First Summer Experience

Nanokeep 230 x 300

Immersion program

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars will spend the first five weeks (June -July) of the summer engaged in immersion learning about conservation issues on the Colorado Plateau and in the Grand Canyon region. The summer immersion is composed of a variety of learning modules that combine classroom learning on NAU’s campus with day-trips and extended camping trips. The summer immersion program will provide students with the opportunity to get to know the land and one another as they travel throughout the region. Our educational philosophy is one of self-discovery, curiosity, personal agency, collaboration, reflection, and a direct and respectful relationship with the natural world. 

The immersion program will make extensive use of case studies that highlight the complexity of conservation issues on the Colorado Plateau. Key conservation topics that will be covered include: climate science, climate adaptation, landscape ecology, water conservation, fire ecology, ecosystem services, traditional ecological knowledge, habitat fragmentation and restoration, single species conservation, collaborative planning, multi-use land management, protected areas, socio-ecological research, and environmental justice.  Our programming is brought to students by a variety of invited speakers and instructors from across the region, representing different viewpoints.

Brady Pincushion Cactus
Brady Pincushion Cactus

Sample Learning Modules

Habitat Connectivity

Scholars will work with staff at Conservation Science Partners and Coconino National Forest to collect data on suitable deer habitat and evaluate landscape connectivity using a geographic information system in NAU’s computer labs.

Climate Adaptation on Tribal Lands

Scholars will learn about the work of NAU’s Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals advising tribes on their climate adaptation plans, travel to Hopi and Navajo nations to learn about dryland farming techniques and traditional ecological knowledge, and learn about the environmental and social impacts of coal mining. 

Protection of Public Lands

Scholars will learn about the efforts to establish and protecting Bear’s Ears National Monument, from representatives from Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Utah Dine Bikeyah.  Scholars will have the opportunity to visit this beautiful and sacred site. Scholars will also have an opportunity to learn about advocacy and partnership relationships between stakeholders.

Coupled Natural-Human Systems

Scholars will participate in research to analyze the impact of political jurisdiction on biodiversity on the North Rim region of the Grand Canyon. Scholars will learn about how human systems affect ecological systems and long-term management of public lands over large scales. 

5-week internship

Deep Dive 

For the remaining 3 weeks (July -August) of the first summer experience, scholars will be split into three groups to take a ‘deep dive’ into one of the subjects introduced in the first five weeks, guided by a mentor from one of our partner organizations. Each mentor will construct a program around the following structure:


  • During the first stage, the scholars will be embedded in ongoing projects, working closely with mentors and their professional colleagues. 
  • During the second stage, scholars will examine the focal issue through a variety of analytical lenses. Each dimension of analysis will be highlighted with a talk from an invited speaker with great depth of knowledge of the issue. 
  • During the third stage, scholars will engage in individual research and prepare an analytical report on project outcomes, impacts, and recommendations.