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¿field curious?

UC Merced student in ¿Field Curious? backpack overlooking Yosemite Valley.


To improve UC Merced undergraduate students' sense of belonging in the field, increase self-efficacy in field research, and enhance students' research idea development. 


Weekend-long field immersion event for undergraduate students with minimal field experience. Visit two reserves and provide field safety training, field techniques, wellness benefits of the outdoors and explore research opportunities. 

Empowering Undergraduates: UC Merced's '¿field curious?' Program

By Citlali Perez Morales 

Imagine being an undergraduate student and getting the transformative experience of delving into pristine wildlands accompanied by experienced researchers. Would that experience have encouraged you to explore careers in field research? That is the goal of ¿field curious?, to enhance undergraduate students' sense of belonging in the field and encourage them to ask questions about the natural world.

 Three ¿Field Curious? students at Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve.

When Dr. Jessica Malisch, Associate Director of the UC Merced Natural Reserve System, noticed a strong interest in field research among UC Merced students but also a lack of completion among applicants for the Swarth Fogel Undergraduate Research Fellowship; she knew something needed to be done. With the help of the UC Merced Natural Reserve System (UCM NRS) team, she crafted a weekend-long immersion experience that included a starter pack of research tools, visits to two UC Merced Natural Reserve Sites, the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve and the Yosemite Field Station, all dappled with field scholarship experts from natural science professors, to writers and artists. 

Two ¿Field Curious? students journaling in the rain.

Malisch recalled that in early discussions with the concept team that they all remembered their first field backpack and field notebook. “We want students to feel like they have the basic tools to feel comfortable applying for opportunities in the outdoor arena” she stated. Thanks to generous donations from Patagonia and Rite-in-the-Rain, students were outfitted with a backpack and field notebook along with a few more items from the UCM NRS including a knit hat, bucket hat, water bottle, sunglasses and sunscreen. 

The immersive weekend began with a visit to the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, where participants received expert guidance on field journaling from UC Merced Professor Dr. Tom Hothem and gained a deeper understanding of grassland ecology from Professor Dr. Jay Sexton and the Reserve Director, Joy Baccei. This experience was crucial as it gave them hands-on training in important skills such as data collection, observation, and hypothesis generation. The group then traveled to the Yosemite Field Station, where they were greeted by the Field Station Director,  and enjoyed a collaborative dinner of warm veggie chili and cornbread, fostering friendships and teamwork among the participants.

Group ¿Field Curious? photo in Yosemite National Park. Day two was spent exploring Yosemite National Park. After breakfast at the field station, the group traveled to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and met artist Andie Thram and  wellness expert, Dennis Eagan. Andie and Dennis led a slow meander of the forest as they shared how they use the outdoors for wellness through painting, meditating, and sketching. The tour was dappled with natural history and research information by Dr. Breezy Jackson, the Yosemite Field Station Director. The students were able to gain new perspectives, learn from experienced researchers and connect with nature in a way that they may have not had the chance to do otherwise.

Second-year chemistry student Mauricio Hernandez said, "My experience at the research experience weekend, ¿field curious?, was exuberating and insightful on the possible routes of research I can take." The weekend was summarized in a digital publication that participants could use as a reference to reach out to possible research mentors and to highlight next steps in their field research careers. 

Dr. Malisch and the Natural Reserve System recently secured funds for an additional 8 cohorts and are excited to move  UC Merced toward the goal of becoming a Research 1 university. “We want to empower students from diverse backgrounds and remove barriers that impede student success” said Malisch, “¿field curious? is more than just a weekend trip – it's the beginning of a new career trajectory”.