NatureTrack’s Scholarship Application Deadline March 15: North County Students Who Plan to Study Nature Urged to Apply

By Giving List Staff   |   February 21, 2024
Dennis Nord presents Erin Trathen with the certificate for the $5,000 scholarship she won by writing an essay on why she’s going into a career in nature. Dennis is a NatureTrack docent, board member and on the committee that reviews the entries. 2023 was the third year.

Nancy Stearns Scholarship Recipient’s Tell Their Stories

Nancy Stearns was an inspiring docent and dear friend of NatureTrack’s founder Sue Eisaguirre for many years. Nancy’s husband Brett Stearns created a $5,000 scholarship in her name for students who reside and attend high school in the North County of Santa Barbara. Brett noted, “This money is to help pay for their college costs – be it tuition, books or other.” Spreading it out over the four years he added, “It’s a very practical scholarship, just the way Nancy would like it.”  Eisaguirre added, “She’d love to read the impact it’s had on each of them as is described here.”

Catalina Kett at Walleman Falls in Australia, where she studied different environmental habitats and what kind of animals can flourish in Australia vs. what thrives here in the States. She also snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.

NatureTrack’s Nancy Stearns Scholarship (NSS) for the 2024 cycle is now open until March 15.  If you intend to study any topic related to the natural world, consider applying for this support. You can find all the info on the website here.

Scholarship Link.

Three students have received the honor since it started in 2021 and have great feedback on how it’s helped them more than just financially but personally.  

Eisaguirre noted, “Nancy’s sharing was more than educating or training, it was involving and believing life could be more fulfilling as you pursued nature outdoors. Why wouldn’t you want more of that you’d think, and then dive in to see what was going to be revealed next. She was the inspiration to stretch for the lesson nature has to bring, to catch on to the tune and see the pattern of the way things weave their way through our shared lives.”  Nancy was among the first of docents for NatureTrack when it was created in 2011 and continued to amaze, delight and be inspired by the students she took out on the field trips, till she couldn’t.  Nancy’s spouse, Brett, has committed to underwriting the $5,000 scholarship for years to come to honor his late wife.

Careers in nature begin here for the recipients’ who all learned about the NSS through their H.S. counselor. Catalina Kett, the first recipient is currently a junior at High Point U in in High Point North Carolina majoring in Biology with a minor in Spanish. Brynley Ellsworth, now in her Sophomore year at Brigham Young U. in Provo, Utah has a major in Biology now focusing on Botany. And this year’s  beneficiary Erin Trathen, is at Oregon State U in Corvallis majoring in Environmental Engineering and looking into possibly minor in Horticulture or Microbiology.  

Catalina Kett has always had a strong tie to the outdoors since she was a little girl. Her parents met and fell in love working on dive boats in Santa Barbara.  Kett grew up with their passion for exploring the ocean and outdoors.  “My dad and I still go fishing, looking for mushrooms, diving and hiking in Santa Barbara County.”  She’s majoring in Biology with a minor in Spanish.  Catalina spoke about what she’s learned this past year in college on all levels – educationally, as one would expect but also physically, mentally and emotionally.  “I am interested in many biological concepts so each semester I have taken a different biology course and continue to be fascinated by all levels of science.”  She went on to liken her college experience to her studies on caterpillar larvae and how to affect developmental pathways in the pupal stage. She’s travelled to Australia for a global experience course hiking Walleman Falls and snorkeling Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to discover how different environmental habitats can flourish in Australia vs. what thrives here in the U.S. “My family and I share a deep love for nature together and I’ve made friends from all over the country at school who share the same passion.”  Catalina is planning to “return to California and find a career near home so I can stay close to my family.”  

Brynley Ellsworth is currently majoring in biology at Brigham-Young University where she’s focusing on Botany. She learned a lot of basic plant anatomy this year, and was blown away by how much she enjoyed her classes and learning about plants.

Brynley Ellsworth stated, “Organizations [like NatureTrack] which encourage wonder with nature, and help others discover joy for learning about nature are invaluable.  I was driven in no small part by financial need, but it was learning about Nancy and her similar love for nature.” She received the scholarship in 2022 and now she’s half way through her second year of college in Utah, in great part because of this scholarship.”  When asked what was the most surprising thing she learned in her first year, she replied without hesitation. “I was able to work in a lab and write my first grant.  It was intimidating …most people wait until third or fourth year to begin hands on study in a lab.” Writing the grant, finding out what’s needed in a lab how to do procedures plus I learned what it means to do research. I believe this experience will all be to my benefit.” This summer she’ll be in California working in the field and she’s also planning to study abroad in Japan. Brynley This scholarship has opened many opportunities for me and I’ll be forever grateful.”  

Erin Trathen received the Nancy Stearns Scholarship last year and although she’s not sure where her career will lead, she wants to stay on the West Coast.  She described the process of going for the grant beautifully.  “Applying to the scholarship was inspiring as NatureTrack takes blissful, tranquil and adventurous aspects of nature and encourages real-life application of those feelings to an effective education,” remarked Trathen. She also found being away from family and friends for the first time was huge. “I was in uncharted territory when it came to my independence.” Learning a lesson on just how much she needed it. She has adapted to college life and found “the more I know about myself, the more grounded, confident and self-reassured I have become.  When I finally understood the impact and depth of this realization, it has become much easier to adapt and take risks I might not have taken a year ago.”  

Erin Trathen had her photo taken by the magnificent Crater Lake which happens to be near Oregon State University in Corvallis where she’s enrolled. She’s majoring in environmental engineering and looking to possibly minor in horticulture or microbiology.

NatureTrack docent and board member Dennis Nord noted how life lessons are wrapped into the scholarship.  “We’ve discovered this scholarship provides more than financial assistance – it’s life experience and will carry these recipients well as they move through their life and careers.  We’re extremely grateful to Brett & Nancy Stearns for their commitment to a vital program which goes beyond the K-12 grades and lends a hand to complete a higher education and we hope leads to  a happy, fulfilling career and life choice.” 

NatureTrack is a 501c3 nonprofit that provides outdoor docent-led field trips during the usual school day for Santa Barbara County children at no cost to the schools or students, utilizing local trails and beaches throughout north and south county. NatureTrack’s mission is two-fold: to encourage students to embrace our natural world with respect and wonder, inspiring them to be stewards of our natural resources, and prepare school-aged students with the attitudes, leadership skills, and habits for lifelong learning. Recently NatureTrack expanded its mission of connecting kids to nature and is now connecting people who use wheelchairs of all ages to get out into nature using Freedom Trax. This device quickly changes a manual wheelchair into a battery powered, all-terrain vehicle which can easily traverse sand and trails. Now NatureTrack wheelchair users of any age can enjoy natural areas previously inaccessible to them using Trax. NatureTrack is expanding its reach up to San Luis Obispo and down to Ventura County with the Trax program. Thanks go to the grantors including: UCSB’s Coastal FundCalifornia State Coastal Conservancy, Parks California ‘Route to Parks’ grant and the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund. And now, the California Access for All grant to expand the Freedom Tracks program up to North SB County. 



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Founder & Executive Director: Sue Eisaguirre


NatureTrack is a 501(c)3 non-profit whose mission is to provide outdoor field trips for school-aged children at no cost to the schools or students.

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NatureTrack aims to provide inclusion, access, and opportunities to individuals who may not have had the chance to experience outdoor activities that were once deemed ‘inaccessible.’ Thanks to the Freedom Trax device, people like myself can now explore beaches and walking trails and connect with nature. Additionally, I have become a volunteer docent for NatureTrack and can lead trips to give back to this incredible organization.
Don Chan, NatureTrack Volunteer Docent

Giving Everyone Access to Nature

Transportation is NatureTrack’s largest cost, and it keeps rising. Your donations help fund field trips and provide more Freedom Trax devices.

$7,500 covers a field trip for 100 students.

$6,500 buys a new Freedom Trax device.

Any donation amount is appreciated to support our mission. Field trips fill up fast each year, highlighting our need for more volunteers. Docents play a crucial role with a 5-to-1 student-to-docent ratio. Your contribution, whether financial or as a volunteer, has a meaningful impact. Please donate or volunteer today, or both!

Key Supporters

Audacious Foundation
Adams Legacy Foundation
Coastal Ranches Conservancy
Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
Hutton Parker Foundation
Mark and Dorothy Smith
Family Foundation
Natalie Orfalea Foundation
Towbes Foundation
Santa Ynez Valley Foundation
Santa Ynez Valley Youth Rec