Underrepresented Groups in Nature: Organizations

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Underrepresented Groups in Nature: Organizations

By India-Bleu Niehoff, Community Engaged Intern

In part two of our two-part series, we’ve created a list of organizations working to increase representation in the outdoors. The organizations range from groups with active programming working on the ground, to groups advocating for the creation of these programs, to groups raising awareness and providing community support. This is only a small fraction of the organizations out there. Hopefully, this will serve as a living document that will actively add and grow more organizations.  


Access Ability Wisconsin is a Wisconsin-based organization that provides mobility devices to help Wisconsinites of all mobility levels access nature. https://www.accessabilitywi.org/ 

Every Kid Outdoors is a program that provides every fourth-grader and their family in America free access to National Parks, Lands and Waters. https://everykidoutdoors.gov/index.htm 

Corazón Latino is a national nonprofit organization that runs and facilitates numerous programs for youth and adults that foster social, environmental and conservation initiatives across the United States. https://www.corazonlatino.us/ 

Disabled & Outdoors is an Instagram page dedicated to highlighting the experiences of those with disabilities in nature. *Note: Instagram page has not been updated since September 2021* Disabled & Outdoors Instagram

Pride Outside is an organization dedicated to providing resources and increasing the LGBTQ+ community’s access to nature and the outdoors. http://prideoutside.net/ 

The Student Conservation Association has numerous programs to increase diversity and environmental literacy and conservation efforts:  

Located in the DC area? Check out DC Urban Tree House, a program from the Student Conservation Association, which provides environmental education programs for DC Urban Youth, emphasizing meaningful connections and conservation projects. https://www.thesca.org/dc-urban-tree-house/ 

Community Crews offer a way for individuals to become involved in their local community’s conservation efforts. https://www.thesca.org/serve/our-programs/youth-programs/community/ 

The NPS Academy, is a 12-week summer internship that provides undergraduates and graduate students the ability to explore career opportunities within the National Park Service. https://www.thesca.org/program/young-adult/special-programs/npsa/ 


Latino Outdoors, is a community-first national organization working to increase the voices and representation of Latino communities in environmental spaces and conservation efforts. https://latinooutdoors.org/ 

Read a 2018 article detailing the efforts of Latino Outdoors in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. Latino Outdoors: Using Storytelling and Social Media to Increase Diversity on Public Lands  

 DEIB Outdoors is a resource that highlights the “people, places, products, and events that promote diversity and belonging in outdoor recreation.” https://www.deiboutdoors.com/ 

 New York City-based First Strokes: Students Teaching Students How to Swim focuses on creating free opportunities for young adults to swim, an important safety concern. https://firststrokes.org/ 

Read an National Public Radio article detailing their efforts. “Many teens don’t know how to swim. A grassroots organization is trying to change that.

 Outdoor Afro is a national nonprofit organization providing resources, opportunities and visibility to encourage and support Black people not only engaging in nature but also taking a leadership role. https://outdoorafro.org/ 

 In Solidarity is an organization focused on creating and supporting a more diverse outdoor industry, working with industry partners to facilitate and lead DEI-focused initiatives. https://www.insolidarityproject.com/ 

 The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin, co-founded by Dexter Patterson, serves to provide a community for BIPOC Wisconsin Birders. https://www.bipocbirdingclub.org/ 

Read an article about Dexter Patterson and his work. UW Alumni Article

See his Instagram Wisco Birder.: Wisco Birder Instagram

Northwest Youth Corps is a conservation group that offers education and job training groups. (Sourced from AP News)

They offer programming for a variety of ages from 15-19, to 19+.  General Programs 

They also, specifically offer multiple affinity programs for youth, such as: ASL Inclusion Crews, Rainbow LGBTQ+ Crews, Tribal Stewards Crews, and All Women Crews. Affinity Group Programs 

Conservation Legacy is a conservation organization with a local aim that highlights the role everyone plays in conservation. They offer a variety of programs, including affinity crews. (Sourced from AP News)

Conservation Legacy.

The BrownGirl Green Podcast, run by Kristy Drutman explores the “intersections between media, diversity, and environmentalism,”. Drutman also is the co-founder of Green Jobs Board, which highlights environmental jobs with an emphasis on diversity and equity. (Sourced from AP News)

BrownGirl Green Podcast. 

Green Jobs Board.

Master Lists: 

Field Mag has an extensive list of 65 Black, Indigenous and POC outdoor organizations to support, ranging from general outdoor organizations, to activity-specific, to youth-focused to education. https://www.fieldmag.com/articles/black-indigenous-poc-outdoor-collectives-nonprofits-instagram 

Another list of organizations working to increase representation and diversity in the outdoors from the National Parks Conservation Association. https://www.npca.org/resources/3314-groups-working-to-diversify-the-outdoors-and-the-environmental-movement 

Updated: October 1, 2023

Citizen Science

Some people think that “citizen science” is nothing more than an oxymoron. They wonder how everyday people, who might not have any formal education or training in the sciences, could possibly have any impact on scientific research.

Well I’m here to let you all in on a little (not-so-secret) secret: you don’t need a Ph.D. to have an impact on environmental research, monitoring, education, outreach, and policy-making. Everyday people make huge contributions to research through citizen science programs all over the world!

So how does citizen science work, why is it so successful, and how can you get involved? Keep reading to find out!


A young citizen scientist collects data from park pond. Photo from the National Park Service.


What is citizen science?

Citizen science, sometimes also called citizen-based monitoring, is a way for ordinary people to contribute to extraordinary research and monitoring studies! Citizen scientists volunteer their time collecting and reporting data to researchers, organizations, and governmental departments who then analyze that data to make decisions about natural resources.


How does it work?

Basically, it comes down to this: the natural world is so large and complex that researchers can’t possibly collect enough data all on their own. Imagine you’re a researcher who is singlehandedly trying to collect a useful sample of frog populations in a 10 square mile area. That’s a lot of frogs to monitor!

Now imagine you’re that same researcher, but you’ve decided to ask for help from citizen scientists. You get 30 volunteers who are eager and willing to learn how to collect data, teach them the basics, and provide them with a way to report their data findings back to you. Now each person is only responsible for one third of a square mile, a much more manageable area for tracking small creatures like frogs.

Sometimes, monitoring is done in a very small, focused geographical area. But the beauty of citizen-based monitoring is that it works on even larger scales, too, with programs spanning multiple cities, states, and even countries!


Surveys are conducted every summer to determine the location and health of the American pika population in Glacier National Park with the help of citizen scientists. Photo from Glacier National Park.


What impact does it have?

Plenty of research has been done over the last few decades about the importance of citizen science, consistently reporting that citizen-based monitoring has an enormous impact on research in many scientific fields. An article from 2016 noted that, “Citizen science is a rigorous process of scientific discovery, indistinguishable from conventional science apart from the participation of volunteers. When properly designed, carried out, and evaluated, citizen science can provide sound evidence, efficiently generate high-quality data, and help solve problems” (McKinley et al. 15).

This means that a citizen scientist is just as good as a practiced scientist if they are given the right tools! As the frog researcher you are, you want to collect to most accurate and replicable data you can get, and it turns out citizen scientists can help you do that.

On top of that, McKinley et al. demonstrated that regardless of the type of data that citizen scientists are collecting, they are likely to come away from the experience as more informed and engaged in environmental protection and natural resource management (15). Citizen science teaches everyday people why conservation science is so important and demonstrates that they can personally have an impact on decisions about the natural world. How cool is that?


A bumblebee pollinates a prairie clover. Citizen scientists often help survey pollinators like this little bee! Photo from National Park Service Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.


How can I get involved?

For starters, check out the Wisconsin Citizen-Based Monitoring Network. Think of their website as a hub for all things citizen science in the state of Wisconsin. The website contains an event calendar, a directory of programs and people to contact, and even more resources.

If you aren’t in Wisconsin or want to explore even more opportunities, the Citizen Science Association can provide more information.

If you’re eager to earn the title of Citizen Scientist right away, consider joining the Christmas Bird Count with the Audubon Society this winter. There are groups that participate in the Madison area on December 15th and throughout the whole state at different times this winter season. As the longest-running citizen science project in the country (over a century and counting!) it’s sure to be a great experience.


Resources I used in this post:

McKinley, Duncan C., et al. “Citizen Science Can Improve Conservation Science, Natural Resource Management, and Environmental Protection.” Biological Conservation, vol. 208, 2017, pp. 15–28., doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.05.015.

The Denis Sullivan Sail: Reflections from Participants

The Sailing Vessel (S/V) Denis Sullivan emulates a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner, but there’s one pretty important way it differs from the ships it commemorates: the Denis Sullivan is used for Great Lakes literacy education, not for carrying cargo.

The S/V Denis Sullivan near its port of Milwaukee. Photo from www.discoveryworld.org.

With funding from the Sea Grant institutes of Wisconsin and Minnesota and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the Center for Great Lakes Literacy and has been planning sailing trips on this amazing ship over the past few years. The participants on these sails are Wisconsin and Minnesota educators who are looking to expand their Great Lakes literacy and to bring that knowledge back to their students. The Shipboard Science Workshop is a great way for educators to do this in an experiential way that also allows them time to collaborate with peers.

So what does the Wisconsin Water Library have to do with all of this? Our librarian, Anne Moser, helps with planning the sail (and on-land) activities, creating educational materials, and educating the educators!

The 2018 Denis Sullivan Shipboard Science Workshop participants and team! Photo from Meridith Berghauer.

This year, the Denis Sullivan team tried out a new approach: a mentor-mentee framework for participants. Mentors were asked to identify teachers in their area who would be interested in being their mentees, drawing on pre-existing relationship between educators with common interests. Participants were Wisconsin or Minnesota educators with a passion for bringing experience-based instruction to their students. Throughout the sail, the pairs worked on building lesson plans and brainstorming ideas for ways to introduce their students to aquatic sciences literacy and experiential learning.

To gain a better sense of how this first run of the mentorship framework went, I talked with a mentor-mentee pair from Wisconsin. Cindy, the mentor, invited Joe to be her mentee on the Denis Sullivan because he was an outstanding student teacher in her classroom four years ago. In my interview with them, they spoke fondly of the sail and trip as a whole, and had plenty to say about how the mentorship framework established on the trip has carried over into their classrooms!

Cindy and Joe on the Denis Sullivan. Photo from Sheryl Williams, another participant.

Here are the top 5 things I learned from Cindy and Joe:

  1. Opportunities to share classroom knowledge with other teachers, especially across such a wide geographical area, are few and far between. The Denis Sullivan trip offers educators the chance to learn from each other in a hands-on, face-to-face environment that fosters creativity and collaboration.
  2. The mentor-mentee framework paved the way for this collaboration to continue once the trip had ended. Cindy and Joe have implemented a project that they planned during the sail – see point #5 for details on what they’ve accomplished!
  3. The mentor-mentee setup was a success! Cindy has participated in sails in the past, and she said that the mentor-mentee framework enriched her experience this year. Joe was also a big fan, saying that if Cindy hadn’t invited him to be her mentee, he likely never would’ve known about this experience.
  4. An open mind and curious spirit are essential to getting the most out of the Denis Sullivan experience. Being willing to challenge your own assumptions, learn from others, and get excited about how to implement what you’ve learned are all necessary.
  5. Cindy and Joe have been teaching their students how to collect and analyze water samples using real-world testing methods. The students will go out for testing a few times throughout the year and investigate reasons for changes in their measurements over time. At the end of the year, the students from the two classes will meet and explore what they’ve learned. I don’t know about you guys, but this is way more hands-on and interactive than anything I did in middle school science classes!

It was inspiring to talk with Cindy and Joe about their experience on the Denis Sullivan. I could tell that they were passionate about enriching their students’ learning, and were thankful for programs like the Shipboard Science Workshop on the Denis Sullivan that could help them do that in even more meaningful ways.

If you are a Wisconsin educator and would like more information about future opportunities on the Denis Sullivan, please reach out to us at askwater@aqua.wisc.edu. We would love to have more amazing teachers like Cindy and Joe on future sails!


Cindy is teacher at Rosholt Middle School in Rosholt, Wisconsin. As an instructor in a rural district, she teaches Earth Science, Health, English, and Advanced Reading.

Joe teaches at Pacelli Middle and High Schools in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He teaches life sciences to high schoolers and broad field science at the middle school level.

Rather than type out a full transcript of the interview in this blog post, I chose to highlight a few common themes that Cindy and Joe discussed. If you’re interested in hearing the full interview or learning more about their experiences, feel free to reach out to me at mcwitte@wisc.edu.

Art and Science: The Power of STEAM

Last week, I helped the Wisconsin Water Librarian, Anne, install a very special exhibit in a UW-Madison campus library. Titled Under the Surface: A Photographic Journey of Hope and Healing, the exhibit includes photographs taken by teenagers at Northwest Passage, a residential treatment program in northern Wisconsin. Each photograph has an artist card next to it explaining the importance of that piece of artwork for the artist who created it.

Photo: one portion of the Under the Surface exhibit in Memorial Library. Photo taken by me.

The exhibit was eye-opening for me. I connected to aquatic sciences in a way I never thought possible, and at the same time I gained an appreciation for the healing power of artistic expression and scientific exploration.

While science has always been a passion of mine, I now understand that it is much more than that for some people. Science can provide a tether to real life, a sense of purpose, a way to connect with others, and an escape from one’s own thoughts. When combined with the expressive nature of photography, science is transformed from facts and figures into an indescribable experience. Art has a way of bringing out the beautiful side in science, allowing people to connect to it in unique and personal ways.

Northwest Passage is doing just that. They are creating opportunities for struggling teens who are looking for a way to share their experiences. In turn, the photographs they create are bringing awareness to aquatic issues and allow for a more humanist perspective when it comes to environmental sciences. It is amazing to witness, and I feel lucky that I had the chance to help display the artwork to the UW-Madison community. The artwork is also being displayed at the Alicia Ashman branch of Madison Public Library, an important step in reaching the public with this message as well!

Photo: “Looking Up” by Jade, 16. Part of the Under the Surface series, In a New Light, Northwest Passage, Ltd.

Photo: “Within the Chaos” by Ndolo, 17. Part of the Under the Surface series, In a New Light, Northwest Passage, Ltd.

This combination of art with historically numbers-driven fields is an emerging concept often referred to as STEAM. As a variation of the acronym STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math/Medicine – the A is added to represent the role art can play in disseminating scientific information and garnering public support for scientific issues.

Other artists and scientists have also recognized the influential role that art can have on scientific opinions and awareness. For example, the work in Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle is a perfect demonstration of STEAM. Alexis Rockman creates larger-than-life paintings representing the past, present, and potentially terrible future of the Great Lakes. The more you look at the paintings, the more you realize how many little hidden surprises there are and how they all play into the larger artwork. In some of his artwork, he even uses materials he has gathered from the lakes, like sand, to create images.

Photo: Cascade, 2015, Alexis Rockman. Photo from Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Photo: sand art representing fauna of the Great Lakes, Alexis Rockman. Photo taken by me at the Chicago Cultural Center.

There are many artists working on STEAM projects, and academic institutions often get involved. Here at UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Water Library and Center for Limnology have worked on Art and Science projects in the past. Each of these examples have one thing in common: they recognize the important role that artistic expression can make in connecting people with science.

I’m proud that I attend a university with a library system that supports endeavors like Northwest Passage. I’m proud of the fact that many, many patrons already stopped to talk to me about the exhibit while we were setting up. And I’m proud that I get to work with a librarian and other staff at Sea Grant who see the greatness in projects like Under the Surface, provide funding for these experiences, and find a way to demonstrate the impact to a larger community.

If you check out the exhibit, prepare to be amazed!


Links to things I mentioned in this article:

Information about the exhibits at UW-Madison Memorial Library and Madison Public Library.

More information about Northwest Passage.

To support Under the Surface, purchase prints and other merchandise here.