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Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program

Family Forest Research Center scientists talk with landowners about forest management.Background

Getting high school students outdoors, exposed to natural resources and excited about science was the common objective of  Adam Wiese, Ron Zalesny, and Ed Bauer of the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, and John Schutts, former Rhinelander High School Science Department Chair, when in 2009 they partnered to establish the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program. 

The Program typically involves 7 to 10 high school students each summer who are selected based on applications to the program.  In the course of 10 full-day sessions offered by partner organizations, students participate in supervised field projects, field trips, and classroom exercises and learn about environmental conservation disciplines such as genetics, physiology, wildlife biology, landscape ecology and forestry.  The program culminates with scholars completing a small-scale scientific study and presenting study results to Forest Service staff. Past studies have explored how to reduce shoreline erosion, how to enhance pollinator habitat and how to restore natural diversity in local forests.

In 2016 the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program will mark it’s eighth year of operation.  By the end of 2016, 53 students from Rhinelander High School will have participated in the program.  The program currently involves nine partners who collaborate to provide field trips, field workshops and classroom sessions as part of the 10-session summer program. 

Four from Partnership founders plus more from additional partners
Active National Forests Involved
Chequemegon-Nicolet National Forest plus some work on Wisconsin State Forest lands.
Base Annual Budget

Some support is received through the Northern Research Station Civil Rights Diversity Committee.  Most support is provided in kind by the partner organizations.   


To date, the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program:

  • Has had 53 high school students participate in the program (by the end of 2016)
  • Has increased the number of partners involved in the program from two to nine
  • Has been hailed by the Rhinelander School District for providing opportunities students would not have otherwise had.
  • Has benefited partner organizations by enabling them to positively influence the next generation and build interest in and support for the natural environment.


In an increasingly virtual world, there is a national trend in “nature deficit disorder” whereby children are gravitating away from outdoor experiences and toward a more virtual and sedentary indoor reality.  The Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program was designed to get kids outdoors, expose them to natural resources and get them excited about science.  Based on the enthusiasm of the students who have participated in the program, and the fact that numerous students in the program have gone on to careers in science and natural resources, there is evidence that the program is making a difference.  

Lessons Learned

As the program has progressed over the years, a number of lessons have been learned. In its first year, the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program was more show-and-tell than activity based.  It consisted of a series of presentations by program founders and collaborators. These presentations constituted about 75 percent of the program while doing activities took up the remaining 25 percent. It didn’t take long to realize this model was not good for high school students and the program was modified to be more project-oriented.  Now participants are involved in some type of activities about 95 percent of the time. The other thing that has changed is that the activities are different from year to year based on collaborators’ availability. A third major change is that, starting in the second year, “scholar mentors” (who are either previous scholars that return  to assist with the program or summer students who are interested in working with the scholars) have been included in the program. As a source of information on college, working for the Forest Service, and other topics, mentors are very popular with the students, who connect with people closer to their age.

Partner Organization

Last Modified: July 31, 2019