The NCOS Effect - Student Experiences - In Their Own Words

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 13:55 -- Elaine Tan

One of the objectives of the North Campus Open Space (NCOS) Restoration Project is to provide opportunities for students and volunteers to gain experience in all aspects of restoration ecology and management, from the nitty-gritty ground work to research and monitoring, environmental education, and more. Indeed, the hard work of all of the dedicated interns, student workers, and community volunteers is vital to the success of NCOS. The bulk of the day-to-day restoration work is carried out by student workers and interns who help plant, weed, and create ecological infrastructure for the 136-acre project.

CCBER staff and student workers planting in the salt marsh transition zone at NCOS on a foggy winter day.


In addition to restoration work, the NCOS team also plays a part in the education of local elementary and high school students. The Kids in Nature 2 program, funded by the Coastal Conservancy, brings K-12 students on field trips to NCOS where CCBER restoration staff and student interns engage students in wetland ecology, bird diversity, plant adaptations, food webs, and ecosystem services. Keeping natural history records as NCOS develops is also vital to the project’s success. Through these records and samples, snapshots of the site’s ecology and biodiversity before, during, and after restoration efforts are preserved for future study. As a research university, UCSB values research experiences that CCBER provides through varied collections, restoration and education internships.

The 2017 Fall quarter was the first full quarter of restoration work for the NCOS project, and saw the involvement of 26 student restoration workers, 2 collections interns, and many more volunteers and staff. We recently interviewed several of these dedicated interns and current and recently graduated student workers to learn about the highlights of their work, and how their experiences at CCBER and NCOS have influenced their education and career choices; here are some excerpts from the interviews:


Michelle Geldin


A 3rd-year undergraduate in Environmental Studies and Geography, Michelle works on establishing and maintaining the NCOS Restoration Project through planting and weeding. She began as an intern in the spring of 2017, and has been working at NCOS as a student worker since fall 2017. Her favorite plant is the Purple Vetch (Vicia americana), even though it is not native.

What do you do in a typical day?

Every day at work is different. Typically I do some sort of planting, weeding, seed collecting, transplanting, or compost making. Since the site is so large, our location where we perform these activities constantly changes.

What has been the best part about being involved in the North Campus Open Space project?

The best part of being involved in the NCOS project has been seeing our progress as we work. We get to watch what we had planted slowly grow and we get to watch organisms such as birds come to the site and begin reinhabiting it.


How has your experience with CCBER influenced you in your college and career paths?

While not certain, my current career goals are generally centered around sustainable waste management, renewable energy development, or environmental planning. I have had internship experiences before, but CCBER has been my first paid job. This has brought on a new level of responsibility and time management. Besides that, working at CCBER has been a really positive experience. I have met lots of great people who have similar interests and goals as me and I have also gained a greater knowledge, interest, and appreciation for restoration work and skills such as plant identification and learning adaptations of the wetland ecosystem we are working with.

What has been your favorite part about working with CCBER?

My favorite part about working with CCBER would be the fact that I can actually physically see the impact I am making. I also enjoy getting to work so closely with nature.


Derek Pagenkopp


Derek graduated from UCSB in June 2017 with a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Science and Mathematics Education. He started volunteering with CCBER during the spring quarter of 2014 at North Parcel, Sierra Madre, and San Joaquin, and currently works full time at NCOS guiding students in planting, weeding, greenhouse activities, and native and invasive species. His favorite plant is the Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), as he has many memories laying in his hammock beneath their canopy and relaxing or reading.

What do you do in a typical day?

Weeding activities include hand weeding, solarization, salting, herbicide etc. Greenhouse work can be transplanting, cleaning the greenhouse, making compost, etc. I also do vegetation monitoring for the site, assessing the presence and threat that invasive weeds present as well as monitor the success of the plants we are trying to establish. I also have had the opportunity to work with Kids in Nature (KIN) where I educate students from local elementary schools and high schools about our project and the importance of wetlands.

What has been the best part about being involved in the NCOS restoration project?

I've enjoyed the education aspect of working at NCOS most. It's been awesome sharing what I've learned with students, interns and KIN2 kids, as this restoration effort is a rare and cool experience to be a part of.

What are some of your interests and career goals?

My academic interests mainly center around climate change and how local environments and individual species change in response to it, and I plan on going back to school to further study this topic. Or astrobiology, the study of life on Earth and in space. Either way, I do plan on going back to school to continue my education. For now I am happy working to restore an important ecosystem that will benefit plants, animals and humans.

How has your experience with CCBER influenced you in your college and career paths?

When I first started working for CCBER as a student it was only a slight interest of mine, and more a way for me to get out and clear my mind of the stress of school and my other jobs. However, the longer I worked for CCBER, the more interested I became in the native plants and the process of restoration and the benefits it provides to plants, animals and humans, including myself. It was amazing to see the effects that I had on the smaller restoration projects that I worked on and now I look forward to the change happening at NCOS and the possibilities it provides. I have also gained many skills from working at CCBER, like plant identification, teamwork, leadership, how to educate and communicate ideas and more.

What has been your favorite part about working for CCBER?

I love working outside and getting to experience the beauty that the UCSB campus has to offer every day, as well as doing something different almost every day. Also, I get to share what I've learned about our local environment with students of all ages, the public, my friends, and really anyone who will listen to me.


Carina Motta


A third-year Ecology and Evolution major, Carina is a collections intern at CCBER who has been working  in the CCBER herbarium. Her favorite animal is the California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

What exactly do you do for CCBER?

For the past two and a half years, I’ve worked on something called the Suaeda project, where I look at herbarium specimens from Baja California in the genus Suaeda, but most recently I’ve started on a project collecting representative voucher specimens from North Campus Open Space to document what plants are there. I was really interested in working with the bird collections, but I’m glad that I work with plants because I appreciate plants a lot more now and that has definitely sparked my interest.

What do you do in a typical day with the voucher specimens?

I come here, get my plant press, get my bag in which I keep my field notebook and a pair of clippers, and "Rana", one of CCBER's data collection tablets. I go out in the field, I look for plants that are fruiting or flowering, and I take a cutting and record the location and species on the tablet. I press the specimen in the field using my plant press and newspaper, and then I bring them back to CCBER. Then I put them in the drying oven, and while they’re drying, I usually make the labels using my notes from my field notebook. I did the bulk of my collecting in the fall quarter. I would spend an average of 3 to 6 hours per week collecting and I collected around 32 specimens for about 16 species. I collect two of each, because one will serve as a voucher here and the other one will be sent to the Hoover Herbarium at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And throughout last quarter I also wrote a grant for this project, which I received through the Coastal Fund. So, shout-out to

What’s your favorite part of working on the NCOS project?

I really like the chance to be outside and get some hands-on experience as far as collecting. Collecting is also a really good skill to have, so I’m glad that I’m gaining experience in that. And I’m also gaining more knowledge in plant identification. I can’t wait to see what North Campus Open Space looks like in the end. It’s already changed so much, especially when we got the rains, it was really cool to see the slough fill up. I think that this project is really important for our coastal wetlands. Coastal wetlands play a really big role in carbon sequestration, so the more coastal wetlands, the better. And also, this will restore habitat for local birds and small land mammals as well. It’s just really awesome to see something that was once a golf course reverted back to its original state.

How do you envision your project to be a part of NCOS in the future?

I envision NCOS as a place that the community visits, and as a way that the community will get to know more about their surrounding natural world, and the value of these coastal wetland habitats. And as far as my project, I see it being used by similar restoration efforts, to see what sort of plant communities should be restored. And maybe in the future to track genetic and morphological changes, to see if restoration has an impact on how plants evolve. Weeds would ideally be collected every year, and native plants maybe every five years.

What’s your favorite part about working with CCBER?

My favorite part about working with CCBER is definitely the work environment. Everyone’s so friendly, everyone’s so nice, and they’re very flexible as far as my school schedule. I love CCBER, it’s a little ecosystem itself.

How has working with CCBER benefitted you the most?

CCBER has given me such valuable experience with research and also participating in conferences. I attended the California Botanical Society conference last year, and I’m working on attending the California Native Plant Society conference, and they’ve just really given me professional experience and a chance to lead my own projects and ask my own questions.

What do you think you’ll be doing after UCSB? How has CCBER influenced that?

I would love to take a break and maybe work some field jobs, as a tech or something like that, and after that I would love to come back to do my PhD. And I definitely think that my work here at CCBER will help me because I am interested in pursuing a PhD in plants or plant-animal interactions.


Jacob Little


Jacob is a 3rd-year Chemistry major who is a collections intern at CCBER, working on sorting and analyzing the Isopoda, Archaeognatha, and Hymenoptera arthropods that were collected as part of the NCOS arthropod survey project in the spring and summer of 2016.

What do you do for CCBER?

I've been working with the NCOS arthropods collected in the summer of 2016. I've been sorting the insects, and then recording the data, and then seeing if there's a significant relationship with the habitat.

How'd you get started on this project?

I started in the fall quarter of last year (2016), with the Natural History Collections Club. I started volunteering with that, and then I started the internship in the winter quarter. There was a need for people to help sort the arthropod samples. I had just started volunteering mounting plants in the herbarium, and now I'm doing this.

What do you do on a typical day?

It depends on what I'm working on. Some days I'll come in and I'll get all set up for sorting through a malaise trap sample using a microscope. We completed sorting the isopods last year. But I’m still working on the Hymenoptera, the wasps and bees. I did that during last quarter and during the summer. Some days I'll work on the computer, like today. I am going through the data and working on a report, reading some research articles and see what I comparisons I can make.

How do you envision your project contributing to the understanding of NCOS overall?

Well, hopefully, we'll have an idea of what the arthropod population is now, and how it changes. These isopods are not native. So it'd be interesting to see if it changes when it's restored. More just how it changes, whether there'll still be an isopod population. The two families that we found on the golf course are both of European origin. They're detritivores, they eat dead plant material and decomposing matter. They don't have that many predators, actually, so they could be kind of disrupting. They're outcompeting native detritivores that could give more to the food chain.

What's your favorite part of working with CCBER?

Well, I like working with the bugs. Those are fun. Better than plants - bugs are moving, they're cool to look at. The Hymenopterans especially, they're pretty beautiful. And then the data - I haven't really gotten to it, but playing around with the numbers is fun, too. I like all of the cool animals and bugs and stuff that are here, that CCBER collects.

How has working with CCBER benefitted you the most?

First off, it's given me an understanding about the importance of collections and how we have a whole ecosystem, and there's all these little important things in that ecosystem. And the importance of collecting is so that we can preserve the data. Hopefully I'll also learn some statistical stuff that I can use in the future for writing papers.

What are you thinking of doing going forward?

I'm gonna try to not go to grad school right out of college, but I'm not really sure. I've got some data analysis skills that could be useful.

Click here to read a report about Jacob's work on the NCOS arthropod project.


Hannah McCracken


Hannah is a current UCSB senior majoring in Environmental Studies. She started working at CCBER during the winter quarter of her junior year and works with the Kids in Nature program and NCOS. Her favorite plant is the California Sunflower (Encelia californica).

What do you do in a typical day?

I plant native wetland species and weed invasive species at NCOS, or do plant propagation at the nursery.

What has been the best part about being involved in the NCOS restoration project?

I would have to say just seeing the habitat progress and flourish already has been very encouraging and amazing to witness. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in a few months!

How has your experience with CCBER influenced you in your college and career paths?

I would like to go into natural resource management or environmental planning. Through CCBER, I have learned so much about plant biology, community ecology, and land management.

What has been your favorite part about working with CCBER?

The people who work at CCBER are incredibly down-to-earth and so fun to be around. I also love being a part of the restoration process. So much love and care goes into restoring land back into its native habitat. It is truly inspiring to be a part of the process.


CCBER staff and student workers teaching local elementary students about wetland plants and ecology at NCOS as part of the Kids in Nature program.

The North Campus Open Space project is an enormous, challenging and exciting endeavor that engages a large community of people from many different fields. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more interviews and other stories about NCOS and CCBER, here and on our Facebook and Instagram pages!


Friday, February 2, 2018 - 13:45