Last week, I experienced my first Ecology Project International (EPI) course with an incredible group of middle school students from Deer Lodge, Montana. Deer Lodge is a typical rural Montana town—small, isolated, and consisting of a community who generally all know one another. Deer Lodge’s population is around 3,000 people, nearly a quarter of which live below the poverty line. The students on our course were no exception—most of them worked and fundraised for a year to pay for the already funder-supported local EPI course.
The major industry in Deer Lodge is the state prison, and being so isolated, a large variety of career paths are not always visible to students growing up there. EPI’s Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology program provided this group of students a chance to not only visit Yellowstone National Park, with which they share the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but to become empowered by contributing to authentic research projects with national park wildlife and botany teams.
For three years, local EPI Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology students have been part of the “Home on the Range” study with the park’s bison team. Students use telemetry equipment to track radio-collared ungulates (bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer), and observe and record herd dynamics—as well as collect fecal samples.
I was able to see with my own eyes how these opportunities stretched the Deer Lodge students in the most wonderful ways. I watched as three young women puzzled out the construction of the telemetry equipment. I applauded the entire group’s teamwork as they smoothly shifted and shared the two sets of equipment—collaborative scientists already. I observed them empowering each other as they shared their new knowledge of how to use the equipment with other students just getting on board.
When it came time for collecting the fecal samples, a few students were squeamish (a few were very excited too), but bravely accepted the gloves and bags handed to them—they knew they were helping collect data to help both understand the bison and protect the beautiful national park around us. On the following day, we met with a wolf technician who explained the larger roles wolves play in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the students spent the morning seeking, observing, and recording behavioral data on wolves.
By the end of our five-day course, these hard-working Deer Lodge students were proud of themselves for taking risks, helping the national park, and clearly, some were beginning to see alternate futures for themselves in the field of wildlife biology. Many of these animals were already part of their landscape and lives in Deer Lodge, but being part of research projects showed the animals and the students’ relationship to those animals, in a new light.
Empowering thousands of local student experiences like these is often why individuals and foundations choose to support EPI. This year EPI was honored to earn the support of Newman's Own Foundation.
Newman’s Own Foundation uses all net profits and royalties from the sale of Newman’s Own food and beverage products for charitable purposes. Since 1982, Paul Newman and Newman’s Own Foundation have donated over $500 million to thousands of charities around the world.
Paul Newman gave back because, he said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He supported thousands of worthy causes but made clear that you don’t need to have a lot of money or be famous to have an impact. Every single person who is inspired to make a difference can do that.
Ecology Project International believes in this whole-heartedly, and this is why we’ve chosen the approach we have in our five sites throughout the Americas: connecting underserved communities and students with authentic scientific research and experiential field learning, empowering one student at a time to see themselves in a new way—as change-makers, ambassadors, and stewards within their own communities.
Learn more about Corporate Giving at EPI.