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Institute of Environmental Research and Education
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Youth Environmental Leadership Program

Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) is a year-long, pre-college program at the University of North Florida (UNF) focused on developing high school youth into environmental leaders.  YELP is a merit-based award program designed for (rising) juniors, with preference given to IB students. The program will require approximately 100 hours over the year (starting and ending in June) and provides a structured pathway for students to complete their CAS projects or other community-based service projects focused on environmental issues and topics in Jacksonville. This is the first year of the program and we expect to accept 4-5 top high school students into YELP. 

Meet the 2024-2025 Youth Environmental Leaders

Headshot of student standing outdoors with nature background.Heba Akhdar

Stanton College Preparatory School, International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Program

Growing up, my family had always been around Jacksonville’s beautiful beaches. I always had an amazing experience interacting with our local environment and am passionate about maintaining Jacksonville’s unique wildlife and surroundings. I hope to gain field experience and be an active participant in having a positive and beneficial effect on our landscape. I am looking forward to having a great year and developing various skills that will enable me to become a future environmental leader.

Headshot of student standing outdoors with nature background.Lindsay Johnson

Stanton College Preparatory School, International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Program

I am a student at Stanton College Preparatory High School. I decided to join the Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) to learn more about the benefits of nature contact and spending time in the environment. I really grew to enjoy spending time outdoors after joining my school’s cross-country team and began to love running. I want to encourage people to find activities they enjoy, like running, that can be done outdoors to increase the benefits they can get from nature contact.  

Headshot of student standing outdoors with nature background.Sophie Lankarani

The Bolles School

My name is Sophie Lankarani and I am a student at The Bolles School. I decided to join the Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) because of my passion for protecting and spreading awareness for the outdoors and local ecosystems. I am so excited to work with UNF and the Timucuan Parks Foundation throughout this year and cultivating a project that will impact the community in a positive way!

Headshot of student standing outdoors with nature background.Haley Patel

Oakleaf High School, Advanced International Certificate of Education (A.I.C.E.) Program
I am a student at Oakleaf High School and decided to join the Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) due to my active interest in environmental and biological sciences. When I was younger, one of my fondest memories was gardening with my grandpa and being outdoors in nature. Spending time with him, planting flowers in the backyard and watering the plants was something really special to me. I am excited to work towards creating an impactful project for my community and grow my interpersonal and leadership skills.

Headshot of student standing outdoors with nature background.Oscar Stone

Stanton College Preparatory School, International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Program

I am Oscar Stone, a student at Stanton College Prep. I have always been drawn to the beach and the ocean, first being exposed to it on short vacations with my family. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and would consistently take vacations to the Florida Keys, where I was first exposed to the ocean. Since moving to Jacksonville Beach, I have grown to love my community and have taken an interest in the terraforming that takes place at the beach. Outside of school, I swim and play lacrosse, both of which are also great activities on the sand. I hope YELP can allow me to invest in my community and really make a change!

Headshot photo of student standing outdoors with nature background.Elle Wight

Stanton College Preparatory School, International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Program

I am an IB student at Stanton College Preparatory and applied to the Youth Environmental Leadership Program because I am passionate about addressing environmental issues and supporting environmental health. I grew up at the beach and spent my childhood playing outdoors, which sparked my interest in the environment. My favorite memory in nature is running and mountain biking on the beach and trails. I am excited to serve as a leader in the community and inspire others to gain a passion for the environment as well.

Priority Area

Increasing nature contact and park access in Jacksonville is the priority focus this year. Nature contact and access to green space and parks is a growing area of importance in environmental science and studies. Public health, urban planning, conservation, land use, biology, psychology, and public policy contribute to the study and promotion of nature contact. Research shows that nature contact, or just spending time outdoors in nature, promotes health and reduces stress. We will explore this science and you will have the opportunity to participate in initiatives related to promoting nature contact. 

Outcomes and Requirements

YELP Scholars will commit approximately 100 hours over the course of a year (June 2024-June 2025) to environmental leadership and environmental studies and science development. Students will work with UNF Institute of Environmental Research and Education and with a community partner (this year Timucuan Parks Foundation) on the following: pre-college experience, environmental science/studies education and development, environmental leadership training and development, service and support of projects and initiatives, individual project development and implementation, and mentorship.
  • Program Overview

    Environmental Pre-College Experience at UNF

    An orientation was held on Thursday, June 13, 2024 at UNF.  YELP students came to UNF to learn about environmental leadership, sustainability, and physical and social science. The opportunity to meet IERE environmental professors, students, and environmental community leaders, and get to know more about UNF too was provided. Representation from Timucuan Parks Foundation was also in attendance to partner with a YELP student to complete a project (CAS project).

    Environmental Leadership UNF Training Course

    Complete IERE Environmental Leadership training course online and receive certificate. This is an online training course you can complete in approximately 10 hours.

    Environmental Science and Studies UNF Training Course

    Complete IERE Environmental Sustainability 101 course online and receive certificate. This is an online training course you can complete in approximately 10 hours.

    Environmental Campus and Community Service

    Volunteer and support environmental initiatives with IERE and or Timucuan Parks Foundation (TPF).

    Environmental CAS Project Development and Implementation

    Students will develop and implement their CAS (or community-based service) project with UNF and or Timucuan Parks Foundation. This project will likely build off service work. Projects should meet an organizational need and CAS requirements, and hopefully be consistent with the student's personal and academic goals.

    Professional Development and Workshops

    There are planned communication and development meetings to ensure student success over the course of the. year. These meetings are more frequent (weekly) earlier in the program over the development phase in the summer. These meetings can be scheduled on Zoom. Once the project is identified, meetings will be tailored based on need. There is also a required workshop in March on campus.

    UNF’s Environmental Leadership Symposium

    In April, YELP students will develop a poster presentation summarizing their CAS project and impact.  YELP students are required to attend and present their poster at UNF's Environmental Leadership Symposium April 18, 2025 from 8 - 11 a.m. at UNF. We will communicate with your school on your behalf and we expect this will be recognized as an excused absence. UNF students will also be presenting their work at the Symposium as well. The Symposium is attended by approximately 150 people (IERE professors, IERE students, environmental community partners, donors, and guests). The YELP and UNF student presentations will be a conference-style poster presentation session. YELP and UNF students will also be recognized with an award and cords for graduation at the symposium.

    Mentoring

    The last two months of the program (in May and June 2025), YELP students will complete evaluation criteria focused on the impact of the experience on their personal and professional growth for UNF, as well as debrief with their community organization. In addition, YELP students are expected to attend the first day of the Environmental Pre-College Experience at UNF for the incoming class of YELP students and share their experience. This will take place in early June 2025.

  • Benefits
    • Competitive, merit-based award for top high school students in NE Florida
    • Avenue to complete CAS (or other service learning) project
    • Pre-college experience at UNF
    • Training in environmental science/studies and environmental leadership and certificates of completion
    • Networking with environmentally-focused UNF staff, professors, and students, community partners, community leaders, other high school students and scholars
    • Award presented at UNF Environmental Symposium
    • Graduation cords presented at UNF Environmental Symposium
    • Present CAS project (poster presentation) at UNF Environmental Symposium
    • Opportunity to mentor next year’s YELP high school scholars
  • Evaluation Criteria and Selection Process

    Applications have been closed for the 2024-2025 school year. 

    The application process includes the opportunity to describe your academic achievements and merit to date, interest in environmental science and or studies, especially the priority listed this year, and your interest in joining the UNF Youth Environmental Leadership Program and serving as a YELP Scholar. A list of professional or academic references that we may contact will need to be included. Applications will be evaluated by UNF professors, staff, and or community council members based on academic merit, community and relevant experiences, and the idea to address the priority area. Awardees will be required to sign an agreement form, indicating they can attend the highlighted dates in person. 

Please email Ruby Cox, Program Coordinator, or call at (904) 620-1283 if you have any questions.