I am Mitchelle De Leon. I attended UC Merced from the fall semester of 2010 until the fall semester of 2011 with an undeclared major (I have since transferred to another university pursuing a degree in geological sciences). When I first arrived at UC Merced as a freshman, I was eager to experience my college years, slightly uneasy of an entirely different environment, and, most importantly, open to the possibilities. My first encounter with the Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) occurred during my freshman orientation, and it definitely was not one of those “love at first sight” sort of encounters. I thought, “That looks kinda interesting but I would never do anything like that.” I had never been to Yosemite or another national park, never gone camping or backpacking: one would have described me as the antithesis of “outdoorsy” (would that be “indoorsy?”). As my first semester of college progressed, I suddenly felt the desire to alter my paradigm, which luckily led me to YLP, then an application to the YLP summer internship, and finally to the summer that changed my life (and I mean that without exaggeration).
Another part of the internship involved an environmental leadership class taught by Shauna Potocky every Friday, but I will not spoil the surprises for you: you will just have to experience it yourself. I will say though that because of that class, I always ask where the fish came from whenever I purchase from a market or restaurant because my money is my most powerful vote.
However I would like to address a little bit of something that you are probably eager to know: what is it like living in Yosemite? Most of the interns will be living in cabins in Wawona, which is about a 45 minute drive from Yosemite Valley. If you happen to be assigned to the Dull House, it will be quite cold and you might find yourself trying to get a bat out of the house using a cooking pan. Now, if you happen to be working with the Yosemite Conservancy, you will spend Mondays through Thursdays in the YC assigned housing in El Portal at a place called the Yosemite Institute Hotel, which is basically a big house; although you will have your own room over there, it will be quite hot, so bring yourself a nice fan. Also, always have your room key with you to prevent locking yourself out of your room on your first night, and try to go to Sal’s Taco on Thursdays at El Portal since it is a great way to meet other park employees outside the internship. In terms of transportation, buses are available, and it is very convenient to have your own vehicle, but if you do not have your own vehicle, arrange a carpool with the other interns.
When I was concluding my presentation of my internship for the student symposium, I was, to my great surprise, holding back my tears as I thanked the people that made that entire experience possible. At that point, I realized that this internship meant much more than a resume addition or an experience to improve my skills for the working world. During one summer, I had developed an immense appreciation and concern for our planet, which led me to pursue a career in environmental management. I had allowed myself to grow as individual alongside my cohorts and mentors. I have a poster of the student symposium plastered on the wall in front of me to remind myself everyday to pursue my career and personal goals as “Bold and Free” as I can be.
P.S. You must attend a Barn Dance in Wawona at least once!
My internship position was with the Yosemite Conservancy’s Art and Education Center with Aline Allen. The Yosemite Conservancy (YC) is Yosemite National Park’s non-profit partner (visit yosemiteconservancy.org to learn more about the organization). From my knowledge, the internship with YC differs each year because YC interns from previous years had different responsibilities from my own internship experience, so I suggest contacting YC or YLP internship coordinators. My responsibilities as an intern for the Art and Education Center included leading arts and crafts programs, developing and presenting public education programs, evaluating art instructors, and painting. The position involves interacting with visitors of all ages on a daily basis, which is the same for most of the other internship positions. I had never really painted prior to the internship, but as long as you have the willingness to learn, this part of the job becomes immensely enjoyable. In fact, I first found myself frustrated whenever I had to paint because I just could not create an aesthetically pleasing rendition of a waterfall or a mountain on to a piece of paper through my beginner brush strokes, but after I attended a workshop with an artist named Tom Fong, I painted with the motto of “Bold and Free,” which described Tom Fong’s almost abstract painting style and was the name of his workshop, but, to me, the statement meant that I should remove myself from the conscious effort of avoiding errors when painting a piece; on my journal that week, I wrote for that “I’m less intimidated to make mistakes, which is a turning point since it opens me to learn new things” along with an all-caps reminder of “don’t be so afraid to make some mistakes.”