Los Olivos-based nonprofit gives college scholarships to North County students studying natural sciences

Nancy Stearns was a longtime volunteer with NatureTrack, a K-12 program that helps kids experience the outdoors through field trips and accessibility programming, NatureTrack Founder Sue Eisaguirre told the Sun

click to enlarge Los Olivos-based nonprofit gives college scholarships to North County students studying natural sciences
Photo courtesy of Maureen Mcfadden
STUDYING BIOLOGY: Catalina Kett, the first recipient of NatureTrack’s college scholarship program, is studying biology at High Point University in North Carolina and traveled to Australia to study how different environmental habitats can flourish Down Under versus what thrives in the U.S.

“She was a dedicated volunteer; she loved being out there with the kids and just getting them to use all of their senses. She would just see the kids light up as she let them explore the plants on the trail,” Eisaguirre said. “Nancy was amazing at getting them … to pique their curiosity.”

NatureTrack began serving Santa Barbara County schools in 2011 to connect kids to the outdoors through field trips that related to their curriculum at school. Volunteers like Stearns would lead student groups on the trails or at the beach, help them observe, and answer questions that came up during their exploration. In its first year, NatureTrack served around 600 students; now the nonprofit serves about 5,000 kids on an annual basis. 

“It’s human nature to protect something you love, you enjoy, you understand. By connecting them with the natural world, and giving them an enjoyable experience, hopefully that leads them to protect the world they found interesting,” Eisaguirre said. 

When Stearns passed away from cancer, her husband, Brett, created a $5,000 scholarship for North County high school seniors who want to attend a four-year college and study natural sciences, she said. 

“[Brett] said Nancy would come home from working with students from Santa Maria or Lompoc and say how amazing these kids were; that’s what he saw and what he remembered, he wanted it to be for children who needed financial support,” Eisaguirre said. “Nancy worked herself through college—he remembers how hard she worked to support herself and put herself through school.” 

The fourth annual NatureTrack scholarship is open for applicants until March 15. Students interested need to fill out an application that details their extracurricular activities, awards, and work experience; send their transcripts; and submit a 500-word essay that shares how this scholarship will “significantly impact” their journey and why it’s crucial to their college education, she said. Students need to have a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher, and parents need to sign the application once it’s complete. 

“I think $5,000 is substantial; I think it lessens the burden and allows them to choose that school that was out of reach. I think it could make a tremendous amount of difference,” Eisaguirre said. “It just gives them the self-confidence as they head into their college journey. They get support from a group that recognizes their goals and what they want to do as well.” 

Previous recipients have gone on to study botany in Utah, environmental engineering in Oregon, and environmental habitats in Australia, according to NatureTrack. 

Once accepted, the nonprofit will contribute $2,000 in the first year and then an additional $1,000 each year until the $5,000 is satisfied. NatureTrack will follow the student if they transfer to other schools, Eisaguirre added. Eventually, she said she’d like to see the scholarship offered to two students, but it will take another individual to underwrite the program. 

“I hope we are encouraging for a high school student—now there’s means to go out in the natural world,” she said. 


• Lompoc Parks and Recreation’s Spring Break Beach Bash Dance Camp is open for dancers 4 to 9 years old. This beach-themed camp will teach basic dance steps and technique, and camp will end with a performance for family and friends. It will run from April 1 to 3 from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Civic Auditorium , 217 S. L St. Registration costs $35 per child and can be completed in person at the Anderson Recreation Center, 125 W. Walnut Ave., by calling (805) 875-8100, or online at cityoflompoc.com/recreation

• The Santa Maria Public Library, 421 South McClelland St., will offer one-on-one Tech Help sessions to help individuals with setting up new devices, installing apps, learning privacy best practices, and enjoying Library e-resources at home. The program does not include assistance with hardware repairs, virus removal, financial transactions, or applications that require users to input sensitive information. Sessions will be held on March 10 from 2 to 4 p.m., March 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 24 from 2 to 4 p.m., and March 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. Direct questions to (805) 925-0994, Ext. 8562.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

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