College of the Atlantic's $10,000 scholarship for Student Conservation Association alumni provides support for outdoor-oriented students who want to make a difference in the world.College of the Atlantic's $10,000 scholarship for Student Conservation Association alumni provides support for outdoor-oriented students who want to make a difference in the world.

The moment Darron Collins first slipped on a pair of thick gloves and went to work cutting, hammering, and stringing barbed-wire fencing in east-central Idaho’s Challis National Forest, he knew the next six weeks would be unlike any he’d ever known.

A typical high school student from the New Jersey suburbs, Collins was awed by his epic surroundings, invigorated with the intensely physical nature of his work, and inspired by his volunteer coworkers and trip leaders, all from different parts of the country and with a host of different backgrounds.

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew that Collins joined that summer of 1986 was tasked with helping to keep cattle out of riparian areas in Challis, first by building a two-mile long barbed wire fence, and then spending weeks working with timbers on a winding jack pole barrier. Collins quickly took to the physically demanding work.

College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92, a grateful alumni of the Student Conservation Association, is excited about a new COA scholarship for SCA members.College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92, a grateful alumni of the Student Conservation Association, is excited about a new COA scholarship for SCA members.“This was the hardest work I had ever done in my life,” Collins said. “I loved it – I loved it for the physical experience, and also being able to see the fruits of your labor. The goal was clear, and I felt like I was contributing to the wider world for the first time. It was not at all like my previous job as a rental clerk in a small video store in some generic shopping mall on Rt. 10.”

The cinematic setting of Challis became the place where Collins would first feel the synergy of direct experience, working for the greater good, and the invigorating feeling of being in the great outdoors. It was a combination that would come to influence him throughout his life.

It was Collins’ trip leaders that helped him integrate the hard work and incredible landscapes into a philosophy of conservation. By day, Harold and Gail Lindebough shaped a team of teenaged volunteers into a positive, efficient work crew; by night, around the campfire, they provided camaraderie, mentorship, and example for those under their leadership.

“They inspired in me the idea that you could live an adventurous life that was focused on the common good and work in the out doors, and that there might actually be a career where you could combine those things. I suppose I always hoped that such a thing was possible,” he said.

Being near public lands, learning experientially, and making a difference in the world became essential for Collins during his time with SCA, and he was soon drawn to attend College of the Atlantic because of these qualities. After graduating in 1992, he’d go on to get a Ph.D. in anthropology, and then to work with the World Wildlife Fund managing international conservation projects. After a decade protecting Amur tigers and Siberian taimen, he returned to COA in 2011 as the college’s first alumnus president. There, he finds himself on the “muddy boots” end of education, he said, working closely with students, staff, and faculty to provide those same “aha” type experiences he found during his time with SCA.

Acadia National Park serves as part of COA's extended campus, making the school as especially good match for Student Conservation Association alumni.Acadia National Park serves as part of COA's extended campus, making the school as especially good match for Student Conservation Association alumni.“In many ways, the project-oriented focus of our education is somewhat analogous to building a cattle fence – especially a cattle fence where the people building it have never built one before. It’s amazing what can happen when you push yourself intellectually, physically, and socially, and that’s what we do here at COA. And I want to provide that kind of experience for other people,” Collins said.

Now, through a new, $10,000 annual scholarship, Collins hopes to give back to other SCA alumni by supporting them at College of the Atlantic. COA and SCA already share many alumni, and Collins said that he hopes that with COA’s new scholarship for SCA volunteers, the number will continue to grow.

“SCA volunteers are often the kinds of students that can and will thrive here at COA. I want to reward them for their contributions, and inspire them to keep doing that adventurous kind of work throughout their undergraduate career,” Collins said. “Students that are attracted to the SCA, who are interested in working as a part of a team, foregoing some of the creature comforts of home, taking risks, being comfortable being very uncomfortable, and wanting to do something for the greater good, even as small as fencing off a one-acre wetland – those are the kinds of qualities we want to bring in as much as possible to COA, and the SCA is a great conduit for that. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this scholarship will help us grow.”