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Alumni Spotlight // Public Service

A CHAMPION FOR CONSERVATION

National Park Foundation CEO and President Will Shafroth `80
Will Shafroth
National Park Foundation CEO and President Will Shafroth `80 in our nation’s capital.
(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

Conservation champion Will Shafroth `80 is part of a great Colorado family legacy of public service. His great-grandfather John Shafroth -- a U.S. Senator and governor of Colorado -- was the principal author of the Antiquities Act granting the president authority to set aside lands and cultural resources for conservation and preservation.

His father John Shafroth, ran for Congress and his uncle James Quigg Newton, Jr. served as mayor of Denver, Colorado.In 2008, Will Shafroth ran for Congress with endorsements from major Colorado local and state leaders, The Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News. He was defeated by Congressman Jared Polis in the primary, but has remained committed to making a difference at the national level.

In early 2009, he joined Secretary Ken Salazar’s team at the Department of the Interior, serving both as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Counselor to the Secretary for America’s Great Outdoors.

Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Shafroth served as the first executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado, an organization that distributed millions of dollars in grants for public parks, trails and wildlife conservation and as the founding executive director of the Colorado Conservation Trust.

Shafroth graduated with degrees in political science and environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara, and went on to earn his master’s degree from Harvard’s John. F. Kennedy School of Government. At UCSB, participated in and served as director of the Capitol Hill program and served as Community Services Chairman of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

In his current role as the President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, Will Shafroth builds on decades of experience in public policy and leadership to create vital connections and support for our national parks and historical and and cultural resources. In his first 15 months with the Foundation, Shafroth has led the organization in raising more than $200 million dollars to support our national parks.

In this Alumni Q&A, Shafroth shares insights on his long career as a leader for conservation, his experiences at UCSB and what inspires him to continue to build a public legacy of support for our national parks.

Nancy Krop
Bill Nye, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Questlove, and National Park Foundation president Will Shafroth at the #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque Park Exchange event in New York City. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of the Interior/Tami Heilmann)

Did you always love the outdoors when you were a child? What were you fascinated by as a child?

We lived out in the country in Colorado, with big open fields—in all directions and a half a mile to the closest house. I grew up around a lot of wildlife and open vistas, under big starry skies and the presence of the mountains. My dad loved to ski and he took me skiing for the first time when I was five years old. He taught me to fish and we would go to the east coast. I remember spending most of my time on the water – sailing and fishing, and collecting clams and catching crabs.

What made you decide to study at UC Santa Barbara?

I went to a big high school in Colorado that had about a thousand people in my graduating class. Most people from my school went to the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and other smaller in-state schools. My older sister had gone to Stanford and I thought that California sounded pretty cool.

So, my mom took me on a college tour in California. We looked at nine schools, including UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and Stanford. Santa Barbara was the perfect temperature; the sunlight was sparkling on the water – it was beautiful. I told my mom that we didn’t need to continue the trip. We got to Santa Cruz and there were banana slugs everywhere.

What drew you to pick political science as your major at UCSB?

Law interested me. I came from a long line of attorneys. I also came from people who were dedicated to public service. There were a lot of politics discussed around the dinner table. Politics entered my subconscious at early age.

What was life like for students during your time at UCSB? What did you enjoy best about the campus life and environment at the University?

There were 12,000 students on campus then – it didn’t feel as crowded as it does now. There was such a great lifestyle for students on campus. I lived in the Santa Rosa dorm and rode the bike paths. I didn’t need a car to go anywhere.

I also joined the Sigma Chi fraternity – much to my own surprise – as it wasn’t something I intended to do in college. My friends had pledged Sigma Chi, so I did. It was a pretty low key scene back then. Sigma Chi had 60 members and the house was an apartment building with 12 units. I remember working as a hasher at a sorority, prepping the food in order to get a free meal in exchange. The fraternity also put a movie on at Campbell Hall to raise money.

I also played 13 different intramural sports like floor hockey, volleyball, innertube water polo, and basketball – it was great fun!

What made you decide to join the UCDC (Capitol Hill) internship program? What was it like to work in Washington D.C. as a young college student?

I had declared my major in political science by time I signed up for the Capitol Hill Program. As a poli sci major, you had to do an internship in some public office. I chose to go back to D.C., a place I was always curious about.

I interned at the office of Frank Evans, a congressman from southern Colorado. I did a wide variety of different tasks -– writing speeches and press releases, helping with constituent services, and attending hearings on the Alaska Land Bill and interior subcommittee meetings. It was all really interesting.

When I got back, a friend of mine who ran the program asked me if I would take over the job in in the fall of `78. So, for over a year, I helped to recruit students for the program and place them in offices in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.

Were you always interested in public service? What inspired you to follow this career path to your current position now at the National Park Foundation?

Setting aside lands for conservation was one of things that my great-grandfather did when he was congressman, governor and senator of Colorado. He was very involved in the establishment of Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain National Parks. His active involvement in conservation issues became an inspiration to me, both from the political standpoint and the impact it had on the state in creating these areas that would be protected forever.

In the beginning of my senior year, I decided to add a second major in environmental studies after taking a number of ES classes and realizing how much I loved studying those subjects. I also realized that my way to help the environment was through policy and politics. I didn’t want to be a scientist or a county planner, I was more interested in local, state and national policy – getting the right people elected and supporting conservation efforts in government.

My first job in Sacramento was working in the California Department of Conservation. The job came to me from one of my UCSB TAs. The work I did was for agricultural land conservation, protecting family farms and ranches – I did that kind of work for nearly a decade, both in state government and with a national nonprofit organization called the American Farmland Trust.

At some point, I realized that going back to graduate school would help me to gain knowledge and skills that would help me in the next phase of my career. I ended up getting a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Upon graduation in 1991, I went to work as an Assistant Secretary in the California Resources Agency under Pete Wilson. It was a very interesting and challenging position as I had responsibility for matters related to farmland, rivers, wetlands, the coast and ocean.

We moved home to Colorado in 1994 to be closer to family and I landed a great job at Great Outdoors Colorado and there I met Ken Salazar who was serving as Executive Director of the CO Dept. of Natural Resources. I did that for 7 years and started and ran the CO Conservation Trust for another 7 years before running for Congress and then serving for Secretary Salazar in DC.

Service as President and CEO of the National Park Foundation is a culmination of all the experiences that I’ve had. I draw from all of those experiences and all my contacts throughout the years in order to be successful at this role. It’s a pretty amazing opportunity heading into the last third of my career.

What is a typical day for you?

There isn’t really a typical day for me. There’s a kind of day that I’m in the office here in Washington D.C., attending somewhere between 10 and 15 separate meetings with staff and outside parties. There’s a lot involved in keeping the organization going -- following up on things and being on about what’s on the calendar.

Another typical day is on the road – at national parks, filling in a donor or meeting with people in position to be supportive of the Foundation. These days are typically very long, starting with a breakfast meeting and jam-packed with a lot of different people who want to be a part of the work we do.

While I like being a road warrior all around the US, I also enjoy the routine and the simplicity of taking a bike ride after work. With this job, however, I always need to be tuned in, with my finger on the pulse of what is going on in the parks. We have to constantly be selling and marketing the important work of our national parks.

What inspires you to do what you do, each day?

We have such an important cause at the National Park Foundation. Our national parks are uniformly loved by the people of the United States and around the world.

We perform an important service. You recall the phrase “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness”—what other function in government answers to the pursuit of happiness? It’s certainly not the IRS. The national parks are one of the only places in our country that is about the pursuit of happiness. We are helping people to experience joy and happiness in their discovery and interest in their own country.

There is nothing like the awe and wonder of nature. I remember being on the beach in Santa Barbara and seeing the Channel Islands. There are amazing opportunities and responsibilities to positively affect that system of natural spaces, as well as people’s experiences of those places.

For me, what gets me going is feeling like I’m playing a role in dramatically improving the performance of this organization. We set a goal of raising $250 million dollars over five years. That was three years ago – we are about to cross the $325 million mark. We double our goal. That’s really cool to imagine how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. That keeps me inspired.

What makes you proud to be a Gaucho?

Well, that’s an easy question to answer! I love the fact that where I work, that I’m a product of UCSB, in a place where there are a lot of graduates from Ivy League schools and other private colleges around the country. There are many people in important positions who are proud to be graduates of UCSB and the UC system. We demonstrate that even in places as beautifully distracting as Santa Barbara, people can come out and make a difference in our world.

UCSB prepared me to do my work. Internships and my academic studies provided me the opportunity to be a leader in the Capitol Hill program, and gave me the confidence and experience to lead. At the Sigma Chi fraternity, I served as community service director -- we made trips to the old folks home, the Cerebral Palsy Center and other places where we were able to engage with and serve the community. All these UCSB experiences had a profound impact on who I am now and how I have gone forward in my life.

Learn more about Will Shafroth and his work with the National Park Foundation at www.nationalparks.org.

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