Undergrad Writing Internship!

Are you itching to interview your classmates and professors, and eager to write about exciting research projects and events here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)? Do you love the challenge of exploring and translating complex scientific issues for a general audience, and helping spread the word about all of the incredible work going here with students, staff and faculty? Most importantly, are you keen to sharpen your composition skills and become a better communicator in your personal and professional writing?

We sure hope so, because this fall we’re looking for one (or possibly two) undergraduate writing interns to help our office cover and promote the SEFS community!  

This internship offers quite a bit of flexibility—in terms of hours, workload, issues covered and course credit earned—but there’s one central theme: There will be nothing hands-off about the projects you’ll tackle. You’ll dive right in with pitching, researching, writing and editing several stories, and also have the opportunity to photograph events and activities. Revision and fact-checking will be fundamental aspects of your work, and you’ll earn bylines for everything you produce.

If that strikes you as a fun side project this quarter, then check out the full advertisement below. And if you think you might be interested, please email Karl Wirsing, director of communications for SEFS, to explain your interest—and, if possible, please include one writing sample. 

ESRM/BSE 399: Undergraduate Writing Intern: Autumn 2013

Responsibilities:
* Research and write stories for the “Offshoots” blog and other SEFS publications/media, with potential stories ranging from short news items to longer features, and covering student and faculty profiles, research highlights, seminars, reports from the field, breaking news, etc.;
* Cover SEFS events on campus, such as poster sessions or other student activities, for the blog (including taking photos);
* Provide images and content for SEFS social media, including blogs, Facebook, Flickr and other platforms ;

Desired Qualifications:
* Strong interest in writing and editing, and a desire for more experience in covering scientific topics for a general audience;
* Willingness to edit and be edited;
* Available at least three hours per week;

The purpose of this internship is to gain experience with science writing and help promote the SEFS community. You will report to the Director of Communications, and your hours can be extremely flexible to suit your schedule. The goal is to produce three or more blog posts during the quarter, with special attention on writing and revision, as well as pitching ideas, research, interviewing, editing and fact checking. Upon completion of the internship, you will be required to submit a written report on your experiences and accomplishments.

Course credit is available, and registration for ESRM/BSE 399 requires a faculty code (contact Michelle Trudeau to inquire). This internship is restricted to ESRM and BSE minors and majors, and can also be tailored to satisfy up to 5 credits toward your writing requirement.

Faculty Advisor: SEFS Director Tom DeLuca,

Alumni Spotlight: Randi Adair

An oft-used metaphor for graduating students is seeds scattering to the wind, and the comparison is certainly apt: We wonder where they’ll land, and where they’ll take root. At the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), our students develop an enormous range of interests and specialties, and they often branch into dozens of disciplines around the country—some going on to graduate school, others beginning their careers. Wherever they end up, though, one of our greatest rewards is hearing from them and learning about their growth.

Randi Adair

Randi Adair, center, with two friends from graduate school on a recent visit.

One such update recently came from Randi Adair. She graduated in 2005 as part of the first class with an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) degree, and later earned a Master’s in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Originally from Portland, Ore., Adair is now working in Napa Valley as a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “We’re midway up the Napa Valley, surrounded by mountains and vineyards,” she says. “It’s pretty nice.” (Their office was originally part of a game bird farm, hence its somewhat unlikely address in the heart of wine country.)

Adair has now been with CDFW for three and a half years, has just bought a house the next valley over in Sonoma, and despite being accustomed to Pacific Northwest greenery has gradually fallen in love with the sun-roasted hillsides and oak woodlands of California. Through it all, she’s thoroughly enjoyed her work and been thankful for the classes and professors who’ve helped her achieve along the way.

She says her background in forest resources has definitely served her well with CDFW. In her first role, Adair wrote Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements (a type of permit) and California Endangered Species Act permits for development projects, participated on the technical advisory boards for a couple of regional conservation plans, reviewed environmental disclosure documents, and dealt with public inquiries on a range of topics from creek restoration to burrowing owls. With her office chronically shorthanded, she says she was kind of a “one-man band” for a large geographical area, and she spent long hours writing letters and filling out paperwork. Yet she still got to spend some time in the field reviewing projects with engineers and planners, and the end result was worth it.

Randi Adair

Adair’s Napa Valley office oversees the Bay Delta Region.

Adair later moved into her current position supervising the Bay Area Timberland Conservation Program. She heads out as part of a review team—which includes members of the departments of forestry and fire protection and other state agencies—for pre-harvest inspections. She helps evaluate the harvest plans for a range of factors, such as trails, roads, wildlife and creek crossings, and then makes management recommendations. She also supervises other permitting staff and works on a range of department policy issues.

“I did a lot of that in my undergraduate degree,” she says. “From the survey classes, I got a pretty good background in a wide range of topics—water quality sampling, stream flow, things like that that I use all the time in my current job.”

Adair also credits her course and field work through the Urban Ecology Program (UrbanEco), which was funded through the National Science Foundation as a training grant. It lasted for about 10 years and is no longer running at SEFS, but at the time UrbanEco gave students tremendous hands-on opportunities to shape community and environmental planning. Some of the lead professors included John Marzluff and Clare Ryan, and Adair’s research group looked at the Seattle Shoreline Master Plan, focusing on areas where public access to the shoreline was or should have been provided pursuant to development permits (she received a small tuition stipend and a Mary Gates scholarship for taking part in the program).

Other professors who made a big impact on her time at SEFS were Gordon Bradley and Tom Hinckley, and she says Kern Ewing’s restoration class was one of her favorites (even though she had walking pneumonia for nearly the whole quarter!). “I’m very grateful for the excellent education that made it possible for me to be where I am today,” she says. “I feel pretty lucky.”

Nicely done, Randi, and thanks for the update!

Photo of Adair and friends © Randi Adair; graphic of Bay Delta Region © California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Undergrad Spotlight: Haley Lane

It’s not easy to get a close-up of Haley Lane. Between her sailing and surfing and skiing, you’d wear out a good GPS unit just trying to keep up with her. True, some of her passions are more earthbound—gardening, for instance—and Lane doesn’t consider herself a thrill seeker (you won’t find skydiving on her to-do list). But whether she’s taking a year off school to live in Maui and sell shave ice and surf every day, or bobbing in the waves off Westport or Port Angeles, or knifing through the Columbia River in her sailboat, one thing is abundantly clear: Lane is rarely at rest.

Haley Lane

Lane rips along in her Tasar sailboat.

So as she approaches her final quarter at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), we thought we’d share what she’s up to before she slips away to the next adventure!

When School is In
Lane is majoring in Environmental Science and Resource Management at SEFS, and her favorite courses have involved field trips, including tree identification with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley. Four or five days a week this summer, as well, Lane has been squeezing in a few hours working for Professor Stanley Asah in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management Lab. She’s helped with a few projects, and at the moment she’s involved in assessing and social acceptability of wood-based biofuels.

She started out transcribing conversations from focus groups and working on surveys to find out what community members and family forest owners think about biofuels. Having grown up around Seattle, Lane says you can feel somewhat insulated from strongly divergent perspectives, particularly when it comes to political and social issues. The biofuels project, though, has provided an unvarnished education in the state’s regional and ideological variances. “It’s been really interesting to hear different sides to the story and really see where people are coming from,” says Lane.

Haley Lane

Unless she’s in class or in the lab, you will almost certainly find Lane, left, somewhere outdoors.

The survey work has also inspired her senior capstone project. Lane hasn’t finalized the scope of her research yet, but she definitely wants to focus on responses to the first question community members answer with each survey: What do you think about biofuels made out of wood? It’s purposefully broad and open-ended, she says, to let participants share their unfiltered thoughts and interpretations. As a result, the responses capture a wealth of information about preconceptions, emotional and economic stake, and other reactions to biofuels.

When School is Out
“I first started sailing when I was little kid on my dad’s boat, and then on my own at 10,” says Lane, who grew up on Bainbridge Island. She loves the physical and mental challenge of sailing, especially in small boats, and pushing herself in friendly competition. “Plus, it makes the beer taste better at the end!”

These days, she races a 15-foot Tasar sailboat, and starting this weekend, in fact, she and her boyfriend, Anthony Boscolo, will be competing in the 2013 Tasar World Championship. Hosted by the Columbia Gorge Racing Association, the weeklong racing competition takes place August 10-17 in the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore. It will be Lane’s first time racing in this regatta, and she’s expecting about 60 boats from around the world to be there. It’s a spectacular setting, if a bit windy, and they’ll be sailing three hour-long races a day.

Haley Lane

Lane has been gardening for two years, and this year she hopes to expand into more flowers and ornamental plants.

As a final tune-up, Lane and Boscolo headed down to the Columbia Gorge this past weekend for their last regatta before the Worlds—and they won! Not all of the competitors had arrived yet, but quite a few international teams were already down and testing out the waters. “The out-of-towners will start to figure out the local conditions this week,” she says, “but it was a very satisfying win nonetheless, no matter how we place at the Worlds!”

Next Up
This fall, Lane plans to finish up her coursework and graduate. She’d like to find a job related to her major, but she admits her career future still looks pretty hazy—and isn’t likely to sharpen too much before she’s out of school. Far more tangible on her horizon, though, is a February trip to Mexico for a wedding. A friend down there has a few extra boards, she says, so she hopes to sneak in a little surfing!

Photos © Haley Lane.

Haley Lane

Lane, in sail #505, turns a corner in first place during a Tasar race in the Columbia Gorge.

 

 

ESRM Capstone Presentations: Spring 2013!

This Thursday, June 6, from 2 to 4 p.m., stop by the Forest Club Room to check out the fruits of a wide range of undergraduate research projects!

It looks like we’ll have at least 17 senior Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) majors presenting posters, and they’ll be on hand to talk about their research—covering everything from endophytic yeasts to barred owls and storm water. Which is to say, there will be something for everyone!

Check out the poster below for specific presentations and student presenters:

ESRM Capstone Posters

SEFS Students March into the Methow Valley

Two weekends ago, a group of eight SEFS students headed out to the Methow Valley, north of Lake Chelan in eastern Washington, for two days of focused field study with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley.

Methow Valley

Students coring a Ponderosa Pine.

Helping to lead the course (ESRM 491B) were two SEFS alumni: Susan Prichard, a fire and landscape ecologist stationed in Winthrop, and Connie Mehmel, a forest entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service at the Forest Insect and Disease Service Center in Wenatchee. Prichard and Mehmel worked with the students to understand eastside forest dynamics and the roles that climate, introduced and native insects and diseases, fire and fire suppression have on forests—from the stand to the landscape level. Students contrasted an unmanaged stand with a stand undergoing a recent forest restoration prescription, and how these two different stands would have different vulnerabilities to fire, insects and pathogens.

The next day, students met with Brian Fisher of the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation to learn about riparian systems and human impacts (positive and negative) on these systems.

It was the first time Hinckley had organized this particular field trip, which he offered as an offshoot of his long-running “Spring Comes to the Cascades” course. The crew drove out late Friday afternoon and returned Sunday evening, and the goal was to focus more intensively and comprehensively on one study area.

“Usually, when I do field trips and we’re out walking, we don’t ever stay in one place for more than 20 minutes,” says Hinckley. “But we stayed in this one location for close to four hours. We cored trees, looked at the soil, measured and identified all the trees and seedlings, and identified all the coverage of the understory plants. Students really gained some firsthand knowledge in how to do a study.”

The class represented a wide range of backgrounds and majors, as well as undergrads and graduate students. Depending on their feedback, Hinckley says there’s potential to expand the course in the future, or to venture to new regions of the state—such as the North Cascades Base Camp.

Photo © Tom Hinckley.

Director’s Message: Summer 2013

Last December, Forbes magazine published an article on the 10 “worst” college degrees, and a sister article on the 15 “most valuable” college degrees. Even though I immediately disagreed with the reduction of “value” to a dollar figure—and noted that “most valuable” is not a direct antonym for “worst”—the message to readers was unmistakable: A college degree is valued by the employment potential and the starting wages for recent grads.

I sighed in relief as I paged through the article and didn’t find natural resource and forest management or environmental science among the ranks of their list. That said, I was surprised and dismayed to see anthropology (the study of humankind) at the top, and subjects like art, philosophy and history also considered “worst” among our college offerings.

Jennifer Perkins

Jennifer Perkins, a 2011 graduate from SEFS, now works at the UW Office of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability.

Not long after I read the Forbes piece, a similar story on LinkedIn again pinned the value of a college degree squarely on employment and entry pay. Without question, a college education should lead to a marketable skillset and a living wage. But I couldn’t help thinking that lost in these calculations of “value” is that students might not just want to make a living—they might want to love their living.

When I think about our own programs at SEFS, it’s impossible to miss that during the last six years, our Environmental Science and Resources Management (ESRM) major and Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) degrees have seen steady growth. For the past few years, moreover, our BSE graduates have had a 100-percent success rate landing jobs as soon as they’re finished with school, and in many cases long before graduation.

Take Megan James, a senior BSE major who is about to graduate this June. She’s been actively involved in papermaking at SEFS, and last summer she completed an internship with Procter & Gamble. That experience led to a job offer to continue on full-time after graduation as a process engineer at a brand-new paper plant in Bear River City, Utah.

Or consider Jennifer Perkins, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2011. Shortly after she finished school, she landed a position just up the road as the program coordinator for the University of Washington Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office. She’s loving her job promoting sustainability projects around campus, and she credits much of her enthusiasm and environmental expertise with her time at SEFS.

I also think of Dr. Brian Kertson, a SEFS alumnus who now works with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. He came through all levels of our program, earning his B.S. in forest resources (wildlife science) in 2001, then an M.S. and then a Ph.D.—and now he has a dream job working with large carnivores, and especially cougars, in the state.

Megan James

Megan James, left, and other members of the student TAPPI chapter during their annual holiday papermaking project.

The list goes on and on, and the more I think about it, the more I see how flawed the metrics are in the Forbes and LinkedIn stories. Nowhere in these articles or analyses is there consideration of “quality of life,” or deep interest or devotion to the topic or craft that might become the focus of the majority of our waking hours. Reflecting on my own degrees in soil science, I know I didn’t enroll in the major for the employment opportunities or high salary potential. Rather, I pursued the natural resources because of my desire to work on something real and tangible, my love for the outdoors, love of science, my awe at the complexity of ecosystems and particularly soils, and for so many creative possibilities of study and exploration.

Passion will carry you a long way toward success, and that starts, in many cases, with enjoying the job in front of you. So as our undergraduate and graduate students head out into the world, I am confident we have not only improved their employability, but perhaps more important, we have enhanced their environmental and conservation literacy, sharpened their critical thinking skills, and prepared them for a lifetime of growth and career satisfaction. They’ll have to chance to do what they know, and in fields they love. I’m not convinced there’s a more “valuable” outcome you can hope to achieve from an education.

Photo of Jennifer Perkins © Jennifer Perkins; photo of Megan James © Megan James.

Undergrad Spotlight: Tara Wilson

“It’s amazing how much you can learn from looking at poop,” says Tara Wilson, a junior at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “It totally blew my mind. You can know everything [about the animal]—if they’re malnourished, if they’re breeding, if they’re stressed in any way, what they’re eating.”

Tara Wilson

Tara Wilson working on the Pack Forest Summer Crew in 2012.

Wilson grew up in Detroit and transferred to the University of Washington to start the Winter Quarter in January 2012. She had already earned an Associate’s Degree back home, and she moved out to Seattle with her husband, Shane Unsworth, after he found as job as a data security analyst in the city.

Her adventures in scat began soon after arriving on campus when she attended a wildlife seminar about conservation canines that are specifically trained to sniff out animal droppings. For this particular talk, the dogs were snooping for orca poo. There’s only a small window to locate such scat, apparently, as it floats to the surface briefly before sinking out of reach. So the trainers would hold the dogs at the bow of the boat to locate the floaters as quickly as possible.

“You don’t often see that in a seminar,” says Wilson. “It’s just so out-of-the-box and creative to me—really innovative.”

Inspired by the science of that seminar, Wilson soon landed a weekly lab position with Professor Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in the UW Biology Department. She and the other volunteer technicians are working on a host of projects, from extracting hormones to analyzing dolphin and polar bear scat.

“What’s special about the lab is that we use non-invasive techniques,” she says. “You don’t have to trap or tranquilize or stress out the animal. You can just follow them around and then collect and analyze their scat.”

Tara Wilson

It didn’t take Wilson long to get into the swing of things at SEFS, and she’s already looking ahead to a graduate degree.

The material they isolate enables scientists to explore a wide range of questions, says Wilson, and there are numerous applications for the research. In one case, an oil company in Alberta, Canada, is having the lab analyze caribou scat from oil sands to make sure the oil drilling isn’t endangering the health of the caribou population.

For Wilson, her lab and course work have quickly cultivated a strong career interest in conservation work, and she’s decided to focus on the wildlife conservation option as an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major. Her favorite courses so far have been a class on Pacific Northwest ecosystems with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley, and also “Wildlife Biology and Conservation” with Professor Emeritus Dave Manuwal. “You could just tell [Professor Manuwal] is passionate about what he does, and he’s excited to get us passionate.”

She’s been so excited about school, in fact, that Wilson says she feels “like a big dork” for all the lectures and seminars she wants to attend around campus. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college, so sometimes I feel a little embarrassed because I’m very much a kid in a candy store here!”

Hard to blame her, as the pickin’s are good at SEFS when it comes to course offerings and research opportunities. Indeed Wilson is already looking ahead to potential graduate programs at UW, and she’s keeping an open mind about where her studies might lead her. “Anything I can do to help wildlife conservation,” she says. “I’d be thrilled to be part of that community in any way.”

Photos © Tara Wilson.

ESRM Students Volunteer at Beaver Pond

Beaver PondEarlier this quarter, students in Professor Rob Harrison’s “ESRM 100: Environmental Science” course volunteered at the Beaver Pond Natural Area in Seattle. Working with Ruth Williams, the volunteer organizer, the students removed invasive plants and planted some native species.

Most ESRM 100 students complete a volunteer project as part of the course requirements, which include writing up a summary of their work, including the species they worked with, why they did the work, any problems they encountered, solutions they employed, and environmental benefits of doing their particular project.

For many, says Professor Harrison, the project is the first time they’ve done anything like this kind of restoration work outside—and they enjoy it so much that it often leads to additional environmental service volunteering!

Photo © Rob Harrison.

A Friday Tour of the ONRC

ONRC

Derric Kettel, Ellen Matheny and Theresa Santman at ONRC.

This past Friday, I drove out with Professor Aaron Wirsing to visit and tour the Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC) in Forks, Wash. My goal was to learn more about the center and spotlight some of its facilities for research and education within the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). Professor Wirsing was on hand to shadow the “ESRM 351: Wildlife Research Techniques” class, which Professor Steve West was leading out to spend two days and nights conducting field research on the Olympic Peninsula—using ONRC as the perfect staging ground for lodging, dining, frog hunts, bird walks, newt and salamander searches, stream surveys and a range of other hands-on activities.

It takes about 3.5 hours to reach ONRC from the Seattle campus, depending on your luck with timing the Kingston ferry. When we arrived, the rain was lashing, so we quickly ducked indoors and met our extremely welcoming hosts: Ellen Matheny, education and outreach director; Theresa Santman, manager of program operations, and Deric Kettel, who’s overseen general maintenance of ONRC since its first days in the mid-1990s.

They walked us through ONRC’s incredibly versatile facility, which features a host of lab and conference spaces, a library, social and dining hall with an indoor/outdoor fireplace, dormitories and larger apartments (brimming with ESRM students later that evening), classroom space for distance learning, and even a two-mile walking trail around the property, which locals in Forks use regularly—and who are sure to call in for help whenever there’s a tree or other blockage across the trail!

Depending on the type of event or activity, ONRC provides terrific space for conferences and other professional gatherings; day and overnight trips for class field study; graduate students looking for space to conduct or complete research projects; staging grounds for other projects and meetings; even social events (weddings and reunions are fairly common). The setting is a small field atop a forested hill overlooking Forks and the surrounding area. Tall hemlocks ring the clearing, which is a popular elk grazing ground, and even with the rain and typical cloud cover, huge windows keep the inside feeling bright and cozy. We left excited thinking about more ways we could integrate SEFS classes and research opportunities at ONRC.

Find out how you can get involved and take advantage of this great research and learning center—and the next time you’re in the area, make sure to stop by and visit!

Photo © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.

Undergrad Spotlight: Sarra Tekola

If you want to see fierce incarnate, just ask Sarra Tekola to recite one of her poems—particularly a recent piece about climate change—and see if you don’t get tingles. You can feel her passion burn through every word.

Sarra Tekola

Sarra Tekola has her hands in scores of activities around campus.

“I’ve been accused to being an environmental evangelist before,” says Tekola, a junior at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), “but you never want to be too overbearing. It’s important not to push people away. There’s a happy medium with not being so extreme, and if we want to do something about climate change, we need to include everyone. Because it isn’t just a political agenda. It’s a global issue that every single person on this Earth needs to become involved in and do something about.”

Poetry plays into Tekola’s desire to make science more accessible and accepted. She doesn’t want to be a scientist who mostly talks to other scientists; she wants to be actively connected to her community and the public. Even when we have an abundance of evidence—as with ocean acidification and climate change, she says—there’s often a disconnect when trying to galvanize the community to accept and act on the available science. “I want to be able to relate to people and help find solutions to climate change, to be able to persuade people and politicians, to convince them.”

With verse, she gets to practice her art of persuasion when she’s reading poems at an “open mic” night on campus, where she often addresses different audiences and perspectives. “I get to talk to people I might not meet at a restoration event or seminar,” she says.

Another of her tactics for fighting climate change denial is connecting collaborators. So far, she’s set up a Facebook page called “Climate Change Crisis Council,” and she hopes to grow the page into a forum where activists, scientists and environmentalists share ideas, opportunities for environmental involvement and research, and also build networks to find solutions for climate change. (If you’re interested in joining, it’s an open group, and you can contact Tekola via that page). Her plan is to build enough momentum to form a campus club that would get students involved in environmental research, work on public outreach and complete sustainability projects at UW through the Campus Sustainability Fund.

Sarra Tekola

One of Tekola’s projects is to mitigate run-off from a gravel road into a salmon stream near her parent’s home in Maple Valley.

Organizing the Climate Change Crisis Council is only the tip of the iceberg for Tekola’s campus activities. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking she cloned herself when you realize all the research projects she shoehorns into her schedule.

Tekola, whom you might see riding her motorcycle around campus (she drives it to reduce her carbon footprint; she gets 75 mpg!), was born in Seattle and grew up in nearby Maple Valley. She began her college career at Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash., and transferred to the University of Washington (UW) to start her junior year this past fall. She’s now working toward a major in Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM), and she’s been sopping up the program’s research opportunities and field trips.

“I like that it’s really hands-on here,” she says. “I had taken a number of environmental courses, but most of them were textbook-based.” It’s one thing to learn about equipment in the classroom and interpret data others have recorded. “But going out in the field and using the equipment, and being able to do it with your own hands—that’s really fun.”

A few weeks ago, Tekola got her hands plenty cold and dirty in Yellowstone National Park as part of the annual spring course, “ESRM 459: Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems.”

With a crew of three SEFS faculty members and 15 students, and using the northern Rockies as their staging ground, Tekola’s class explored patterns of corvid distribution, elk anti-predator behavior and wolf vigilance, among other research tasks. “It was awesome,” she says. “The Yellowstone trip is something I’d want to do on my own, and to be able to do it for school was really amazing. We got to see a lot of cool things.”

The “coolest,” she says, was when they got to watch—from a safe distance—a wolf pack attacking four bull elk. Three of the elk still had their antlers, but one didn’t, and the wolves had separated him from the others. One wolf ran out ahead and tried to bring down the elk, drawing blood on the run, and Tekola was sure the elk was going to fall. Yet the wounded bull stayed on its feet and staggered into the freezing Lamar River with two other elk, where the three lined up, rump to rump, staring at the wolves on the banks (the wolves wouldn’t enter the icy water, apparently, to avoid water freezing in their paws and injuring them; the warmer months are a different story). The fourth elk had turned to face the wolves, which feinted in and out at him, but the bull managed to ward them off with antlers brandished for about 20 minutes. The wolves ultimately gave up and retreated. It was an incredible display of survival tactics that worked—this time—and the class had front-row seats to the show.

Sarra Tekola

Tekola and other ESRM students investigate an elk kill site in Yellowstone National Park.

On another afternoon, they were heading out to investigate a recent wolf kill site. The elk carcass was only two days old, and Tekola remembers several students asking if they might be disturbing the site—or risk interrupting wolves at meal time. Their answer came right on cue: When they walked within 300 or 400 meters of the kill, a wolf was gnawing on the carcass, and binocular range was as close as they got to the carnage.

These field experiences have been a feast for Tekola, a research hound who’s been devouring every opportunity since she transferred from Green River Community College. “I always try to tell my friends and peers and people in the field what a great opportunity we have here at UW,” she says, “and how they should get involved in research as much as they can.”

Thanks to that hunger, her list of involvements is long and varied.

As part of Professor Tim Essington’s lab at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Tekola is studying hypoxia in the Hood Canal in Puget Sound. Her research includes seeing how fish are adapting to naturally occurring hypoxia. “It’s been a really fun project, especially dissecting stomachs and trying to identify the contents,” she says.

Tekola is also interning with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed, a nonprofit whose work impacts her hometown. The Cedar River forms in North Bend, eventually flows through Maple Valley and out into the bottom of Lake Washington in Renton. “I sometimes help them write grants or lead restoration projects,” says Tekola, and she especially enjoys sharing how the river contributes to the larger Lake Washington watershed, and also salmon spawning and habitat. “It’s my connection to the community.”

Sarra Tekola

“If time wasn’t such a limiting factor,” says Tekola, “I’d be involved in more stuff!”

For another project she’s spearheading close to home, Tekola recently scored a prestigious scholarship to help complete her research and final year at UW.

In Maple Valley, her parents live on a gravel hill in a rural area. Anytime it rains heavily, the run-off washes into a nearby salmon stream. Tekola’s plan is to create a rain garden to reduce the run-off and protect the stream, and in her spare moments she’s already started monitoring sediment and run-off in her test zone. But the project got a major boost recently when Tekola was awarded a one-year scholarship from the United Negro College Fund and the Merck Company Foundation for the 2013-14 academic year.

The 2013 UNCF-Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award will provide Tekola up to $30,000 in funding to cover her independent research expenses, a summer internship and tuition for her senior year. It’s big honor—one of only 15 nationally!—and helps ensure that Tekola can keep pursuing her many ideas and inspirations.

About the only thing slowing her down, in fact, is the turn of a minute hand.

“If time wasn’t such a limiting factor,” she says, “I’d be involved in more stuff!”

Photos of Sarra Tekola © Sarra Tekola; photo of elk kill site © Professor Aaron Wirsing/SEFS.