrepresented identities into the National Park Service, they’ll be supporting the 2023 NPS Academy cohort in the role of peer mentor while returning to the Tetons this year as an NPS interpretive ranger. Tai believes that the outdoors should be a welcoming place for everyone, and that the successful management of these spaces needs people of diverse backgrounds, identities, and skill sets.
Jared Wahkinney in uniform
Jared Wahkinney in uniform

Photo Courtesy of Jared Wahkinney

Jared Wahkinney is a member of the Comanche Nation and a Park Guide who is making a difference at Oklahoma City National Memorial. Jared felt a deep connection to the community and his indigenous roots from a young age. His passion for preserving the environment and indigenous culture led him to work with the National Park Service. After completing his first season as an Intern in Interpretation with theAmerican Conservation Experience at Grand Teton National Park and working with partner programs like Mountains to Main Street, Jared found his true calling.

Since becoming a permanent employee in 2021, Jared has dedicated his time to engaging with other Indigenous employees within the NPS and finding ways to increase programs and outreach with indigenous communities. He has helped create new partnerships with groups like the First Americans Museum to create youth education programs and camps. When not at work, Jared enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, Lottie and Lander, and passing on the Comanche traditions to the next generation. He is also a photographer, film director, and researcher who uses his Comanche lens and knowledge of Indigenous Research Methodologies and Methods to tell cultural stories
Thunder bio
Thunder Bushur smiling outdoors

Photo Courtesy of Thunder Bushur

Thunder Bushur was recently a Youth Empowerment Steward intern through Stewards Individual Placement Program thorugh Conservation Legacy. Some examples of projects she worked on include helping to support National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), compiling data, exploring hiring practices, and creating a hiring manual concept. Becoming a YES intern was a pivotal moment for her, as the connections and collaborations across the states were incredible. There are so many people to thank that helped create YES be what it is now.

The experience impacted her passion to lead. She did not previously believe in her leadership skills and now realizes how each experience becomes part of that person's story story. She challenges you to think about what drew you here? Maybe the parks are calling to you. Maybe you have never heard of some of these job positions before. Maybe you are in the parks already but want to know more. She hopes you keep chasing your passions and adventure as it calls to you.
Marie Walker bio
Marie Walker

Photo Courtesy of Marry Ellen Sprenkel

Marie Walker is The Corps Network's Chief Operating Officer. She manages the organization's day-to-day operations. Marie supervises The Corps Network’s contracts as well as the organization’s private and federal partnerships with AmeriCorps, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. Marie also helped develop GulfCorps, a conservation and workforce development initiative focused on training local young adults for careers in the growing restoration economy along the Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to joining The Corps Network in 2014, Marie spent 15 years as the Director of Programs and Development for the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia (CCCWV). Marie was involved in the development and implementation of several innovative programs, including the first Brownfields Job Training Program in West Virginia. Marie is a 2023 recipient of the Corps community's prestigious Legacy Achievement Award for her contributions to the Service and Conservation Corps movement. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Sociology, as well as a MPA in Public Administration. She studied at Concord University, Old Dominion University, and West Virginia University.
Tracey Ritchie smiling
Tracey Ritchie smiling

Photo Courtesy of Tracey Ritchie

Tracey Ritchie joined the National Park Foundation team as the Vice President of Education and Engagement in August of 2021 and oversees all aspects of program management and grantmaking for the Connecting Audiences team. She also serves as a key liaison to the National Park Service Office of Interpretation, Education, & Volunteers and the Office of Workforce & Inclusion. Tracey works closely with the National Park Foundation leadership and philanthropy teams to raise funds from institutional funders, individual donors, and corporate partners to support the programmatic needs and growth of the Connecting Audiences portfolio.
George McDonald Bio Photo
George McDonald smiling

Photo Courtesy of George McDonald

George McDonald currently serves as Chief of the National Youth Programs and Experienced Services Program Division for the National Park Service. In this role, McDonald has led successful efforts to launch numerous programs designed to enhance and increase the number of underserved, minority and disadvantaged youth participating in park activities and engaging in employment and educational opportunities in parks. Significantly, he helped launch NPS’s Youth Intern Program in 2009 to provide youth and young adults an intellectually challenging experience and exposure to a range of NPS job opportunities.

McDonald has partnered with numerous 21CSC organizations, helping develop such programs as Historically Black Colleges and Universities Internship in collaboration with the Greening Youth Foundation, the Latino Heritage Internship Program, and the Mosaics in Science Intern Program with Environment for the Americas. McDonald has not only championed the 21CSC within NPS, but has taken time to write congressional responses and inform leaders across the Department of the Interior about the value of this initiative.
Lise Aangeenbrug bio photo
Lise Aangeenbrug bio photo

Photo Courtesy of Lise Aangeenbrug

Lise Aangeenbrug is the National Park Foundation's Chief Program Officer, overseeing the organization’s programmatic strategy for protecting parks, connecting people to the natural and cultural heritage parks preserve, and strengthening the extensive national network of nonprofit partners that support the more than 400 national parks across the country. She has been at the nexus of the stewardship of land, water, and wildlife and recreation opportunities that respect and reflect the public’s desire to have both high-quality recreation and high-quality natural areas. Previously, she served in executive leadership roles with Great Outdoors Colorado and most recently as executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association. Lise served as Executive Vice President at NPF between 2016 and 2018. She is a Board Member of the Land Trust Alliance and Resources Legacy Fund.

Last updated: May 8, 2023