Surrounded by Science

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Kendra Chanby Kendra Chan (UC Davis ZEN course undergraduate student)

Over the past school year, I have finally found my people and my calling. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in the UC Davis ZEN course this spring quarter. Unlike your typical research university lecture hall of 300+ students, this class was limited to only 12 undergraduates.  But it wasn’t the 6:1 student to faculty ratio that made this class special – rather, it was the people themselves.

As an underclassman, I was herded around the general biology pre-requisite path with the several hundred other students in the college. I found the intro biology series fascinating, but to my dismay, the majority of my peers expressed boredom even in the lab sections. However, this ZEN class was entirely different—it has been one of the few times I’ve been completely surrounded by people that are just as interested in marine ecology as I am, if not more (which I didn’t know was possible). Instead of being held back by classmates that lacked knowledge and interest about the subject at hand (e.g., marine communities), I was motivated and inspired by the passion and expertise demonstrated by the eleven other students and two instructors. Because of this, we were able to progress quickly through lecture topics and have intellectually stimulating discussions.

ASUs (artificial seagrass untis) deployed in Bodega harbor for one of the UCD ZEN class experiments

ASUs deployed during one of the UCD ZEN class experiments

During the first class period, I knew I had found the right class because we had a lengthy and heated debate about how exactly to deploy the ASUs (Artificial Seagrass Units, or glorified green plastic ribbon) we had just built in order to get the most interesting data. This time, we the students were in control or our own experiment, and we had a plethora of scientifically interesting questions to ask. We weighed the pros and cons of each scenario, and after much discussion settled upon an experimental design.

Needless to say, the past 10 weeks have been a great learning experience for me. Not only did I become well versed in eelgrass ecosystems, but I also learned more about how to be a scientist through lectures, discussion, and my favorite, hands-on field work.

The UCD ZEN class can get a bit silly, especially when asked to act out their favorite mesograzer

The UCD ZEN class can get a bit silly, especially when asked to act out their favorite mesograzer

Although I won’t be exclusively working for ZEN this summer, I will still be immersed in eelgrass research. I’m excited to once again be surrounded by marine ecologists in Bodega Bay, and know I will continue to be inspired by both the scientists and the sea.




Kendra Chan is a rising senior at UC Davis. Her favorite experiment in the ZEN class was an assay of predation intensity in Bodega harbor. Her dream is to save the world with science – combining science and education with conservation and sustainability to better understand and utilize natural ecosystems.

Photos contributed by Kendra and Matt Whalen.

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