Fifty-eight years ago, an extraordinary seed began to grow. It was nourished by young people eager to give back to nature, serve their communities, and help protect our national parks. And that seed was planted by SCA Founder Liz Putnam.

“Liz is a pioneer,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “I think we can consider Liz to be the mother of the student conservation movement.”

Since the first group of SCA volunteers reported for work at Olympic National Park on June 24, 1957, more than 75,000 young people have joined the ranks of “the next generation of conservation volunteers,” defending forests and wildlife, restoring ecosystems and watersheds, and providing environmental education and outreach to millions nationwide.

Conservation began here at SCA 58 years ago this week.  Join us as we celebrate SCA Founder’s Day, June 24th, and recognize Liz and her legacy.




Five Little Known Facts About Liz Putnam and the Early Days of SCA

1. Liz started SCA to help protect America’s national parks, but some of her first wilderness experiences occurred in the Canadian North Woods.

Beginning at age 11, Liz would join her family on summer trips to a cabin on Lac a Moise in Quebec, a journey that included long train rides from New York followed by several days of paddling and portaging with the aid of Indian guides.

2. In the mid-1950s, men still held most of the positions of power but Liz helped change that by not sharing her own gender

When soliciting support by mail, she routinely signed her correspondence E. Sanderson Cushman (Sanderson being her middle name) to avoid any potential bias.  It was only after Liz met her new benefactors when they realized they’d agreed to a woman’s terms.

3. Liz showed it’s what under the hat that counts.

Early on, when she expressed her hope that SCA could be a gateway for women hoping to work in national parks, one male staffer replied “Ha! Can you imagine anything more silly that a woman in a ranger hat?” Thirty years later, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions, the National Park Service named Liz an Honorary Ranger and presented her with her own ranger’s hat, which remains a prized possession to this day.

4. SCA history could have begun one year earlier had Liz not stuck to her principles.

When Grand Teton National Park wanted prospective SCA volunteers to landscape the grounds around a new lodge rather than more crucial conservation projects, Liz turned down the job and cancelled the program.  The following summer, Grand Teton agreed to a legitimate service-learning program and the first SCA volunteers reported for duty on June 24, 1957, which we call SCA Founder’s Day.

5. Liz is not only the Founder of SCA, she’s also an alumna.

In 1989, as SCA staged its Greater Yellowstone Recovery Corps following the massive ’88 wildfires, Liz declined to “pull rank” and instead filled out an application and mailed it to SCA headquarters.  A few weeks later, her acceptance notice appeared in her mailbox and, in Liz’s words, “I skipped all the way up the driveway and back into the house!”


Founders' Stories

Eliot Putnam

SCA 1957 – Olympic National Park

The diary of the first-ever SCA crew tells of “15 young woodsmen” who built a new trail along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, “swapped yarns” and vied in “glissading marathons” in their off-time. Then 16-year old Eliot Putnam started his journal exactly 57 years ago today. Eliot would go on to travel the world with the Peace Corps, CARE, Pathfinder International and the National Council for International Health (where he served as president) promoting family and reproductive health programs in developing countries.Read more

Michelle Bobowick, Interning with SCA in Yellowstone National Park, 1985

A 57-year Family Affair with SCA

It was 1958, when our family affair with the Student Conservation Association began. Since, then our family has continued its commitment to improving the world around us through SCA.Read more

Marty Talbot, Scott Warthin, Liz Putnam discuss their work with SCA

Martha "Marty" Hayne Talbot

Marty Talbot’s conservation credentials are seemingly endless: she’s an award-winning biologist, an accomplished author, and her pioneering research has spanned more than 50 years and 60 countries. Marty is also co-founder of SCA.Read more

58 years at work for the planet: a timeline

See SCA’s 58-year timeline here

Liz Putnam receives Citizens Medal from President Obama

Student Conservation Association (SCA) founder Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam receives the Citizens Medal from President Obama at the White House on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010.

The Thesis

In 1954, Liz (Cushman) Putnam grew alarmed by naturalist Bernard DeVoto’s warning that our national parks were in danger of being “loved to death” by an avid American people.  In an article, DeVoto provocatively recommended closing the parks and surrounding them with Army guards until Congress appropriated sufficient funding. 

Donate Today!

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Awards and Honors

SCA programs, staff, and members have received a number of awards and honors acknowledging the powerful work we do across the country, locally and nationally, to protect our outdoor spaces and empower our future leaders. Below is just a sampling of these honors.

2014 The Walden Woods Project’s Environmental Challenge Award

SCA received the Environmental Challenge Award for engaging youth in hands-on conservation service and serving as a model for those who seek effective, constructive and sustainable outcomes. The Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute were founded by rocker Don Henley.

2014 Golden Halo Award

SCA and American Eagle Outfitters – signature sponsor of our ongoing Alternative Spring Breaks (ASBs) –  won the Golden Halo Award from the Cause Marketing Forum for our 2013 ASBs at Big Cypress National Preserve and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

2010: 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal

SCA founder Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam was bestowed this prestigious award by President Barrack Obama for “performing exemplary deeds of service for her country and fellow citizens.” She was the first conservationist to receive the Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award, since its creation in 1969.

Read more