Sierra Nevada Journeys Inspires Student to Pursue Outdoor Education as a Career

Melissa Mazzuca, a 3-year employee at Sierra Nevada Journeys, was the 2016 Senior Scholar recipient for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources at the University of Nevada, Reno. This is one the most prestigious awards at the University. It is given to students from each school or college who meet exceptional program standards. During the reception, Melissa spoke about how Sierra Nevada Journeys inspired her to pursue outdoor education

We were able to connect with her during finals (of all time) to talk about her Sierra Nevada Journeys experience.


You just received your BS in Environmental Science. What's next?
I am excited to take a much needed breather for a few months this winter and spend some quality time with my family at home. I am also taking a trip to the east coast to visit friends and explore! In April, I am extremely excited to be moving to Oregon to continue my work in environmental education at Camp Tamarack Outdoor School.

How were you introduced to Sierra Nevada Journeys?
One of my freshman professors required our class to attend a natural resources career fair. It was there that I met Sean Hill, the Education Director for Sierra Nevada Journeys. I immediately applied to work as a counselor at Grizzly Creek Ranch.

How long have you been involved with Sierra Nevada Journeys and in what capacity?
I have spent an incredible three years with Sierra Nevada Journeys in numerous roles. I started up at campus as a cabin counselor for summer camp. I immediately knew that a few weeks of summer camp was not enough for me and reached out to Kristen Fenstermacher, the campus director at the time, and asked her how I could get more involved. She brought me on for the fall as a part-time instructor where I got to come to campus on the weekends and facilitate the challenge course with leadership programs. Still seeking more involvement with such an amazing organization, I applied for an internship in the Reno office for the following spring. For the next few years I worked with the Classrooms Unleashed program as a field instructor.

My second summer with Sierra Nevada Journeys I took on two new roles. First, I was able to move up to campus a month before summer programs began to finish out the outdoor school season as a Residential Outdoor Science Instructor. Then once summer began, I had the pleasure of being the Arts and Crafts Specialist for all summer programs. I had such an incredible second season with Sierra Nevada Journeys that I went ahead and continued my same roles for a third!  

What were some of your favorite moments with Sierra Nevada Journeys?
I absolutely loved being the Arts and Crafts Specialist over the summer. One of my favorite parts of the position was when the older girls would come and we would all craft together and sing Taylor Swift; it was beautiful. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know all the campers really well, not just one cabin.

I also really enjoyed working the registration table at check-in. I loved getting to experience camper’s very first impression of Sierra Nevada Journeys or seeing how excited the returners were to be back at camp.

A specific favorite memory was during a very stormy day of summer 2015. The campers probably spent more time inside than out due to the weather that week, but you'd never be able to tell based on their spirits. As a special rainy day activity, a few counselors planned a lip sync battle. No one anticipated how into it all the campers would get with elaborate dances and costumes. I even got to take on the role of Katniss Everdeen as a judge. Every camper and staff member had an incredible time despite the weather and it is one of my favorite summer camp memories to date.

How has Sierra Nevada Journeys helped you personally and professionally?
I have grown so much since I started with Sierra Nevada Journeys in 2013. I am more confident, social, and open to trying new things. Sierra Nevada Journeys is like a home to me and I feel like it’s where I really found myself. It’s also where I found what I like to call “my people.” From my incredible mentor Kristen, to my camp mom Debbie, to all my amazing friends, I have never felt a greater sense of belonging. I believe this sense of belonging is what really made me feel and act like my true self.

I have also gained a long list of professional skills to grow as an environmental educator. My growth is due largely to the amazing people that I have been surrounded by at Sierra Nevada Journeys. I have received an incredible amount of guidance and support for the last three years. I have had the pleasure of learning a ton about teaching, challenge course facilitation, and just working with children in general from observing and being in the company of my fellow instructors. I genuinely loved being the baby of the staff because I had the opportunity to learn so much from my peers.

If I haven't already communicated it, Sierra Nevada Journeys really has meant the world to me. I’m sad to be moving on, but I am incredibly thankful for the growth that I have experienced through Sierra Nevada Journeys and am eager to apply it to my next adventure.