Spotlight On: Center for Conservation Leadership


Center for Conservation Leadership

It is the middle of summer, and instead of sitting around absorbed in electronics or declaring boredom, 10 first-year Center for Conservation Leadership students recently completed a three-week trip to the north woods of Wisconsin. Talk about checking items off a summer bucket list—the students learned about watersheds (✓); examined zooplankton and other macro-invertebrates (✓); learned how to identify trees (✓); canoed miles an miles across lakes and down rivers (✓); spotted a trumpeter swan on a nest (✓); toured a local college’s compost center, garden and community kitchen (✓); rock climbed (✓); sea kayaked through caves (✓); learned about waste water treatment (✓); and spent nights camping under the stars (✓).

For these students, the experiences may have been new. But for CCL (a Lake Forest Open Lands Association educational initiative), it is the tenth time sending a high school-aged group of budding conservationists and environmentalists into the north woods. In 2010, CCL began working toward its mission to “nurture and engage the next generation of conservation leaders by connecting students with the environment and by encouraging them to take responsibility for its care and preservation.” Today, CCL’s honor roll boasts more than 165 students, representing more than 16 communities and 14 schools in Lake County.

A diverse and inclusive environmental community (spanning all ages, genders, economic status, race, ethnicities, etc.) is vital to the future of conservation as environmental deterioration, depletion of natural resources and destruction of ecosystems are a concern in every community throughout the United States (and beyond). CCL is committed to diversifying the field and developing environmental leaders in underserved communities by increasingly recruiting more and more students from these areas in the county. Approximately 60 percent of CCL’s students are Hispanic, and 20 percent are African American; overall 80 percent of the students are from low-income households.

A main component of CCL is the first-year program, which consists of the summer outdoor educational experience, a mentored stewardship project in each student’s local community and continuing education field trips, seminars and workshops. Upon completion, students present their projects and are awarded a certificate during a ceremony in the spring. The students are then encouraged to continue with the multi-year program and stay involved through its high school stewardship program. This allows them to hone their environmental interests, receive additional leadership training, obtain restoration ecology internships, attend water study field trips, complete more community service, and to have ongoing advisory relationships with their mentors to help identify higher-level opportunities and college study programs.

The CCL program is offered to students going into 10th, 11th or 12th  grades. Because CCL wanted to expand its reach and capture students interested in environmental conservation at an earlier age, it recently developed a new initiative for seventh and eighth graders. Conservation Explorers, or CONEX, is an outdoor summer program that CCL is holding in partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves. CONEX focuses on water, wildlife and way of life. The students in this program study Lake County’s eco-systems and go on a week-long trip to Michigan to learn more about the importance of conservation efforts.

In addition to the Center for Conservation Leadership and CONEX programs, CCL also works with non-profit organizations (such as North Chicago Community Partners, Waukegan to College, Cool Learning Experience, Cristo Rey St. Martin, and Nuestro Center) to expand environmental engagement opportunities to more students, families and communities in Lake County. These efforts help build relationships and make connections with diverse populations, as well as bring communities together to work toward successful environmental stewardship at a local level.

Center for Conservation Leadership Success Story: During the 2018-2019 school year, Edwin Felipe-Pozo was a junior at Waukegan High School. He joined CCL in 2016 and has since become a passionate birder. With the encouragement of his CCL mentor, Edwin participated in the National Audubon Society’s Climate Watch Initiative. This is a citizen science initiate to monitor how North American Birds are responding to climate change. Edwin identified two target bird species and, using GIS technology, mapped Lake County into 10×10 square kilometers for monitoring. Edwin located 12 points, representing the best accessible habitat for the target species, within the squares. He conducted five-minute stationary observations at each of these 12 points, recorded his observations and sent them to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird site. The most impressive part of this work is that Edwin performed it in eight of the 12 Lake County squares. The other volunteers, all professional or very involved birders, monitored one square with the help of many others. Edwin conducted all his observation in the dead of winter between January and February. For his work, Edwin received commendation from the National Audubon Society and Presidential Environmental Youth Recognition. Edwin continued with his commitment to bird monitoring by participating in the spring monitoring session.

Center for Conservation Leadership By the Numbers: 

More than 165  students have
been involved with
CCL since 2010.
They represent 16 communities and
14 schools in Lake County.                                
60 percent of
CCL’s  students
are Hispanic,
20 percent are
African American;
80 percent of
CCL’s students are
from low-income households            
In 2018,
16 CCL students
organized and led
14 stewardship
projects in their
local communities; 10 new students joined the CCL program in 2019.
Currently, there are more than 47 CCL students enrolled
in college, of which
23 are majoring in
an environmental studies program                  
12 CCL students traveled to Yellowstone National Park for eco-system exploration during the Summer of 2018; 12 new students are going there this summer.

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May 2019 Spotlight On: Art Impact Project

April 2019 Spotlight On: Roberti Community House

March 2019 Spotlight On: Waukegan to College

February 2019 Spotlight On: Rosalind Franklin University

December 2018 Spotlight On: Beacon Place

November 2018 Spotlight On: Cristo Rey St. Martin