Wyss conservation scholars program offers renewed commitment to land conservation in the United States

The Wyss Foundation logo

Created out of deep reverence for the landscapes of the American West, the Wyss Foundation is renewing its commitment to support NAU’s graduate scholarships in the environmental science and policy master’s program. This conservation leadership program has supported 35 NAU graduate students, and this new award will support another three cohorts of conservation leaders, helping grow the conservation impact of this unique scholarship program.

The Wyss Foundation, dedicated to protecting at least 30 percent of Earth’s lands, waters and oceans by 2030, is the creation of Hansjörg Wyss. The Wyoming-based Swiss native developed a lifelong attachment to western landscapes while working for the Colorado Highway Department as a student in 1958. Although he moved on to launch his own successful business in the fields of medical research and design, he never forgot about his brief adventure in the Rockies. Fueled by an intrinsic drive to conserve the landscapes that filled his heart with so much joy, Wyss created his namesake foundation in 1998. Since then, Wyss’s philanthropy and innovative vision have greatly contributed to environmental conservation in the United States and across the world.

The Wyss Scholars Program at NAU

The Wyss Scholars Program is one of the many philanthropic investments the Wyss Foundation has made over the years. The program financially supports graduate students in their pursuit of knowledge in the fields of U.S. land conservation and conservation law and policy.

The highly competitive program is available to students attending innovative conservation programs at universities from diverse parts of the country, including Lewis and Clark College, University of Colorado, University of Montana, Yale University, University of Michigan and Northern Arizona University. All six schools are known for their programs in the fields of law and environmental sciences and policy.

The Wyss Foundation recognizes and supports NAU’s key role in promoting land conservation efforts. For years, the university’s location on the Southern Colorado Plateau has attracted eminent scholars passionate about conserving public lands. Students enrolled in NAU’s elite environmental science and policy master’s program are given hands-on opportunities to engage in conservation from both natural sciences and environmental policy perspectives.

“Bridging science and policy in our curriculum and research is one innovative element of our program that aligns well with what the Wyss Foundation is trying to accomplish by training the next generation of conservation leaders,” said Erik Nielsen, associate professor in NAU’s School of Earth and Sustainability and Wyss Scholars principal investigator. “We strive for our students to understand the basic science around conservation challenges, the stakeholders and the policies that govern how to protect and manage these resources in the most sustainable way.”

The Wyss Scholars Program is unique in that it supports NAU students both during their graduate studies as well as early in their conservation career. The funding that follows them as NAU alumni has a multi-tiered impact. First, graduates are supported in their direct transition into work in environmental science and policy; the Wyss Scholars Program supplements internships and professional positions, a boon to both alumni and employers. Second, the program supports ongoing connections among Wyss Program graduates from all six institutions, building a network of advocates and experts. Finally, the Wyss Scholars Program creates tight bonds between NAU and conservation partners, businesses, nonprofits, government and tribal entities, communities and more. These connections facilitate new research and practice implementation, information-sharing and other collaboration.

Wyss Scholars Program recipient Jessica Archibald (BS, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, ’19; BA, Modern Languages, ’19), was selected to participate in the scholarship because of her passion for science, policy and community engagement. This budding leader used her scholarship to not only further her own scholarly journey but also to educate other Lumberjacks on important environmental topics. “Using grant money from the Wyss Foundation, I was able to help organize a workshop on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for students in NAU’s SES program—a key skill needed for many conservation jobs,” Archibald said.

As for her own professional goals and development, thanks to the Wyss Program, Archibald can access the vast Wyss Scholars network to advance her own experience and career in the field she loves.

“I was able to conduct an internship of my choosing without having to work around the institution’s funding restrictions,” she said. “I conducted my internship with the Center for Collaborative Conservation in Fort Collins, Colorado, and this experience was a formative and important learning opportunity that has shaped my professional goals and career path. None of those experiences would have been possible without the funding from the Wyss Scholars Program.”

Meet the next class of Wyss Scholars

NAU is proud to announce the newest class of Wyss Scholars who share an interest in and passion for the conservation landscapes in the United States:

Yazhmin Dozal, ’23, MS Environmental Science and Policy

Yazhmin Dozal’s goal upon graduation is to engage policy, science and collaboration with vulnerable communities of the Southwest to take on major conservation issues around land use and water. Dozal is the director of Climate Action for the Graduate Student Organization at NAU. She will intern this summer with the National Forest Foundation’s Wood for Life Tribal Fuelwood Initiative.

Sarah Colombo, ’23, MS Environmental Science and Policy

Sarah Colombo hopes to connect her passion for research in conservation to support social/environmental justice efforts as she believes there is an inextricable connection between them. She also plans to support others in BIPOC communities to connect with the earth, identify available resources and foster their own diverse voices in conservation.

Yazhmin Dozal (left) and Sarah Colombo (right)

“I want to congratulate this year’s class of Wyss Scholars from Northern Arizona University and thank each of them for their deep commitment to protecting and conserving our nations precious natural resources. Because of future conservation leaders like Yazhmin and Sarah, I’m certain that we will solve the most pressing challenges facing our natural world,” Wyss said. “I am excited to watch and learn all about their contributions to the environment over the coming years.”

To read the Wyss Scholars bios, visit the MS Environmental Sciences & Policy website, nau.edu/ses/masters-in-environmental-sciences-and-policy.

The Wyss Foundation’s future impact on NAU

As state funding continues to tighten and northern Arizona continues to experience conservation challenges, organizations like the Wyss Foundation fuel students with the financial power they need to create and implement solutions for a more sustainable future.

“My vision for the future is that we learn how to live sustainably with the environment where we are not overexploiting our resources and we are allowing other species and biodiversity to persist as well,” said Clare Aslan, associate director in the School of Earth and Sustainability. “Communicating and sharing knowledge with agencies, conservation organizations, foundations and tribes is critical to achieving and implementing this knowledge.”

If you’re interested to learn more about the Wyss Foundation efforts to protect the world’s most treasured places, visit https://www.wyssfoundation.org/. Learn more about Wyss Foundation impacts at NAU at foundationnau.org/impact. You can also make a difference in the lives of Lumberjacks and support their efforts to conserve and advocate for the great American West by donating to the NAU Foundation.

NAU Communications