From learning about the environment and conservation through national park internships to performing valuable field research as an undergraduate, the partnership between the University of California, Merced, and Yosemite National Park is making a difference in students' lives.
UC Merced's Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) offers students the opportunity to live and work in the park for nine weeks, learning valuable skills through internships and becoming the leaders of tomorrow.
Aricia Martinez, a sophomore from Martinez, said the connection to Yosemite was a major factor in her decision to attend UC Merced. But her experience in YLP — in which she works as a wilderness education ranger — has surpassed her expectations.
"It wasn't until after I got here that I found out how in depth it was, which was definitely a pleasant surprise," Martinez said. "I didn't realize that I'd get to be spending so much time in the park. I didn't realize I'd get to be working in the park and possibly have future opportunities next summer to be a paid ranger here."
The YLP offers a wide variety of internships. Senior Daniel Martinez — who grew up in Mexico and transferred to UC Merced from a Santa Barbara community college — works with the park's search and rescue team, patrolling busy trail corridors, educating visitors about risks and hazards and assessing their skills and preparedness.
Stephen Marcotte, a junior from Marin County, is working on a greenhouse gas inventory for the Delaware North Company, the park's official concessioner. He's monitoring the amount of greenhouse gasses the company emits during its operations and putting that data into a climate tool that helps them track those emissions.
Shauna Potocky, branch chief of education for Yosemite National Park and one of the organizers of the YLP, said the students' work shows how the UC Merced-Yosemite partnership benefits everyone involved.
"Watching these students bring their modern frame of reference to the park is exciting," Potocky said. "They look at problems in a way that some of us can't. They're coming from another generation.
"It's great to watch these students come in. They're a little bit timid at first, they get their feet underneath them, they bring in their vision, and then they create this remarkable change that has a lasting impression in Yosemite. Those are exciting projects."
Alison Nill, a New York University student, said there are virtually no opportunities to do field research in her field of environmental studies in New York. So she came to Yosemite for the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program — directed by UC Merced Professor Benoit Dayrat — where she studied trace gas fluxes in high-elevation meadows this summer.
"I think the best part of the REU program for me - besides getting to live in Yosemite for the entire summer - was that it really did expose me to the world of field ecology and field research," Nill said. "That's going to be great for me in the future, because I am going to go to grad school for environmental science. So this opportunity has really furthered me in that direction."