PARKS IN FOCUS—ASHLEY PEDERSEN,

'08 UDALL SCHOLAR

It was a rousing rendition of "Shake Your Foot" (by Bob Filbin, '04 Udall Scholar) at the 2008 Scholar Orientation that first hooked Ashley Pedersen and started her on a journey toward Parks in Focus. At the time, she knew she was interested in environmental justice, and she knew she loved adventuring outdoors, but she did not know how those two passions would combine to create the start of a career.

Now, Pedersen is one of only two full-time staff members of the Udall Foundation's Parks in Focus program. She is the Program Coordinator who plans and facilitates year-round nature-through-photography-based activities for underserved middle school youth in Tucson, Ariz. She helped launch the program's first 12-month community initiative in January 2011 and has been leading after-school activities at local Boys & Girls clubhouses, Saturday field trips to incredible natural spots in Tucson, and summer camping trips to northern Arizona and Grand Canyon National Park.

For Pedersen, nothing is more fulfilling than watching a kid transform from being uncomfortable outdoors into a desert explorer who will lie in the dirt or climb into a bush to get the best photo possible.

One of her favorite memories could come right out of a movie. During a recent hike at Catalina State Park, Juan, one of the participants, expressed concern that he would not be able to make it back up the slope the group had just hiked down to get to the river and probably should not do the rest of the hike. The group rallied behind Juan in encouragement and got him to reluctantly agree to join them, but he was still adamant he would need to be carried back out. Miraculously, after a couple of hours of play in the water, when it was time to hike up that hill again, something had changed. Juan raced up the hill, without any help, and threw his arms up in victory when he reached the top. It seems like a small achievement, but for Juan that day it was huge. For Pedersen, it demonstrated that positive outdoor experiences with the support of adult mentors and peers can bring about awesome results.