28 October 2022

My experience with the SHIFT Summit

Written by: Jacqueline Dias

Hello blog readers! I was lucky enough to not only attend but also participate in the SHIFT Summit and Emerging Leaders Program in Fort Collins, Colorado last week. The SHIFT Summit is hosted by GPRed and the University of Colorado Fort Collins. The Summit focuses on mental and physical health and wellbeing in relation to outdoor recreation. As someone who has recently left academia, I was fascinated by all the research surrounding the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors. It’s something almost everyone knows – spending time outside when you’re not feeling good is guaranteed to boost your mood. However, to have real data behind it, is nice to see as someone with a love for science and data.

Something I spent a lot of time talking with folks about was redefining what it means to be a person that ‘recreates outdoors’ and what an outdoor user does. Not only does an outdoor space have to be physically accessible, but is the space or environment welcoming for all people? On a similar vein, what does nature and accessibility even mean? It is different for many people depending on where they come from and their background. These thought-provoking questions continue to linger with me almost a week after I’ve left the conference. They are also something I’ll continue to bring with me into other conversations I have in both my professional and personal life.

Importantly, SHIFT was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore and refine my public speaking skills. I was grateful to be able to present a lightning talk on my volunteer work with Latino Outdoors – a national organization of Latine leaders looking to provide safe and welcoming experiences in nature while rewriting the traditional outdoor narrative. I mostly focused on an introduction to the organization highlighting our mission, vision, pillars, and goals. I explained a bit about our Western Massachusetts chapter as the co-founder – why we chose Western Massachusetts and what events and work we’ve been up to in the Connecticut River Valley. Later that same day, I sat on a panel with six other talented young and elder professionals. I was able to tell my story as an emerging leader – one that mostly focused on my love of nature being inherited to me from my maternal grandfather and my father. It was a privilege to be able to listen in on the other leader’s stories and life experiences. It was the first time I was ever given such a platform, one where I could share anything and everything.

The SHIFT Summit was unlike any other conference or gathering I’ve participated in – in many more ways that I can describe here in this blog. We were able to take part in excursions that took us around the beautiful city of Fort Collins. I participated in a guided tree tour of a city park that ended with forest bathing. For those unfamiliar, forest bathing originated in Japan as a treatment for those who were worn out from technology. Forest bathing is a meditative mindfulness practice meant to take place in a forested environment – like a city park! It was a very relaxing experience to kick off the conference. The last day, I participated in a mycelium restorative process in which we used layers of mycelium, mushrooms, compost, seeds, and mulch, to protect the roots of an old blue spruce tree. It was interesting to learn a bit about restorative processes like this outside of a classroom. Overall, I’ll continue to think of my time in the Fall of Fort Collins as a positive one. I created a long-lasting network of colleagues and friends interested in the same topics and disciplines I am. If you can make it, I highly recommend it.

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - Boston Field Office

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