Friday, August 17, 2007

Weekend Inspiration: Liz Putnam

NBC Nightly News' inspirational "Making a Difference" segment tonight highlighted a woman who certainly deserves it: Liz Titus Putnam, who graduated from Vassar in 1955 and immediately founded the Student Conservation Association. The SCA is still active today, recruiting high school and college kids to work in national parks. Click here to watch the segment (I can't figure out how to embed it in my blog).

The SCA grew out of Putnam's Vassar thesis. Evidently, Vassar was one of the first American colleges to offer courses in environmentalism; Putnam took one and became inspired. She created her own major (another cutting-edge Vassar thing) in "Conservation" and became dismayed at the lack of opportunity for young people in the '50s to actually do something to help the environment. So she proposed helping out the understaffed Park Service by letting young people work as rangers, etc., for a summer. The Park Service gratefully took to the idea, and an organization was born. This inspirational interview tells the whole story.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Liz Putnam when she was at Vassar co-chairing her 50th reunion and I was working as a reunion assistant. We assistants were consistently impressed with her organizational skills, warmth, enthusiasm, and joie de vivre. When we attend our 50th reunion, we can only hope to be as cool as Liz and her husband were. Obviously, working with young people has kept Liz young at heart, and you can tell that she genuinely cares not only about the environment and conservation, but also about the students in her program.

Congratulations, Liz, on 50 years of the SCA!

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