The Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC), a non- profit organization in Fresno County, is designed to promote and teach the community about the importance of conserving the environment through protected preserve sites.

A group of students from the CHHS Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership coordinated an April 8th event, De-Stress Fest, on the Sierra Foothill’s Ruth McKenzie Preserve in an effort to show how preserve sites can also serve as conduits for stress reduction, improved mental health and an established connection between people and nature.


“Through our needs assessment we found out that many students do not have the access to services to take care of their mental health,” said Melanie Sanchez, a member of the Honors program and a Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies major. “Through De-Stress Fest we wanted to show them they could utilize local areas such as the Preserve to relieve themselves from the stress they may be experiencing daily.”

De-Stress Fest gave Fresno State students an opportunity to alleviate their stress by taking part in a number of outdoor recreational activities like hiking, yoga and nature journaling. By participating in activities offered on the nature preserve site, participants could greatly impact both their mental and physical health.




Sanchez and her group coordinated the event with the idea in mind to not only to help students de-stress, but to educate the community on local preserves.

“There is a need for people to know about the vast number of positive effects that nature has to offer,” said Sanchez.  “Nature allows us to relax and provides us with a place to engage in physical activities, and can help us improve our mental health.”

According to the SFC, if preserve sites are not protected, a number of health threats can negatively affect local communities in the Central Valley as a result. By maintaining a healthy environment, communities in those areas can essentially improve their quality of life, as well.


Through their research, the Honors Program students sought to prove that physical activity and exercise in nature can provide additional benefits to one’s mind.

“As a team, we decided we were going to use the preserves to not only help people that may be suffering from mental stress, but also in return create stewards for the environment,” said Sanchez.

Each group in the Honors Program course was given a set program to work with and design a project around. This particular group was set up with Rosanna Ruiz, a lecturer in the Department of Recreation Administration and education program manager of the SFC. She shared with the group the importance of taking care of preserve lands and the consequences that could occur if not protected. The main goal in mind was to focus on education and conservation to ensure future generations would be able to witness nature in all its beauty.


For the group, the multidisciplinary nature of the honors project was beneficial to their research project, with each person bringing forth a different perspective and specialty to the group. For the event, each of their different disciplines made it easy to collaborate with professionals in their field, in order to provide the best services possible to the participants.

Sanchez said being in the Honors Program has given her more confidence to take on the role of collaborative leadership.

“As a student I never realized how important collaborative skills are especially in the professional setting,” said Sanchez. “Students have the opportunity to get to know people from different disciplines and learn how to effectively collaborate with each other. This program has definitely challenged me educationally, as we were given two semesters to assess, evaluate and address a need in the community. The Honors Program has really allowed me to grow as a student and future professional. I can personally say I feel more confident and prepared to enter into graduate school.”

Honors students conducting the Sierra Foothill Conservancy project include: Melanie Sanchez, Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies; Clarissa Sparks, Recreation Administration; Joanie Kalmbach, Nursing; Kaylinn Lephart, Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies; and Maricruz Martinez, Social Work.



-Written by Rebeca Flores, CHHS communication student assistant