This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Elizabeth Titus Putnam ’55 of the Student Conservation Association. Photo credit: John Gauvin

Alumna’s Environmental Conservation Association Highlighted in PBS Documentary Project

As a Vassar College junior in 1953, Elizabeth Titus Putnam ’55 was greatly inspired by a visit to Grand Teton National Park, where she was awestruck by the colorful aurora borealis (or northern lights). After reading about the plight of overtaxed rangers and poorly maintained national parks, she recognized the need to preserve public spaces where nature could be observed and based her thesis on a proposal to create a modern-day student conservation corps. The project amounted to more than just an “A” grade; it was the seed for the Student Conservation Association (SCA), whose college- and high school-aged participants protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks, and community green spaces in all 50 states.

The SCA (originally called the Student Conservation Program, or SCP) placed its first 53 volunteers in Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks in 1957. The organization now boasts 3,200 student participants from across the nation and from more than 30 countries abroad. Putnam’s “student project” has encouraged thousands of green professionals — from park superintendents to urban planners — to pursue a lifetime of environmental stewardship.

Her experiences and contributions are recounted as part of the PBS documentary project “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The film aired in October on PBS stations across the country. A portion of the material gathered for the project can be found online.

November 2009

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