For my final co-op at Antioch, I headed west to Santa Cruz, California, to work as a research assistant at UC Santa Cruz. This is an excellent final co-op for me, as the various projects I’m assisting with encompass a wide range of skills that I’ve developed during my time at Antioch. I feel like this co-op is really allowing me to connect all of my education thus far together in a very coherent and practical way, so I’m very excited to be working at UC Santa Cruz.
I’ve been helping a researcher who is looking into the plant biodiversity around Elkhorn Slough. Until rather recently, the area had been agricultural land and so the surrounding biodiversity is very limited and contains a lot of invasive plants. The research I’m assisting with has a number of plots around a lagoon with different native marsh plants and is looking as to whether or not they can beat the current competition and how they grow depending on their location to the tides (ie. inundated with every tide or above the king tide line). This helps the researchers figure out what the limiting factor is for these plants’ growth in the area (space, water, salt tolerance, etc.) and can help the Slough develop plans for increasing the biodiversity throughout the area. A lot of my work with that research has been applying watering treatments to different plots and helping to develop the system for watering. There was a lot of troubleshooting the researcher and I went through as we put the system together.
This was an excellent experience in thinking about my own future experiments, as I’ve helped develop a plan, seen it fail, developed a new plan learning from those mistakes, and successfully applied it. Being a part of a project that failed and had to be re-thought is extremely beneficial because it helped me think about resiliency and thinking outside of the box when reimaging how to use materials to make something happen. This work has really tied in a lot of my knowledge from botany and ecology, really solidify the knowledge I developed in those courses in a practical way.
I’ve also been working on a research project looking at the coastal erosion happening within the marsh, particularly examining crab population burrowing habits and the relationship between crab habitats and erosion. I’ve been assisting with building/maintaining crab pots, marking captured crabs, and taking water quality data. So far a lot of the work I’ve done has been more carpentry-based, such as building the cages and modifying them as we learn what does and doesn’t work. This has really allowed me to apply a skill that I’ve been slowly building throughout my co-ops. It’s also let me think about building projects in a more beginning-to-end headspace (rather than jumping in at the middle) and thinking about our goals, budget, and how to practically make that work at a field site we boat to and is submerged during high tides.
Another aspect of working at UC Santa Cruz has been the tremendous amount of networking and information sharing I’ve been able to do. I’ve been working with a number of Ph.D. candidates and some professors as well as undergraduate students. Because of this wide range of people I have been working with, I’ve been able to make really broad connections and learn more about my field, how it connects to other sciences, and what a graduate program and research within my field looks like.
This co-op has been connecting what I’ve learned over the past three years and my previous three co-ops to my own future research and work. Building such a large and diverse network of people here has also been helpful in establishing possible paths for me to take post-graduation. I’ve done a lot of reflection on my time at Antioch during this co-op and am so thankful for these co-op experiences. They’ve allowed me to practice and critically think about coursework in real-world settings, helped me develop a wide array of skillsets, and built my professional network. Furthermore, co-op has allowed me to build my confidence and really dig deep into my passions. This co-op fits nicely into that, still pushing me while also revealing how far I’ve come during my time at Antioch, and I’m excited to see what I do with the remainder of my quarter in Santa Cruz.
Of all the courses at Antioch, co-op courses—and their associated assignments—tend to be the hardest for me to complete. This is because I am usually asked to put into words experiences and feelings that, more often than not, I’m still grappling with. Of course, I know my responsibilities at work and I can discuss how the skills I’ve developed could be useful in the future but, for me, co-op is so much more than a resume builder. It’s one of the biggest reasons I came to Antioch. Not just to look good on future applications, but to live outside my comfort zone, to engage with different perspectives, and to push myself to see, do, and be more than I could ever imagine in my small hometown in Colorado.
For my third co-op, I found myself in Melbourne, Australia working at Practical Ecology, where I held a wide array of responsibilities ranging from time spent in the field to office work. In the field, I did flora and fauna surveys, invasive species removal, and prescribed burns; while in the office, on the other hand, I did a lot of data entry and management, as well as working with our GPS data and mapping projects. The work I did was very fulfilling and often awe-inspiring. From climbing over and under trees in the bush to working along train railways, I always felt like the work I did was significant, important, and enjoyable.
In addition to doing a lot of different tasks, I also worked in a lot of different locations. I really appreciated the chance to see more of the unique landscape of Australia and was intrigued by all the different urban areas and townships I visited. Living in Melbourne is the first time I’ve ever lived in a city rather than just visiting it. Inspired by a completely new environment, I signed up for the Sound, Sight, and Sentiment: Phenomenology of Place co-op course, which allowed me to engage with my new home in different ways by thinking more critically about what defines ‘place’ and, more specifically, what gives ‘place’ a distinctive meaning.
Part of the course involved assignments that asked us to think about who is inhabiting a place, what kind of sounds fills the space, and what generally defines it. These were really interesting assignments because they gave me the chance to examine the neighborhoods and parts of the city. One of the easiest aspects of the course was meeting the people that lived in these various locations. Finding the young and old, the Eastern European, the Southeast Asian, or the Middle Eastern populations led me throughout the city and made me think about why these communities have formed in these specific locations and what brought them to Melbourne. By doing this, I met a ton of different people with diverse backgrounds and was able to interact with various perspectives on today’s global issues. It was incredibly interesting to discuss issues like the environment, refugees, and the United States election with people who had contrasting experiences and ideals than me, some of which I had never interacted with before. Often, I found myself thinking of the similarities and differences between the United States and Australia. As I went on this journey, I documented some of the places I met people, and some of the conversations we had, on an interactive map, which can be found here.
As I saw the way neighborhoods change with the inhabitants, I started to think that ‘place,’ and what makes it unique, comes primarily from the people who utilize the place. I began to define places less by what was there and more by who was currently there. Even my workplace, and my home in Melbourne, changed and was redefined as different people cycled through the location. I found the importance of surrounding myself with people who support you and make you a better person. Where you are is less important than who you’re with, and that is reflected in how places are determined by those in them and the perspectives and experiences they bring with them.
Just as Melbourne is defined by the people here, Antioch is defined by the students there. While we talk about Antioch shaping students and being a base of operations, it is important to remember that we shape Antioch just as it shapes us. We are not defined by Antioch; instead, we have the chance to define and redefine it each time we return to campus, and I’m eager to see what new experiences my fellow classmates bring back to campus as we, yet again, redefine our place at Antioch.
Photo credit: ISTOCK PHOTO/SHARROCKS