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Research and Reflections: Ruud ’18 at UC Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, CA

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.

Plant test plots at Elkhorn Slough

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.

Crab cages at Elkhorn Slough

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.

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Jen Ruud is an Antioch College Horace Mann Fellow. Coming to Ohio from Colorado, Jen is passionate about exploring new ecosystems and continuing to understand the environment around her.

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