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UC Merced Program Brings Students to Yosemite National Park for Summer Research Projects

June 16, 2009

MERCED, Calif. – Many college students take a break from
academics during the summer to spend time in the great outdoors.
The University of California, Merced has programs that offer
students a chance to commune with Mother Nature while working,
living and learning in Yosemite National Park.

One of those programs is the National Science Foundation-funded
Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU), which
started its second year this week. Eight students will participate
in UC Merced’s REU program, called Yosemite Research Training in
Environmental Sciences.

The students will be in the park through mid-August, according
to program director Benoit Dayrat, an assistant professor in UC
Merced’s School of Natural Sciences. Each student will work on an
assigned research project and be paired with a faculty mentor. In
addition to conducting field research inside Yosemite and the
surrounding Sierra Nevada, the students will participate in classes
and go on field trips to build their background knowledge.

Dayrat said the program – a collaborative effort between UC
Merced, Yosemite National Park and the USGS Western Ecological
Research Center – offers students the best of both worlds as they
get to spend a summer in one of the world’s most famous outdoor
destinations while working one-on-one with experienced scientists
while conducting field research.

“It is important to give research opportunities to students,”
Dayrat said. Participating in research as an undergraduate can give
students a glimpse of what a career in science would entail and can
enhance their chances when applying for jobs and/or graduate school.

The students participating in the 2009 REU program includes a
mix of students from UC Merced and other colleges and universities
in the San Joaquin Valley and across the United States. The
selection process is competitive. Dayrat received 150 completed
applications for this year’s program.

Selectees were chosen based on their academic standing,
research-related experience, career goals and recommendations from
mentors. The students will earn a weekly stipend for their field
research with housing and food provided.

Dayrat said this year’s program consists of seven diverse
projects that span across all of environmental sciences. They include:

* Tracking and predicting the path of smoke plumes from
wildfires and prescribed burns that originate within Yosemite
National Park.

* Collecting freshwater organisms from high-elevation (above
9,000 to 10,000 feet) creeks to document species diversity and
invertebrate communities.

* Gathering leaf samples from sequoias to determine the genetic
structure of the trees in the area.

* Investigating heat and geochemical dynamics of stream pools on
the Merced River’s South Fork.

The mentors include UC Merced faculty as well as scientists from
the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

The research will be beneficial and could lead to future
discoveries. Moreover, the program “has become fantastic
opportunity to establish long-term collaborations between UC Merced
and neighboring agencies, especially the National Park Service and
the U.S. Geological Survey,” Dayrat said.

During the program, participants will have two to three
opportunities to share their experiences with other students and
the public.

In mid-July, the program will host a group of students from
Merced High School District, who will shadow the participants for a day.

“We will bring them to the park and show them what they can do
as future college students,” Dayrat said.

In mid-August, toward the program’s end, the REU students will
give presentations on the work they participated in and completed
during the summer. The presentations are expected to take place on
Aug. 14 and 15. The Aug. 14 presentation is open to the general
public; the Aug. 15 presentation is geared toward community members
who reside in and around Wawona Village in Yosemite.



Donna Birch Trahan

UC Merced Office of Communications