Blog Post Qwynne Lackey, Steffanie Munguia Apr 23, 2021

10 Under 40

Members of NPCA’s Next Generation Advisory Council shine a spotlight on young leaders around the country who are making a difference in conservation.

Safe, equitable access to our public lands plays an important role in our physical, mental and spiritual health. These 10 individuals, selected by members of the Next Generation Advisory Council from more than 60 nominations, are applying their own unique combination of skill, experience and passion to create positive change in one or more of these areas, and we want to honor and elevate their voices. Special thanks to members of our selection team: Jessica Loya, Nicholas Maya, Chris Liu and Ayomide Sekiteri.

Olivia Juarez

Age: 27
Hometown: Tooele, UT
Current Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Title: Latinx Community Organizer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

What Olivia does: Juarez nurtures Latino/a/x joy and leadership in conservation of nuestra tierra pública, the mountains and deserts of Utah.

What Olivia finds most meaningful/inspiring about their work:

“Família inspires my work — I come from a very family-centered background and know that for many Latinos, we do everything together, even on public land.”

Why we are celebrating Olivia: Juarez’s Tío Robert once told them, “We grew up poor, but I didn’t realize it until looking back later in life — we had water on both sides of us, and we always ate really good.” The piñon-juniper and alpine forests that surrounded the family for many generations provided for their needs. Today, the land continues to provide for Juarez and their large family by offering places to gather, celebrate and relax together. Every Latino and person of color has the right to have these healing moments on public lands, and Juarez encourages Latinos to be vocal about the respect and honor they have always held for the natural environment. Juarez organizes spaces for Latinos to strengthen community by advocating for wilderness management of public land throughout Utah. Juarez also dedicates their time to working with GreenLatinos, Casa Quetzalcoatl, Latino Outdoors and the Utah Coalition of La Raza.

Learn more about Olivia and their work with SUWA on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


Josh Andujo

Josh Andujo

camera icon Courtesy of the honoree

Josh Andujo

Age: 26
Hometown: Montebello, CA
Current Location: Whittier, CA
Title: Junior Instructor with Outward Bound Adventures in Pasadena, CA

What Josh does: Andujo’s work with Outward Bound includes leading backpacking and camping trips for children from low-income communities.

What Josh finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“My Aunt Julia is what inspires me and my work, reminding me as a Tongva to be visible. Being able to reconnect to the land of my ancestors and bring a cultural perspective to my events is what’s meaningful about my work.”

Why we are celebrating Josh: In addition to his work with Outward Bound, Andujo is the founder of Natives4Nature, a nonprofit, community-run organization that is active throughout Tongva territory. Members of Natives4Nature organize and participate in a variety of community service activities, including environmental and fire protection cleanups, planting native gardens, and hosting survival workshops. Individuals who collaborate with Andujo say it is easy to recognize his passion for public lands and for sharing his Tongva culture.

Learn more about Natives4Nature on Instagram.


Sierra Taliaferro

Age: 29
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Current location: Miami, FL
Title: Naturalist at Broward County Parks and Recreation

What Sierra does: Taliaferro’s work includes land management as well as outreach initiatives to inspire land stewardship within South Florida’s urban environment.

What Sierra finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“Most of the time, my inspiration evolves from the people I work with to assist them with reconnecting to the outdoors on nature hikes and adventures with positive experiences.”

Why we are celebrating Sierra: Taliaferro’s roots in conservation advocacy and increasing equitable access to public lands run deep. Immediately after graduating from Bethune-Cookman University, she returned to her hometown of Milwaukee to engage young people in the environmental stewardship of their county parks. She is always coming up with ways to connect more people to nature, whether through urban farming, water conservation or an accessible stroll through a local natural area. Taliaferro also serves as a local Outdoor Afro leader, creating opportunities for the Black community to come together outside in inclusive, safe spaces. She credits the Earth itself for the boundless inspiration it provides, and she fiercely advocates for its protection. Every day she shows up and puts in the work to amplify and inspire her community.


Allison Williams

Age: 37
Hometown: Wichita, Kansas
Current location: Charleston, SC
Title: Information Assistant at Francis Marion National Forest

What Allison does: Community outreach, volunteer coordination and connecting people to the land

What Allison finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“My passion for community and public lands keeps me focused on the future. It’s really uplifting to be recognized as a millennial working in this field because it can be challenging to move forward and up.”

Why we are celebrating Allison: Williams’ formal training is in recreation. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Williams uses her voice and platform to engage communities in conservation and advocate for public lands. Williams spreads Black outdoor joy in everything she does, from volunteer trail maintenance to camping to yoga. Williams from Southern University A&M College in 2007. Her journey in the professional world started as an aquatics professional before she changed careers almost 10 years later to a Student Conservation Association AmeriCorps member in North Florida with the Forest Service. Since then, Williams has hiked and volunteered on many trails across the U.S. and abroad. Williams shares her passion for public lands, hiking with friends, nature viewing at the beach, car camping and volunteering with a trail maintenance team. Williams inspires others to connect with nature while working to help the agency better meet the needs of present and future generations.


Jasmin-Marie “Jas” Jones

Age: 30
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Current location: St. Louis, Missouri
Title: Gateway Arch National Park, Law Enforcement Park Ranger

What Jas does: Jones works in the National Park Service’s Law Enforcement Division and takes special pride in being a mentor to and advocate for women and underrepresented groups who don’t often see themselves in these spaces. Women make up only 15% of the Park Service Law Enforcement Division.

What Jas finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“Every day when I put on my uniform, I do more than represent an agency. I represent myself. My diversity makes me who I am. I will always be a vocal advocate for those still out there braving to find their own voices, pride and identity.”

Why we are celebrating Jas: Jones is not only a committed member of the Park Service with several years of service to her name, but she’s fervently devoted to increasing representation in the agency. As a young biracial woman, Jas quickly realized the power of authentic representation to inspire current and future generations. She proudly honors and lifts up the women who filled that important role in her own life and strives to be an ally for others. In addition to her work in the law enforcement division, Jones has worked in interpretation and with other leading conservation organizations to bring together her skills in land management and mentorship at sites all over the country. Jas actively works to inspire and effect change by leveraging her work, position and identity to build strong foundations for future leaders in outdoor recreation and conservation.


Jenny Lopez

Age: 34
Hometown: Riverside, CA
Current Location: North Hollywood, CA
Title: Licensed bilingual Clinical Social Worker at the Child & Family Development Center in Santa Monica, CA

What Jenny does: Lopez specializes in maternal mental health by providing comprehensive child development guidance and family support services.

What Jenny finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“I am honored to be part of a community of mental health professionals dedicated to taking collective action as part of the Nurture in Nature project. Together, we are shifting the classic mental health paradigm by inviting nature in and inspiring curiosity around all it has to offer our community.”

Why we are celebrating Jenny: Born in Oaxaca, Mexico and raised with strong ties to the land, Lopez migrated to Southern California at age five. Eleven years ago, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her master’s degree in social work. In 2018, Lopez participated in the Nature for All Leadership Academy, which informed her understanding of park poverty and its impact on under-resourced communities of color. Inspired, Lopez played a leadership role in launching her center’s Nurture in Nature (NIN) pilot project in 2019, along with four other remarkable BIPOC-identifying professionals who recognize the value of and barriers to families accessing safe outdoor spaces. Through this project, funded by California State Parks Foundations, the NIN team leverages the power of nature to support healthy parent-child bonds, offer respite, and model nature stewardship by providing bilingual clinical interventions and nature education at Leo Carrillo State Park. Lopez and her colleagues hope the NIN program will encourage families to identify, connect and celebrate public lands as healing agents and critical community resources.

Learn more about Nurture in Nature on the organization’s website.


Marissa Llanes

Age: 36
Hometown: West Covina, CA
Current Location: Pomona, CA
Title: Executive Director of Community Nature Connection

What Marissa does: Llanes works to address issues of access, representation and inclusion at the intersection of the nonprofit and environmental sectors.

What Marissa finds most meaningful/inspiring about their work:

“The opportunity to connect communities with the outdoors in meaningful and tangible ways, especially those communities impacted by historical injustices.”

Why we are celebrating Marissa: Llanes is the new executive director of Community Nature Connection, an organization committed to increasing access to the outdoors for communities impacted by racial, socio-economic and disability injustices. Llanes is dedicated to illuminating pathways to outdoor careers and inspiring the next generation of stewards and makes sure their staff is representative of the communities they engage.

Learn more about Community Nature Connection on the organization’s website.


Kendra Pinto

Age: 34
Current Location: Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation, near Counselor, New Mexico
Title: Part-time employee at Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment)

What Kendra does: Pinto is an activist working to protect and increase community engagement in public land management in the Greater Chaco Region.

What Kendra finds most meaningful/inspiring about their work:

“Inspiration comes from my family and their many years of stories of living in the Twin Pines area, up until the mid-70s when they were told they had to move. Living in the area only increases the need and responsibility to care for what Mother Nature has provided to me and my family.”

Why we are celebrating Kendra: Pinto is an activist in the Eastern Navajo Nation fighting oil and gas leasing and drilling in the Greater Chaco Region. Pinto has worked with the Frack Off Chaco campaign to record pollution levels relevant to air, land and water quality. Pinto also works with Diné CARE to create public outreach and educational materials about the Bureau of Land Management’s long-term plans for the region, which could open the possibility for the drilling of nearly 3,000 new oil and gas wells in the region. Pinto’s work has been aimed at increasing community engagement in and support for legislation, such as the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act, that would permanently withdraw oil and gas leasing on federal lands within a 10-mile zone around Chaco Canyon.

Learn more online about the Frack Off Chaco campaign and Diné CARE.


Rebecca Stanfield McCown

Rebecca Stanfield McCown

Rebecca Stanfield McCown

camera icon Courtesy of the honoree

Age: 39
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Current location: Woodstock, VT
Title: Director of the National Park Service Stewardship Institute

What Rebecca does: Stanfield McCown manages the Institute’s portfolio of leadership development projects and engages with parks, programs and partners. She also conducts research in conservation, creates sustainable partnerships and encourages diversity in environmental fields.

What Rebecca finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“It has been really meaningful to me to integrate my passion for engaging communities with the need to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in which employees can thrive.”

Why we are celebrating Rebecca Stanfield McCown: Stanfield McCown has dedicated over 10 years to cultivating deep engagement in conservation. Looking around in her undergraduate natural resources classes, she began to wonder why so few of her peers looked like her. This sparked a lifelong mission to understand how communities connect with their natural and cultural history. The Park Service’s mission to connect all people to national park sites resonated deeply with her interest in uplifting and sharing the breadth of the American experience. She first turned her attention to community engagement programming for youth and families to build community and align goals through dialogue and shared experiences. Stanfield McCown now applies these same techniques to support more inclusive workspaces. Her work in facilitating deeper and more sustained engagement with and within the Park Service has been a transformational force for good.


Nicholas Rajen

Nicholas Rajen

Nicholas Rajen

camera icon Courtesy of the honoree

Age: 27
Hometown: The Navajo Nation near Window Rock, AZ, and Perris, CA
Current location: Salinas, CA
Title: Program Director at Amah Mutsun Land Trust

What Nicholas does: Rajen engages in programming focused on STEM, conservation education and empowerment in Native communities.

What Nicholas finds most meaningful/inspiring about their work:

“I am inspired by a deep curiosity of nature and a persistent drive to heal and restore the earth.”

Why we are celebrating Nicholas: Rajen, who is affiliated with the Diné and Oneida Iroquois Nations, works to bring concepts of Indigenous science and knowledge into focus by empowering Native youth and scholars to creatively solve problems in fields such as climate change, sustainable agriculture, robotics and artificial intelligence. Rajen believes that reflecting on teachings from elders across the globe and throughout time inspires hope that destructive, ignorant, and violent relationships with the land can be healed. This is only possible when Indigenous communities are allowed to lead resource management and reestablish connections to the Earth through research and ceremony. Rajen works with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, and other Indigenous communities, to create awareness of the ancestors’ massive and impactful understanding of forest, ocean and environmental management — traditional knowledge that is relearned and implemented by Native stewards of today.

Learn more about Nicholas’s work on their blog.

About the authors

  • Qwynne Lackey Former Next Generation Advisory Council

    Qwynne recently graduated with her Ph.D. in Parks, Recreation and Tourism from the University of Utah and is currently working in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Studies at SUNY Cortland.

  • Steffanie Munguia Next Generation Advisory Council

    Steffanie Munguia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, pursuing a doctoral degree in Earth System Science with a concentration in Natural Resource Science and Management.