A new $103,000 gift from the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas will increase opportunities for students at the University of California, Merced, and community members in the region to learn about and explore the ecosystems around them.
Through the gift, one informal UC Merced course and two University of California Extension California Naturalist classes can expand their spring and fall offerings in the Central Valley and Yosemite National Park.
“The courses help people become more aware of the natural world and better environmental stewards,” Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve Manager Chris Swarth said.
Swarth offers an informal, semester-long course for UC Merced undergraduates. Students hike the Central Valley, the 6,500-acre reserve and the foothills, learning about natural history and ecology.
“There are quite a few students who have a real craving to learn about the reserve and nature,” Swarth said. “They see the reserve from campus, but have never been there.”
Students who complete the course are qualified to help at the reserve, teaching groups of school children, assisting with field trips, accompanying researchers and helping preserve the protected land.
“It also might send them on a career path,” Swarth said. Students might want to work as scientists, park rangers, teachers or any of a variety of other careers they will be exposed to through the course.
Additionally, Swarth offers a 12-week version of the UC Extension’s California Naturalist course, which is open to anyone who wants to join. Sign-ups are being taken for the next class, which starts in March.
“The naturalist program is all over California now, and people really love it,” Swarth said.
Becca Fenwick, manager of the Yosemite Field Station reserve at Wawona, offers an intensive, one-week California Naturalist course — also open to anyone — in conjunction with the Yosemite Conservancy each fall in the park.
“It’s all day, every day for a week, and participants stay here in Yosemite and take field trips and classes,” Fenwick said. “They learn about the natural history of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite.”
The Mitsubishi gift allows the courses to expand by adding two part-time coordinators for the Valley courses, and buying equipment like field notebooks, binoculars and other supplies. The program also received $7,500 from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources to provide scholarships for people who need help covering tuition.
The Yosemite course is $800, including food, lodging and supplies, while the Valley course is $350 including a textbook and other supplies. To become certified, the California Naturalist students also must complete capstone projects and 40 hours of community service with environmental nonprofits. To sign up or for more information, email Fenwick at firstname.lastname@example.org or Swarth at email@example.com.