Camarillo, Calif., Feb. 7, 2011 – Dr. Donald Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Resource Management at CSU Channel Islands (CI) was invited to Washington, D.C. to speak to the National Parks Foundation regarding the issue of engaging college-age youth with the National Parks Service (NPS).  In particular, the group wanted to know how to make the parks relevant to 18 to 25-year-old minority students who had very little history of using the parks for recreation and other outdoor activities. 

Rodriguez returned to campus and, with a grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, put together an interdisciplinary research team consisting of himself, Dr. Jose Alamillo, Associate Professor Chicana/o Studies and Dr. Tracylee Clarke, Assistant Professor of Communication.  They hired one Hispanic student from each of their respective academic areas (Iliana Espinoza, Jose Tlaxcuapan, and Paul Paredes), to work with the research team throughout the project and to explore minority participation among their peer groups.  This work is part of the students’ Capstone projects.

After completing the analysis phase of the project in the fall, the full team is currently engaged in compiling culturally responsive outreach activities and creating a template for use with other park staffs.  The student team is conducting peer focus groups to ask such questions as, “Are the parks meaningful for you and, if not, why not?” Not only are the parks interested in this kind of data, but also manufacturers of sporting goods and recreational equipment like R.E.I., the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Society.

The outdoor community wants to understand the concerns and needs of this diverse population so they can appeal to the next generation of users. The underserved youth are the fastest growing demographic and are often highly urbanized with no history of socialized nature based recreation activity.  Being familiar with the outdoor life means not just an appreciation of nature but of different ecosystem services like open space, clean water, wildlife habitat, and clean air.

In April and May, Clarke assisted by Rodriguez and Alamillo, will conduct three field training workshops to share information from the project, specifically with the NPS interpretive staff at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Channel Islands National Park and Cabrillo National Monument to help the staffs of these parks become aware of particular challenges associated with reaching underserved audiences. The research team will also work with NPS staff to design and implement workshop assessment instruments to be integrated into the three NPS workshops for park personnel.

CI, as a Hispanic Serving Institution, has been actively engaged with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Channel Islands National Park, with members of the Park staff involved in the planning and instruction of various courses. 

Rodriguez hopes that once CI’s project is complete it can serve as a model of student engagement by CI’s feeder community colleges and eventually by the CSU and other 4-year universities.

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About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands (CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI's strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master's degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more about CI by visiting CI's Social Media.

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