Alejandro Soto joins the team at the Forum as our new Youth Program Associate, in addition to pursuing his studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA.)
Alejandro was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States with his family when he was 13, starting school unable to speak English. At 15, Alejandro was invited to join Alaska Geographic's outdoor youth programs, and that summer participated in a two-week kayak trip in the Alaska wilderness with other teens from around the state. Since then, he has completed a NOLS whitewater course, become a member of the Alaska Geographic retail and education staff, and was a charter member of their Youth Leadership Team, a group made up of teens who work together to get more young people into the outdoors and caring for public lands.
When Alejandro was first introduced to conservation work and public land agencies, he was shocked by the lack of diversity in the field. As he talked with his peers and coworkers and analyzed his own experiences, he realized that there were both real and perceived systemic barriers that prevent young people, people of color, and other underrepresented groups from engaging in the field of environmental education.
After analyzing his own experience as a young person who didn't get outdoors very often, he learned to love nature once he had someone he knew and trusted who connected him with the opportunity to experience the environment. Now, he is in a unique position to reach out to other young people like him. At the same time, he understands some of the barriers that keep young people from getting outdoors and speaking out.
Alejandro's goal is to provide a safe place for dialogue in order to understand the needs and break down some of those barriers. He is constantly seeking a wide range of perspectives and helping to share information gleaned with decision-makers across public land agencies and conservation groups. While there is no easy fix to the diversity problem, he strives to be part of the grounded solution and to make sure that everyone can feel like they belong.
As Alejandro started exploring more opportunities within the conservation field, he became a member of the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) Next Generation Advisory Council. The mission was to give guidance to NPCA about how to engage more millennials and people from diverse backgrounds in the national parks.
He has also participated in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholar Program, designed to help students just like him diversify the field of ecology and conservation. And, he was selected to be a part of the Arctic Youth Ambassador Program as part of a diverse mix of youth from across Alaska serving as ambassadors for their communities and country in building awareness at home and abroad about life in the Arctic.
Alejandro has spoken before a national audience of public land agency professionals at the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the American Planning Association in Seattle, Washington, and with leaders at the U.S. Departments of State, Interior, and Agriculture, as well international environmental ministers in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Alejandro is making an impact, and his goal is to reach all audiences with the continuous effort and value of getting outside, diversifying the workforce, and caring for our public lands and its people. We are excited to have Alejandro's perspective, experience, and passion as he joins our youth programs team. Welcome!