Sarah Bakker

  • Ph.D., Anthropology

    Sarah BakkerThe recent news that Sarah Bakker has been awarded a prestigious Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship should not be a surprise to anyone who knows Sarah or her work. During the course of her graduate training at UCSC, Sarah has consistently shown herself to be a skilled ethnographer, gifted writer, and talented teacher. She has been awarded major fellowships, including the Social Sciences Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship and a Dissertation Fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Last year she received the prestigious student paper prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe for one of her dissertation chapters.

    Sarah’s dissertation project investigates the clash of secular progressive politics and traditional religious identities in the context of the Netherlands, a symbol of a “modern European state.” Through her ethnographic fieldwork within a Syriac Christian community (Dutch Christians of Middle Eastern descent), Sarah examines the internal and external challenges facing members of this diaspora as they navigate a multiplicity of identities: secular Dutch citizen, Middle Eastern immigrant, and even non-Muslim and non-Protestant Christian. At the core of her research is a focus on the “musical topographies” of national identities and traditions that are at play within this diasporic community. As Sarah’s work shows, liturgical traditions become both a medium through which followers articulate a sense of belonging to a community that is much larger and older than their immediate congregations and a site of critical contestations about traditional authenticity as variations in singing style reflect not just individual capabilities but also political statements about which communities are more legitimate bearers of tradition. Sarah’s fieldwork included time in the monastery at the heart of this religious community, where she worked with religious leaders, lay people, liturgical experts, congregants, pilgrims, and other visitors.

    Sarah’s project is exciting for many reasons, not least that it brings together the study of music and migration for innovative conversations. More than this, Sarah is critically intervening in important conversations currently taking place in studies of contemporary European identity processes, especially as they relate to European Union integration processes, the politics of immigration, and the possibilities for secularism in a modern, progressive, multicultural Europe.

  • Laura Chiticariu

  • Ph.D., Computer Science

    Laura ChiticaruLaura Chiticariu grew up in Romania and completed her undergraduate education at Politehnica University in Bucharest. While still an undergraduate, she worked for a number of different companies developing a wide range of applications, from 3D modeling tools to web-based content management systems.

    Chiticariu is interested in information management, focusing on data provenance, annotation propagation, and information integration, since, as she says, “In recent years, there has been an explosion of information within enterprises and on the web.” Her goal is to develop tools for facilitating the integration and exchange of information within and across enterprises. Chiticariu is currently designing a debugger for schema mappings, which are widely used for specifying the relationships between database schemas in the context of information integration and exchange.

    In 2006, she won first place in the GHC ACM Student Research Competition for her poster on “A Non-Intrusive Data-Driven Approach to Debugging Schema Mapping for Data Exchange.”

    Chiticariu chose to come to UC Santa Cruz after researching a number of professors via the Internet. She is pleased with the U.S. graduate school system and appreciates diversity at UC Santa Cruz. “I have had a lot of support from all of the professors in my classes and while conducting research,” she says. “I have also really enjoyed the courses.”

    In particular, Chiticariu has enjoyed getting to know the women in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering. She says, “Compared to other universities, there are a fair number of women in engineering at UCSC, and they have a good reputation for their efforts to recruit more women to engineering.” Chiticariu is copresident of eWomen, a campus group for women in engineering. The group offers women a chance to network with their peers and brings prominent women scientists to campus to address the group.

    Chiticariu is currently working at the IBM Almaden Research Center on a project related to her academic research and is in the process of deciding whether to pursue a career in academics or industry.

  • Paul Viotti

  • Ph.D., Politics

    Paul ViottiContrary to the stereotype of Americans as self-interested individualists, the majority care more about growing economic inequality than we've been led to expect, and many would sacrifice personal gain for the well-being of others, according to research by politics doctoral candidate Paul Viotti.

    "Americans are portrayed as tolerant of inequality, which has been growing at an alarming rate since the 1970s. But my research reveals that Americans--especially women, Latinas, and African Americans--are much more egalitarian than the stereotype suggests," said Viotti, who has developed an experiment to test Americans' willingness to share their wealth.

    By several measures, the gap between rich and poor is becoming a chasm: The ratio of pay between executives and workers was 40:1 in 1980 and is more than 400:1 today, and real income has remained flat or gone down for more than 80 percent of Americans during the same period, according to Viotti.

    Yet all the cross-national studies of inequality conducted over the past 30 years show Americans as a group to have a high tolerance for inequality and to be far less likely than Europeans, for example, to think redistributing wealth is a good thing. "The literature is very clear on this," said politics professor Michael Brown, explaining why Viotti's work is attracting interest in the fields of political science and economics. "What Paul's data shows, contrary to many studies, is that some Americans really are quite egalitarian."

    Viotti, curious about how Americans are responding to the widening gap between rich and poor, designed an experiment that asks respondents how they would slice up the proverbial pie--and with actual cash at stake, the experiment forced participants to "put their money where their mouth is." Viotti asked participants how they would distribute $100 among a group of five people, including themselves, if they didn't know in advance who would get what share of the $100. Participants overwhelmingly chose to share the money equally, each forgoing their chance to get the entire $100 and taking home $20 instead.

  • Michelle Olsgard

  • Ph.D., Environmental Studies

    Michelle OlsgardMichelle Olsgard received a 2008-2009 Fullbright Award to aid her research work in environmental studies. She will continue her research in Tibet, on Cordyceps sinensis, a rare fungus endemic to the region at altitudes of 3500-5000m. Michelle will employ ethnographic and ecological research methods to examine how harvesting practices in NW Yunnan interact with resource viability, and how its economic integration both influences, and is influenced by, local socio-environmental processes.

    In May 2007, Michelle traveled to Yunnan, China to research a rare, rurally harvested fungus, Cordyceps sinensis. Called ‘winter worm, summer grass,’ the fungus is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau at elevations of 3500-5000 meters.

    Her research investigated the ecological realationships surrounding the harvest, harvesting practices and environmental impacts, and what management and harvesting practices are needed to promote sustainability. This research aims to inform and facilitate the emergence of Tibetan C. sinensis harvesting regimes that balance ecological supply and environmental impact. Findings will be made available to Tibetan harvesters and managers, local NGO practitioners, and fellow researchers assessing the viability of indigenous livelihood strategies in relation to their ecological, political and market contexts. Harvesters sell the fungus to road-side brokers who transport it eastward, supplying Chinese medicine markets and biomedical research labs.

    Despite its critical role in local livelihoods (accounting for 50-80% of household annual income, in most regions), and potential for increased demand, no research has investigated the sustainability of current or future harvesting practices. The literal translation of its name, ‘winter-worm, summer-grass,’ reflects the indigenous understanding of the fungus life-cycle and its parasitic relationship with its preferred host, a root-boring caterpillar.

  • Roya Rastegar

  • Ph.D., History of Consciousness

    Roya RastegarA student with many talents and interests, Roya Rastegar has had a variety of life experiences that eventually led her to pursue a doctorate in the interdisciplinary field of history of consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate, she majored in economics, mathematics, and women’s studies at Wellesley College, which included studying abroad in Italy. After graduation, Rastegar worked in both New York and London as an investment banker. Then, having always wanted to settle down in California, she moved to the Bay Area and became involved in community organizing.

    Rastegar has joined the Women of Color Research Center and the writing collective Mujeres con mucho Corazon. She has successfully co-organized the Women of Color Film Festival and UC Santa Cruz and has served on the curating team for a number of years. Her engagement within these groups has enabled her to build community, which has helped her to feel at home at the university. She has continued to develop networks within the university via her graduate student researcher assignment with the Graduate Division.

    One of Rastegar’s current projects is to critically document the 15-year history of the Women of Color Film Festival at UC Santa Cruz, which is the oldest film festival of its kind. Rastegar says that radical social changes can occur through art and that “networks of artists and filmmakers are producing images that will shape our revolution.”

    Rastegar enjoys teaching and mentoring students. “Students are in a place to safely let their guard down, allowing them to be open to growing and changing,” she says. “They are curious and ask questions that push and provoke you as an instructor.” Upon receiving her PhD., Rastegar plans to continue teaching and curating film festivals.

  • Yvonne Rodriguez

  • Ph.D., Physics

    Yvonne RodriguezYvonne Rodriguez has a wide range of academic interests. As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, she originally planned to study Chicana poetry. However, after taking an Earth catastrophes class taught by the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at UCSC, she knew she wanted to major in physics.

    After high school, Rodriguez joined the Air Force and was stationed in Germany, where she married a fellow member of the Air Force and became a mother of three. Upon completion of her assignment, Rodriguez enrolled at Chabot community college in Hayward, California. It was the Puente Project at Chabot that introduced her to UCSC. She was so impressed with UCSC that when it came time to transfer, it was the only campus where she applied. Each day Rodriguez made the journey from Hayward to Santa Cruz via bus. At UCSC, Rodriguez became involved with the Education Opportunity Programs (EOP) and Services for Transfer and Re-entry Students (STARS), providing her additional support.

    As an undergraduate, Rodriguez was able to get part-time work related to her field, such as mapping the Monterey Bay floor with the U.S. Geological Survey and working with UCSC’s ACE (Academic Excellence) honors program. Now a graduate student in the doctoral program in physics, Rodriguez is also working for EOP and teaching a precalculus course for Bridge, a program that helps certain EOP students transition from high school to university.

    Rodriguez, a first-generation college student, was unfamiliar with university life when she was growing up. She believes her children, who grew up on the UCSC campus, have benefited from the experience. In fact, one of her children recently graduated from a UC, and the remaining two are enrolled at California universities.

  • Young-Shin Choi

  • D.M.A., Music

    Young-Shin ChoiA teacher and award-winning composer, Young-Shin Choi was attracted to the doctorate of musical arts program in music composition at UC Santa Cruz, where he studies computer-assisted composition, because of the collaborative nature of the program, generous financial package, and what he calls “perfect California weather.”

    Choi prepared extensively to enter the doctorate of musical arts program. Having earned a master of arts degree in music composition from Kyungpook National University in Korea, he then earned a second master of arts in the same field from San Diego State University in order to further develop his English skills before entering a U.S. doctoral program.

    A professor at UC San Diego recommended the UC Santa Cruz program to Choi, and he contacted professors in the Music Department to request an interview. When he arrived at UC Santa Cruz, he was greeted by the department chair, who gave him a tour of the facilities and introduced him to students and faculty. On his tour, Choi was impressed to see students and faculty collaborating together on their studies, and it was this collaboration that eventually made him choose US Santa Cruz over several other prestigious universities to which he was accepted.

    In his compositions, Choi is working on developing an original musical sound combining traditional Korean music and Western idioms. “Korean music is in my blood and a part of me,” he says, and is therefore a major influence on his compositions. He has received numerous awards for his music, including the Daejeon Contemporary Music Festival prize.

    Choi currently sits on the board of the New West Electro-Acoustic Music Organization, which organizes a prestigious international annual music festival. In addition to composing, he hopes to teach music composition. Choi has enjoyed teaching in both Korea and the U.S.

  • Cynthia Hays

  • Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Cynthia HayesWhy doesn't that wildflower grow a little further north or a bit higher up on the mountain? How far will those "killer bees" spread? What will happen at the southern edges of northern forests if the climate keeps getting warmer? Questions like these have long challenged ecologists trying to understand the factors that determine the natural geographic ranges of organisms.

    Cynthia Hays, a former doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, tackled this problem with a detailed investigation of a type of marine algae common along the California coast. Silvetia compressa, commonly known as rockweed, grows attached to rocks in the middle of the intertidal zone, where its tough olive-green fronds are alternately submerged beneath the waves and exposed to the air.

    Hays was interested in the upper and lower limits of rockweed's distribution within the intertidal zone. She found, for example, that rockweed plants growing near the edges of its range showed genetic adaptations to local conditions, such as prolonged exposure at the upper edge or prolonged submersion at the lower edge. This raised a fundamental question for Hays: What keeps the algae from adapting to more extreme conditions just beyond the edges? Her preliminary findings suggested that one important factor is the flow of "wimpy" genes coming from the masses of algae living comfortably in the middle.

    "There has been a lot of theoretical work using mathematical models to show that gene flow can inhibit local adaptation under certain conditions. But no one knows how significant this phenomenon is in natural systems," Hays said.

    Her project involved extensive fieldwork as well as long hours in the laboratory. Hays studied the genetic makeup of rockweed populations across the full geographic range of the species and traveled up and down the coast, from Baja to northern California, collecting samples for molecular analysis back in the laboratory. She has also conducted a variety of field experiments at sites in different habitats along the coast.

  • Myra Finkelstein

  • Ph.D., Ocean Sciences

    Myra FinkelsteinLead poisoning also affects albatrosses that nest on Midway Atoll, a former military base where lead-based paint from deteriorating buildings is an ongoing problem. Myra Finkelstein documented the problem as a UCSC graduate student in environmental toxicology and ocean sciences.

    More than 400,000 nesting pairs of Laysan and black-footed albatrosses breed on Midway every year. Lead poisoning mainly affects Laysan albatross chicks in nests near the contaminated buildings. Finkelstein showed that the problem is a direct result of chicks eating paint chips in and around their nests. She estimates that as many as 10,000 chicks, or five percent of those hatched at Midway, die each year from lead poisoning.

    Finkelstein’s findings helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, to target its clean-up efforts. But a lack of adequate funding has meant that albatross chicks continue to suffer and die from lead poisoning.

    “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been trying to clean it up, but their budget is limited,” Finkelstein says. “The estimate for getting rid of all the lead-based paint was $5.6 million.”

    Finkelstein earned her Ph.D. in 2003 and is currently a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As part of her fellowship, she has been working with the American Bird Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation group, to publicize the plight of the albatrosses on Midway.

    In 2006, the group saw an opportunity to draw attention to the situation when Midway Atoll became part of the newly created Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. As a result of their efforts, First Lady Laura Bush visited Midway in March 2007 to highlight the creation of the monument and the conservation issues it faces, and she expressed her support for efforts to fund the clean-up of lead paint.

    “We’re very hopeful that the money will be made available,” Finkelstein says. “It’s a beautiful island, and there does seem to be a growing recognition that this problem needs to be dealt with in a timely manner.”

  • Carolyn Kurle

  • Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Carolyn KurleSeabird colonies on islands are highly vulnerable to introduced rats, which find the ground-nesting birds to be easy prey. But the ecological impacts of rats on islands extend far beyond seabird nesting colonies, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    The study, published the week of February 25, 2008, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has already helped make the case for the first major rat eradication effort in the Aleutian Islands. Planned to begin this summer, the project will target rats on the appropriately named Rat Island.

    The UCSC researchers found that the presence of rats on islands in the Aleutian Archipelago dramatically alters the intertidal zone, reducing the amount of seaweed and increasing the numbers of snails, barnacles, and other invertebrates. These changes result from the decimation of seabird populations by the rats, according to graduate student Carolyn Kurle, who led the study.

    "When you're on an island with rats, there are so few birds it's silent, in contrast to the cacophony on the islands without rats," Kurle said.

    Some of the affected birds--sea gulls and oystercatchers, in particular--are major predators of invertebrates in the intertidal zone. In their absence, the snails, limpets, and other grazers increase in abundance, eat more algae, and clear more space for other invertebrates to settle and grow. The result is a shoreline practically stripped bare of the usual cover of fleshy algae (i.e., seaweed).

    "Where there are no rats, we found plenty of birds, fewer invertebrates, and a lot more algal cover," Kurle said.

    Kurle's coauthors are associate professor Donald Croll and assistant adjunct professor Bernie Tershy of UCSC's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Croll and Tershy are also the cofounders of Island Conservation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of island ecosystems. For the Aleutian Island rat eradication project, Island Conservation has teamed up with the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Shaye Wolf

  • M.S., Marine Sciences, Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,

    Shaye WolfThe Coronado Islands are located off the coast of Baja California, just south of the Mexican border. As part of her research for a master’s degree in ocean sciences, graduate student Shaye Wolf documented the large and diverse populations of seabirds that nest on the Coronado Islands. These include the largest known colony of the rare Xantus’s murrelet, a small seabird listed as endangered under Mexican law and threatened in California.

    While she was doing her research, Wolf learned that Chevron was planning to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal less than 700 yards from the south island, which hosts the Xantus’s murrelet colony. The murrelets and four other species that nest on the island are nocturnal, and Wolf was especially concerned about the effects of the terminal’s lights.

    “These nocturnal seabirds are very sensitive to artificial light, and the tremendous amount of lighting from the terminals and tankers would have been devastating,” Wolf says. “It doesn’t make sense to put a big industrial facility the size of a football field right next to a biodiversity hot spot.”

    Through her husband Doug Bevington, a UCSC graduate student in sociology studying environmental advocacy groups, Wolf learned that a cross-border legal challenge could be filed through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Bevington, who earned his Ph.D. in June, contacted Jay Tutchton, director of the Environmental Law Clinical Partnership at the University of Denver, who agreed to help them file a petition with the NAFTA Commission.

    Wolf wrote the science portion of the petition, Tutchton wrote the legal portion, and Bevington assembled a coalition of environmental groups to join them. Filed in 2005, the petition ultimately led to Chevron’s announcement in March 2007 that it was abandoning its plans to build the LNG facility at the Coronado Islands site. Wolf earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology this year and now works for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

  • Molly Church

  • M.S., Environmental Toxicology

    Molly ChurchIn 1982, the total population of California condors was just 22 birds. Four years later, as the wild population continued to plummet, biologists decided to capture the remaining wild condors and breed them in captivity. Now, 140 captive-bred California condors are flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California.

    But life in the wild is still full of hazards for this critically endangered species. Lead poisoning is one of the most serious and persistent threats to wild condors. At least 13 have died from lead poisoning, and dozens more have had to be captured and treated for it.

    Conservationists have long believed that the problem results from the use of lead ammunition by hunters. Condors feed on carrion and can ingest fragments of lead bullets from animal carcasses and gut piles left behind by hunters.

    Past efforts to ban lead ammunition in California have been stymied by opposition from hunting groups. But this year the situation is very different. As a direct result of a scientific study led by UCSC graduate student Molly Church, the California Department of Fish and Game recommended a ban on the use of lead bullets throughout the range of the California condor. Legislation to enact such a ban is now moving through the state legislature.

    Church, who earned a master’s degree in environmental toxicology in 2004 and is now at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, was able to match the lead in blood samples from condors to the lead in ammunition obtained from a variety of sources throughout central California. She used a proven “fingerprinting” technique based on the unique isotope ratios found in different sources of lead.

    Donald Smith, professor and chair of environmental toxicology, was Church’s adviser and a coauthor of the scientific paper reporting her findings. He has testified at several hearings in Sacramento before State Senate and Assembly committees considering the bill to ban lead ammunition.

    “Had it not been for the outstanding science in Molly’s paper, the professional lobbyists for hunter-advocacy groups testifying in opposition to the bill would have gone unchallenged,” Smith says.

  • Christopher Angel Ramirez

  • M.F.A., Digital Arts and New Media

    Christopher RamirezChristopher Angel Ramirez was the fourth recipient of The Lionel Cantú Graduate Award for his research, "Mapping the Public Space of (Homo)sexual Latino Men."

    The Lionel Cantú Memorial Award was established to honor the life and scholarship of Professor Lionel Cantú. Engaged in path-breaking research and analysis on sexuality, masculinity, and migration, Dr. Cantú was a devoted teacher, a remarkable mentor, and a wonderful colleague.

    Ramirez also received a best prize for "Bearing Witness" at the 2nd Annual UCSC Graduate Symposium, and a best prize for the 1st Annual UCSC Graduate Symposium for “Mapping the Geographical Space of Downtown Los Angeles.”

    His conceptual art piece "Giorno Sucks Just," produced in Isabel Reichert's DANM 217, was screened at OutFest 2006 in Los Angeles.

  • Rachel Barnett-Johnson

  • Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Rachel Barnett-JohnsonA recent study indicates that wild salmon may account for just 10 percent of California's fall-run chinook salmon population, while the vast majority of the fish come from hatcheries. The findings are especially troubling in light of the disastrous decline in the population this year, which will probably force the closure of the 2008 season for commercial and recreational salmon fishing.

    The role of hatcheries in the management of salmon populations has been a contentious issue for many years. The new findings appear to support the idea that including artificially propagated fish in population estimates can mask declines in natural populations caused by a lack of suitable habitat.

    "Our finding that 90 percent of the fish are from hatcheries surprised a lot of people," said Rachel Barnett-Johnson, a fisheries biologist with the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Barnett-Johnson and her coworkers published their results in the December 2007 issue of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. The main focus of the paper is the development of a new technique for distinguishing between wild and hatchery-raised salmon. The researchers validated the technique and used it to estimate the percentage of wild fish among the fall-run chinook salmon caught by commercial fishing boats along the central California coast in 2002.

  • Sylvain Carton

  • M.A., Music

    Sylvain CartonIn January of 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle identified Sylvain Carton as the “powerhouse alto saxophone player” in one of the Bay Area’s “most provocative jazz ensembles.” It was richly deserved praise for the up-and-coming co-leader of the Mitch Marcus Quintet.

    Carton, who earned a master of arts degree in music composition from UC Santa Cruz five months after the newspaper tribute, has artistic breadth that demands attention. His musical tastes run from Stravinsky and Bartok, to Mingus and Ellington . . . to Middle-Eastern surf-metal music. “I draw my influences from around the globe--Eastern European, African, Latin American--a lot of traditional music,” Carton says. “I really like mixing it up.”

    Born 40 miles southwest of Paris in the town of Chartres, Carton lived in France for just 24 days before moving with his parents to Salt Lake City. Over the next 18 years, his family also called Los Angeles and Statesboro, Georgia, home. Carton earned a bachelor of music degree at the Indiana University School of Music in jazz performance, studying classical saxophone and switching to jazz studies along the way. After spending several years playing and touring as a professional musician, he decided to return to school and enrolled in UCSC’s graduate music program in 2005.

    “The composition program, with its emphasis on world music traditions, was my main draw to UC Santa Cruz,” recalls Carton. “The campus had just established a new graduate program in world music with faculty who have a lot of experience and knowledge in that area. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand my ideas of composition.”

    Before earning his master’s this past June, Carton had already been commissioned to create music for a PBS documentary, an independent film, and Oakland’s Counterpointe dance company.

    Since then, he’s released a new album, The Special, with the Mitch Marcus Quintet, and he continues to play and compose for his half dozen other bands--including an extended 18-piece version of the jazz quintet called the MMQ + 13 Big Band. He also recently completed work on string arrangements for a new documentary film produced by National Geographic.

    “I’d like to do more composing for films,” Carton says. “I want to use the skills I’ve gained at UCSC to continue to broaden my horizons with composition. One of the things I enjoyed most about UC Santa Cruz was meeting fellow students and professors with a multitude of interests, who combined to form a great community that inspires creativity.

  • Adelia Barber

  • Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    Adelia BarberAdelia Barber hiked the Continental Divide, worked on a conservation project in Tanzania, and studied environmental science as an undergraduate at Brown University in Rhode Island. But her old stomping grounds, the Santa Cruz Mountains, kept calling her back.

    "I have a strong sense of place and I really identify with the area here," said the 28-year-old graduate of Los Gatos High School.

    Now a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, Barber said she was happy to come back. "I'm a total plant junkie and I love California's plant life--the redwoods, the chaparral, the desert wildflowers," she said.

    Because she's also a self-described math geek, Barber decided to explore a relatively new area of plant ecology that uses computer models to understand plant populations. At UCSC, she found a terrific advisor: Daniel Doak, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. And she found the perfect species to study: bristlecone pines, the oldest living things on the planet.

    "As a fluke, before grad school, I took a road trip to the White Mountains to see the bristlecone pines," explains Barber. "I just fell in love with them."

    Bristlecone pines live as long as 4,000 years, and because of their dense and resinous wood they remain standing thousands of years after they die. These trees offer ecologists a rare window on populations from many climatic periods of the past.

    Barber joined Doak's lab in 2004 and began trekking to the UC White Mountain Research Station to collect field data. Back in Santa Cruz, she started developing mathematical models to study how bristlecone pine populations have adapted to environmental change in the past. Ultimately, the research could lead to predictions about how global warming might affect the trees in the future.

  • Mele Wheaton

  • Ph.D., Education

    Sylvain CartonThe Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation identifies and nurtures environmental leaders who have the ability and determination to make a significant impact, and supports initiatives that will have direct and measurable results to improve environmental quality. Mele Wheaton was selected as one of 25 Switzer fellows for 2008-09.

    While at UC Santa Cruz, Mele concentrated specifically on environmental science education. She has extensive experience as a scientist and as an educator and has an intimate, working knowledge of the needs of the environmental education field. After completing her undergraduate studies in Environmental Studies and Biology, Mele taught environmental education in Alaska, Arizona and California at a variety of informal science institutions, including Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and The Oakland Museum of California.

    While in Arizona, she also spent six months observing nesting bald eagles in the Sonoran desert for the Department of Game & Fish. Her master's research with the Monterey Bay Aquarium investigated middle-school girls' ideas about science at a bilingual marine science camp.

    Her research examined high school students' experiences of conservation science as they participate in an environmental science program that partners the Monterey Bay Aquarium, their school, and scientists working in the local community. While volunteering for the program before starting her research, Mele enjoyed guiding a student in producing a 10 minute documentary film about her conservation project on sea otters. Mele is particularly interested in education in under-served communities and in how to better bridge the gap between scientific research and environmental education.