Institute provides nature experiences, education for Portland-area youth

Research shows that people of color are far less likely to engage in nature-based outdoor recreation activities, with historic discrimination being a large underlying factor. People of color are three times more likely than white people to live in places that have no immediate access to nature.

In response to the disparity of people of color visiting outdoor recreational and natural areas – as well as lack of representation in the natural resource research, management, and education community – Oregon State University Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development Program developed the Inner City Youth Institute (ICYI) in 1990s. The institute, funded by the U.S. Forest Service, is a youth-focused mentorship program based around natural resources, STEM, career and college readiness, service projects, and placed-based learning. The goal of this yearlong program is to encourage youth to explore careers in natural resources and provide unique opportunities that the participants may otherwise not have experienced.

In August 2021, 4-H offered a hybrid Inner City Youth Institute camp with one day spent at Powell Butte Nature Park. The camp drew 11 youths from the Portland metro area and focused on jobs and careers in natural resources and a project assisting the Mount Saint Helens Institute to create a dichotomous key that visitors to the mountain can download on their phone prior to their visit and use to identify different species of birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Powell Butte Nature Park is located within Portland city limits, yet one-third of the camp’s attendees had never been there. During their time at the park the youths learned about native plants and their uses and asked questions about identifying a plant just by looking at it. They hiked to the summit of Powell Butte and learned of the different mountains visible from the viewpoint.

As a result, the camp raised youth awareness, understanding, and participation in outdoor recreation opportunities. They gained valuable firsthand experience in the following areas:

  • Exploring and learning about a local nature site in their community.
  • Learning about mountains and volcanoes in their geographic location.
  • Meeting a U.S. Forest Service employee to hear of the many different careers the service and how young adults can become involved.
  • Learning of the career path of a U.S. Geological Survey employee and her typical job duties.
  • Exploring the research of a Portland State University post-doctoral student on microorganisms.
  • Assisting in the development of educational materials.
  • Discovering many different careers that relate to natural resources in STEM, public relations and safety, education, policy, and infrastructure.

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