Leading the Way

Ducks Unlimited national scholarship, high school and college chapter programs boost R3 efforts

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A lot of nonprofit organizations have scholarships available to young adults graduating from high school, but not many fall under the hunting and conservation tags. 

Enter Ducks Unlimited, one of the better-known organizations in the hunting world, who will, for another year, award 61 scholarships to 2021 graduates. The scholarships are available to all members who are 12th-graders set to graduate, though, according to the DU website, it is “targeted to volunteers who have shown an exceptional level of commitment to wetlands conservation through participation in their DU Varsity (high school) club/chapter and/or local DU community chapter.” 

The national program, which was approved in 2017 and launched in the fall of 2018, has thus far awarded three classes of students. 

“We’ve awarded $135,000 scholarship money since its inception,” said DU Manager of Youth and Education Programs Mark Horobetz. 

In total, DU awards $45,000 a year, and the scholarships are broken down into three parts: 50 varsity scholarships each at $500, 10 conservation scholarships of $1,000 each, and one $10,000 national scholarship. 

In some Appalachian states, such as West Virginia, waterfowl hunting isn’t particularly popular. This doesn’t mean chapters don’t exist, so even if a senior is from a less popular area, that doesn’t mean they’re ineligible. There has been a correlation between more active chapters and more awarded scholarships, but Horobetz notes that the program has morphed in a way that includes students who may not have access to a local chapter but are still interested in conservation.

“The original intention behind the scholarship program was to give back. in a sense, to young men and women across the country at the high school level that have volunteered for the organization, whether it be through a high school chapter or even a local community chapter,” Horobetz said. “I think it’s kind of grown, morphed a little bit. The original intent was to give back to those volunteers; what we’ve seen is a mixture of both DU volunteers and non-DU volunteers that are being selected for these scholarships. So it morphed into this opportunity for us to introduce what we do and the importance of conservation to other young students across the country that may not have had an opportunity to volunteer for the organization but maybe they just have a passion for the outdoors and wildlife, and we wanted to be apart of their journey as they graduate high school and go off to college.”

As the conversation around R3 (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation) continues, Horobetz sees DU as a front runner in bringing new people and ideas into the conservation world. During his time with the organization, it has found a way, through its high school and college chapter program, to create sustainable networks that are successful in recruiting and retaining waterfowl hunters. 

“Ducks Unlimited is poised to make a bigger impact, if you will, in regards to the R3 movement,” he said. “I see it a lot. I got to see it this year, as a matter of fact, on a couple of hunts with some high school volunteers and college volunteers – there is hope that this generation is going to be in good hands. We are seeing a lot of leadership from our high school and college volunteers that understand the importance of conservation and giving back to the resource and also recruiting their fellow peers into the sport.

“In fact, our college and high school chapter program is the focal point of our R3 efforts for the organization because we have seen, and it’s been proven, that a peer-to-peer mentor in the hunting or shooting sports arena creates a sustainable bond, sustainable network and a safe place for people to learn and get involved in the outdoors versus maybe the more traditional youth or mentor hunts where you’re partnered with a mentor, go out in the field one or two times and that’s it. With our high school and college chapter program, it’s like a fraternity and sorority all combined into one. They’re going out and hunting together, doing cookouts, hanging out, organizing fundraising events, so there’s a bond and network there that’s creating a sustainable foundation for R3 moving forward.” 

Additionally, the scholarship funds are completely separate from member fees and contributions. The organization set up an endowment to fund the program. Further, the recipients are chosen by a volunteer selection committee – about 20 volunteers from around the country take part in this blind scoring. 

“Those monies that we are able to raise from major donors and sponsors, it’s not coming out of the Ducks Unlimited budget or that we use for our everyday expenses and conservation work we do,” Horobetz said. “Our development team has specifically gone out and targeted individuals, a couple of foundations even, that will give specifically to the endowment. We’re focused on making sure this endowment is completely funded so this scholarship program will live on in perpetuity. That’s what’s going to happen. The organization is very much around this program.”

If interested in applying, applicants must hold a 2.8 or higher GPA, submit their high school transcript, DU member and volunteer history, a list of service and/or academic awards received and up to three letters of recommendation. It’s also required to submit an essay up to 500 words “describing how his or her outdoor experiences have contributed to their understanding of the importance of wetlands and wetlands conservation, and the ways in which he or she has acted and/or intends to act on this knowledge.”

Applications are due by March 1, and the list of recipients will be sent to all applicants in the spring. The national scholarship winner will be announced at the upcoming National Convention in New Orleans. 

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