Yosemite Connection Draws Students to UC Merced Summer Programs

MERCED - Many college students gravitate to jobs and opportunities that take them to the great outdoors for the summer. The University of California, Merced, offers two programs that give students the chance to spend the summer in one of the greatest outdoor destinations in the world, Yosemite National Park.

UC Merced's Yosemite Leadership Program(YLP) is already underway, and the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduatesprogram (REU) begins June 16. The students will be in the park through mid-August.

"UC Merced's physical proximity to Yosemite and Sequoia/King's Canyon National Parks has helped us develop working relationships and programs that are unique to our campus and extremely beneficial to students and researchers," said Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies Samuel J. Traina.

Ten students from YLP will be interns this summer at the Wawona Field Stationoperated by the UC Merced Sierra Nevada Research Institute(SNRI) in Yosemite. They will work with park rangers and scientists in resources management, wilderness, and public education in positions that include leading guided walks, giving campfire programs, assisting the bear team, assisting archeologists, helping with restoration projects, and working with the wilderness search and rescue team.

A returning advanced intern from last year, Alvaro Luna, will expand on his "Yosemite en Español" interpretation program and will add an interpretation program in French. Other students participating are Orion Agnew, Jeannette Barron, Marie Armstrong, Zander Kurnizki, Chris Hubach, Gesha Uminskiy, Raj Bolla, Money Hothi, Yesi Medina and Renee Smith. Three former YLP interns, Janet Melgoza, Carla Saldana, and P.J. Solomon have returned to Yosemite this summer as paid seasonal rangers.

The YLP internship is a partnership among the UC Merced, the National Park Service, the Yosemite Association, the Yosemite Fund, and the Delaware North Companies. The program has also received generous support from the Toyota Foundation, the Doherty Family Fund and Morgan Stanley. It is overseen by Branch Chief for Education Kathy Dimont of Yosemite National Park.

Two additional UC Merced students, Sunny Grunloh (formerly a YLP intern) and Dannique Aalbu, will participate in the REU program funded by the National Science Foundation. Grunloh and Aalbu, along with six other REU students recruited in a highly selective process from universities all over the United States, will be paired with science mentors (UC Merced professors and park scientists) to conduct independent research projects in the park. The REU program is led by Professor Benoit Dayratof the UC Merced School of Natural Sciences.

"From 160 applications, we were able to select only eight students, so you can imagine those participating all have outstanding academic records and motivation," said Dayrat. "REU is a lifetime unique chance for the students who are participating."

The YLP and REU students will participate together in a new, for-credit, summer seminar called "Science Fridays," led by the Wawona Field Station director, Eric Berlow, and Dayrat. Science Fridays will focus on the process of scientific inquiry, the role of science in natural resource managements, and the communication of science to the public. Weekly lectures and discussions during the seminar will expose students to current scientific research being conducted in Yosemite and throughout the Sierra Nevada, give them the tools to think critically about how scientific information is acquired, and expose them to the technological tools that allow scientists to answer large scale questions about critical issues such as climate change. A credentialed English teacher will work with the students to improve their writing and public speaking skills.

The 2008 Sierra Nevada Research Institute Scientific Visualization Fellow (Lauren Benson, UC Santa Cruz) will be in residence at the field station working on a visual display to communicate scientific research to the public. She will also work with students on visual forms of science communication.

The 2008 Sierra Nevada Research Institute Graduate Research Fellow (Sarah Martin, UC Merced) will also be in residence this summer and will work on her dissertation, which examines the impacts of fire control practices on watershed-scale hydrologic processes.

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