College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

An Unlikely Journey

January 31, 2011

by Sandra Deacon, SCA Web Team

“Camping? You’re kidding! Trail building? It looks like labor and I would never wear one of those hard hats.” These were the initial reactions by Danny Nguyen and his friends to an SCA recruiting presentation at their school. Intrigued by the prospect of adventure, Danny eventually joined SCA Oakland and “unexpectedly fell in love with nature and the outdoors.”

The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Danny grew up in Oakland where he says, “All I knew were cars, noise, streetlights, and skyscrapers. Rarely had I ever been exposed to camping, parks, or nature.”

When he describes his first outing with SCA, you can still hear the delight. “We went to Slide Ranch where there was a little beach, rocks, waves, and beautiful sunsets. We were just hanging out sitting in the grass enjoying the fresh air. It was so quiet and peaceful. After so much school work, it was great to get outdoors in such a beautiful place.“

Two other SCA assignments would follow the high school program.

“I spent a summer at Hopewell Furnace NHS in southeastern Pennsylvania, where I lived with seven strangers in the middle of the woods. It didn’t take us long to become a family after we built trails together by day and socialized at night! My experience in Pennsylvania was eye-opening, because the environment was the complete opposite from home; never in my life had I seen stars the way I did out there as the light pollution at home seemed to make it impossible.”

The best thing about all this? “Definitely the lifelong friendships that were forged between people with a similar interest to conserve and protect what they love; wildlife and the outdoors.”


More recently, as the Trails Planning Intern with the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail staff at the National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office in Oakland, Danny spent his time hiking different segments of the trail, documenting each with photos and GIS data. Danny says, “Senior Trail Planner Steve Ross was an excellent mentor who not only taught me valuable and practical work ethic skills but he also increased my interest in the outdoors.”

“A really great thing about my internship was to be able to get my friends interested in the outdoors, too. These were friends who never camped, hiked, or anything; real urbanized people. However, after telling them about my work, they were interested in tagging along and to their surprise they loved it. Each time out in the field was a new adventure because we didn't know what to expect. In one instance we were lost in the woods up in the Redwood Park region and were forced to hitch a ride down several miles in a stranger’s car!”

Danny is sitting outside on the balcony of his college dorm when I call for this interview. He’s just returned from winter break and is about to resume his studies as a junior majoring in environmental economics and policy at UC Berkeley, his initial major in computer science with its promise of highly-paid and secure employment having been jettisoned. When asked about that decision he explains, “It’s surprising even to me that I am pursuing a career in the environmental field. Sometimes, you just have to do what you love. You have to consider the psychic income.”

You could draw a straight line from that presentation at Oakland High School in 2008 to where Danny Nguyen is now -- looking toward law school and a career as an environmental lawyer with a focus on the allocation of scarce natural resources. It was an unlikely journey, but the best part is, it’s just beginning.

Read it at the Source