This is the second in a two-part series on seasonal rangers at Yosemite National Park. For the first part,
Though they didn’t know it at the time, a trip to Yosemite National Park during their sophomore year at Atwater High School would leave a lasting impression on Janet Melgoza, Carla Saldana and Deedee Cha. It was the trio’s first exposure to the natural wonders they’d been missing in their own back yard.
This summer, Melgoza, Saldana and Cha are back. Now hardworking first-generation college-goers, they’re serving as seasonal rangers in Yosemite after spending previous summers in the park wit h the encouragement of Kathy Dimont of the National Parks Service. Their duties have ranged from giving tours, to distributing wilderness permits, to bear patrol.
Melgoza, a junior, came three years ago as a pioneer in the Yosemite Leadership Program, a partnership among UC Merced, the National Parks Service, the Yosemite Association, Delaware North Corporation and Toyota Corporation. Where she was first a volunteer, she has now worked a paid ranger two years in a row - a summer job that helps her overcome the other challenges in her educational path. Scholarship money helps a lot, and once a girl learns to chase away bears, advanced engineering classes seem a lot less scary.
“My favorite part is meeting different people from all over the world every day,” Melgoza said. “It makes you want to go and explore everywhere.”
She plans to travel internationally after graduation, including making a connection with an Italian family she befriended when they visited Yosemite. She then thinks she may return to the park, or jump right into an engineering career.
Saldana is a psychology major and finds application for her studies in Yosemite.
“I love to make the connections between families and communities out here,” said Saldana. “I talk to a lot of my friends who have never been up here. I came up at spring break and brought a whole group of friends of mine who are into videogames and fast food. It is a different lifestyle, and sometimes it’s hard for people to imagine how you can live up here. But getting people who aren’t used to it up here, they can form their own connections.”
“Being here has changed who I am as a person,” she said. “It was something that I chose, not something my parents chose for me, but a decision I was taking for myself. I can earn my own money and get scholarship money. It’s supported my education, and if I get the chance I’ll continue coming with my educational goals in mind.”
She ultimately hopes to pursue graduate school and maybe even a research career.
Cha is a sociology major. Her family has been concerned about the relevance of her park experience to her future career, but she emphasizes that there are growth opportunities for students in all fields - an important feature of the UC Merced Yosemite Leadership Program.
“You don’t have to have a science degree to work for the park,” said Cha. “If you have a love for the park, you’ll find something fulfilling and enjoyable, work-wise.”
And they’re always thinking of their families back home.
“I get so excited when I see Hispanic people,” Saldana said. “One family came from Mexico all the way to here, and they were so happy to see me and hugged me.”
“I met a Hmong family my first summer here, and they were really surprised to find a Hmong speaker,” Cha said.
”Every time I see a family, it’s so much fun,” Melgoza said.