Congrats to Jacob Cook Garza who joined The Nature Conservancy as a GOCO fellow in June 2023! The GOCO Fellowship Program supports positions at our partner organizations to prepare young people for careers in the outdoors. GOCO fellows gain experience in the fields of conservation, outdoor recreation, and stewardship while growing a professional skill set to apply to future endeavors. Starting in 2024, GOCO Fellows will be funded through the Planning and Capacity grant program.
Tell us a little about yourself. What did you do before you began the fellowship?
Born and raised in the Chicago region, I got my bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Before becoming a GOCO fellow at The Nature Conservancy Colorado, I worked at Boulder County AIDS Project as the Bilingual Services Coordinator managing their food pantry. In college, I had the privilege of doing multiple internships with the City of Chicago and Encircle LGBTQ+ Resource Center in Provo, Utah. Over the years, I have worked many restaurant industry jobs as well as various volunteer projects in Chicago and Mexico. I love to travel and have had the wonderful opportunity to explore Europe and South America, and lived in Mexico City for two years. I love music and singing, cooking, reading and writing, and have a sweet pup named Nico!
What’s been one of the best experiences of your life so far?
It’s hard to pick one experience! More broadly, I would say travel for sure is one of the most rewarding things in life for me. Whether it was backpacking in South America, studying abroad in Spain, living and volunteering in Mexico, or road-tripping the West, one of my biggest passions in life is having new experiences and learning from other people, places, and cultures. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with different people and experience the way they speak, eat, share, and view the world that helps me better understand and appreciate our shared humanity and grow as a person.
What have you learned so far through the fellowship experience?
So far, I think one of the most exciting things I’m learning through the fellowship experience is just the vast amount of opportunities to learn and contribute to the field of conservation. There are so many more jobs, avenues of learning, and topics to explore and contribute to in this field than I ever imagined, so I’m excited to explore various interests of mine to find the best fit for me in the long run. Luckily, The Nature Conservancy provides seemingly endless opportunities and resources to learn, network, explore, and grow. I’m particularly excited to network on the international level at TNC in hopes of someday working across borders in Mexico and Latin America. I’m also specifically very interested in endangered species like jaguars and bison, so I would love to somehow get involved in species restoration.
How do you think the outdoors contributes to communities or individuals’ quality of life?
I think having access to the outdoors is a critical part of our mental-emotional well-being. We are first and foremost animals that have evolved over millions of years like all other animals to thrive in the intricate ecosystems we live amongst. Though we might forget this, I believe our collective psyche as communities can be tremendously tied to our connection to and sense of belonging, and reciprocity with nature. Access to nature can provide us with physical benefits to recreate and exercise, economic opportunity, psychological and spiritual benefits, cultural value, and a sense of identity. All of these benefits can and should contribute to the well-rounded vitality of communities and individuals.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside?
Since moving to Colorado a year ago, I’ve explored a lot of new outdoor activities and discovered a new favorite— hot springs! I have explored multiple hot springs in Colorado, New Mexico, and Idaho and love enjoying this amazing natural gift in the middle of beautiful landscapes to relax and reflect. I also love camping, hiking, and sitting around a nice campfire with friends, loved ones, and my dog, Nico!
Got a life dream to share or maybe a strong personal passion?
I don’t know what to call it, but someday, I would love to create some kind of well-being retreat/bed and breakfast/eco-refuge/educational center in the mountains in Mexico. I love travel, cultural/educational exchange, food, and nature—creating some kind of space that weaves together all these wonderful things into a space for refuge and learning would be amazing to provide people the benefits of connection to nature and a space for reflection and personal growth.