Note: The Leading the Way program will not be running in 2020.

In partnership with Grand Canyon Youth and the National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, we are proud to announce the “Leading the Way” program for students who are blind/ visually impaired or fully-sighted.

A group of 20 teenagers will be selected to receive scholarships for a once-in-a-lifetime leadership adventure! Over the course of 10 days, students will journey into the heart of the Grand Canyon, learning about the importance of natural sounds, participating in meaningful science, learning about career opportunities with the National Park Service, and honing their leadership strengths. At the end of this transformative expedition, students emerge as leaders ready to face personal and global barriers with passion and perseverance and inspired and equipped to be the next generation of ambassadors for the National Park Service.

Itinerary Overview

The first 2 days of this expedition are spent camping near the rim of Grand Canyon. Here, students build community, practice camping and hiking skills, engage with NPS staff and volunteers, conduct service projects, and learn the methods they’ll use for natural sound research.

The next 8 days are spent rafting the world-renowned Colorado River. This once-in-a-lifetime experience promises thrilling adventure, meaningful reflection, amazing connection with others and nature, and the opportunity to experience “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.” While on river, students help facilitate learning through student-driven projects and work with NPS scientists on the importance of appreciating and studying natural sounds.


Application and Details

  • Final Application Deadline: N/A
  • Dates: Tentative 2021
  • Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Ages: 15 – 19
  • Cost: Varies. The Natural Sound & Night Skies Division (NSNSD) is providing significant funding for program participants including the cost of airfare.

Participants should anticipate paying or fundraising for: Other associated travel costs (e.g. bag fees, minor traveling alone fees, etc.), meals while traveling to and from Phoenix and personal gear items. Limited additional scholarship funds are available. If you are interested in applying for more financial aid, please indicate it in your application.

Eligibility & Acceptance Criteria:

  • Age 15-19 at time of trip, required
  • Ideal participants demonstrate leadership skills and potential, academic merit, an interest in pursuing education outside of the classroom, and an interest in the natural world. An expressed interest in the National Park Service is a plus. No prior outdoor experience is required.
  • This program is open to youth who are blind/ visually impaired and sighted.
  • Blind/ VI applicants need to have strong orientation and mobility skills; this is not a training or rehabilitation program.
  • Youth from diverse backgrounds and experiences will be prioritized.
  • Merit is evaluated via GPA and short essays addressing: Leadership Potential; Affinity for the Environment and Desire to Grow.

Group Make-Up

This program will be comprised of 20 students from around the country who apply and are selected to participate – half of whom are blind or visually impaired, half of whom are sighted. In addition, the group will include a leadership team of river guides, facilitators, and scientists from No Barriers Youth and partnering organizations.

Scholarship Requirements: In exchange for the generous scholarship support, selected participants will be expected to complete the following requirements before, during, and after the expedition:

Phase 1: Thoughtful Preparation

  • • Participate in 5 preparatory conference calls in the spring of 2019 to help prepare for the expedition. Each conference call will have 1-2 hours of necessary homework to be completed in advance.

Phase 2: Expedition

  • • Participate in science and service activities.

Phase 3: Meaningful Returns

  • • Submit a “letter of impact” describing how the program impacted you to be shared with NPS.
  • • Make a “No Barriers Pledge” incorporating what you learned into meaningful action in your daily life.

I was able to grow in problem solving and in confidence which can help me make an impact on the world.

It has mainly improved my knowledge of people with visual impairments and really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Whether through the activities, making new friends, or leading the blind. I also think I have gotten to know myself better and respect nature more.

I feel like I can trust more people now. Iam also able to make friends easier now. IfI'm feeling upset, all I
need to do is find someone who's willing to listen and help me.