JUNE 22-25, 2023

The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC), which is a partnership between George Mason University and the Smithsonian Institution, is pleased to offer WYSE National Youth Delegates an opportunity to enhance their conference week with an immersive weekend field experience on a research site located in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains.

SMSC offers a range of compelling residential, hands-on, interdisciplinary programs in conservation biology to high school, undergraduate and graduate students. Highly qualified world experts, including Smithsonian scientists, George Mason University faculty, and colleagues from other U.S. and international conservation organizations provide students with direct connections to the most current research techniques and fieldwork.


The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation is based on the grounds of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, VA, about an hour’s drive west from Washington, DC. The site is nestled alongside Shenandoah National Park, covering 3,200 acres of forest, grassland and pasture. Embedded in an active research facility which houses a range of endangered mammals, birds and amphibians, SMSC offers a compelling and engaging learning environment for our students.

The newly constructed buildings at SMSC feature state of the art classroom and lab facilities, an intimate residential center, and a flexible-use dining and event venue. The Academic Center provides seven classrooms with distance learning, computer and laboratory capabilities. The adjacent Residential Facility has 60 rooms with 120 guest spaces, along with conference, reception, multi-purpose and study areas. The Dining Commons can host meals for up to 135 guests, and offers a patio with pergola for outdoor dining and receptions with a view.

All three buildings were designed with a focus on environmental sustainability and green construction, with all three aiming for LEED Gold certification. Some of these design initiatives include the design of a green roof above the training labs at the Academic Center, the recycling of ceramic roofing tiles from renovated and demolished buildings, rainwater gardens, native species landscaping, and geothermal heating and cooling systems.


This additional experience is part of the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment and only available to National Youth Delegates to the 2023 Summit. Applicants to this program will be accepted based on strong academic performance, a demonstrated interest in conservation and the environment, and the ability to be exceptional representatives for their states and high schools. Applications will be reviewed in the order in which they are received. Space is limited


National Youth Delegates will participate in hands-on, experiential learning through decision-making simulations that challenge them to solve problems and explore the creative, practical, and ethical tensions inherent in the environmental arena.

During this comprehensive weekend, students will acquire hands-on experience with the tools and techniques used in fieldwork and learn how conservation professionals contribute to the long-term survival of species in their natural habitats. Through lectures, discussions, field experiences and outdoor adventures, students will be introduced to the major concepts of ecology in the context of species and habitat conservation.

Learning Objectives:

  • Receive an introduction to the complex nature of present-day conservation in practice
  • Develop an understanding of the value of biodiversity and the interconnectedness of species to the natural world
  • Utilize tools and techniques essential to today’s scientific field work
  • Identify local flora and fauna and its significance in a diverse habitat
  • Channel their passion for conservation into opportunities to make a difference
  • Create lasting connections to their peers in conservation
  • Take the next step in their conservation careers

The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation Weekend Field Experience is $900 and includes the following:

  • A three-night stay (double occupancy) at our state-of-the-art green building facilities
  • Transportation from the SMSC to the Summit on Sunday, June 25th, and transportation to Dulles International or Regan National airport at the end of the Summit
  • Transportation to all off-site program venues during their stay
  • Three meals a day in our on-site dining commons
  • All activities, admissions and fees
  • Access to free laundry services
  • Access to private student library and entertainment room
  • Welcome bonfire activity on historic Racetrack Hill
  • Certificate of completion
  • Adult field program leaders and program staff in a 1:10 ratio with students
  • 24-hour phone access to program staff to address any unexpected emergencies
  • An unforgettable experience in conservation!