In the past 13 years, Manti-La Sal National Forest ranger station has seen all sorts of job applicants — fresh-out-of-high-school students trying to earn money for college, outdoor enthusiasts looking to land a fun job and 20-somethings just getting started on their scientific careers.

But in all that time, said U.S. Forest Service silviculturist Diane Cote, only one Hispanic has walked into the station with an application in hand.

"I don't know why we're not reaching that group," she said. "The job is fun. It's engaging. We pay well."

Last weekend, the Forest Service took steps to mend that discrepancy. The Rocky Mountain Research Station, of which the Manti La Sal Forest is a part, recruited 30 Hispanic students from Utah County high schools to attend a natural science camp at the Great Basin Environmental Education Center.

"These are college-bound students," said Jose Enrique, vice principal of Mountain View High and the founder of the Latinos in Action program. "They're smart. They're motivated. They really want to progress, but a lot of times they just don't know what is out there."

The key to getting more Latinos into science-based careers, Enrique said, is "exposure, exposure, exposure."

The Forest Service's Hispanic Camp, was designed to do just that.

"Math and science classes can be pretty challenging, but if the students get excited about potential careers in the industry, they're more motivated to study hard," said David Tippets, Rocky Mountain Research Station public affairs officer. "We're just trying to give them a vision for the future."

The Forest Service recruited eight of the area's top scientists — several of whom were Latino — to spend the weekend with the students talking about what they do. Although the research station has been funding the camp in Colorado for 10 years, this is the first year students in Utah had an opportunity to attend.

"I thought it was really cool to meet scientists who come from the same background as I do," said Emily Lazalde, a 17-year-old senior at Mountain View High. "He talked to us about his career and gave us advice about our education. It was really inspiring, the stuff he said."

The campers did more than sit in lectures. Scientists showed the students how to conduct field experiments, like coring trees to study historical climate changes in a forest.

"I always kind of thought park rangers just wandered around making sure people didn't light fires where they weren't supposed to, but they actually do a lot of research," Lazalde said. "It was really interesting."


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com