A classroom without walls

Class at Bodega Marine Reserve
The Bodega Marine Reserve is one of several field sites visited by students in the California Ecology and Conservation course, offered through the UC Natural Reserve System. (Photo by Don Croll)

Imagine studying California's richly diverse landscapes, from sea to Sierra — and not in the confines of a classroom, but right in the thick of the actual habitat.

That's exactly what the immersive California Ecology and Conservation course offers. Students from across the UC system spend seven weeks living and learning at UC's natural reserves, in habitats ranging from rocky coast and freshwater marsh to oak savanna, conifer forest, and desert.

Participants learn about plant and animal ecology, conservation science, climate, California ecosystems and more.

The course, offered by UC's Natural Reserve System for the first time this fall, is akin to study abroad in reverse: Students are immersed in a "foreign" culture that's right at hand. And much like one might practice language skills and observe customs in another country, participants get the opportunity to practice field techniques and observe the environment in preparation for scientific research.

This term, the course is taught by Blake Suttle (who will lead next term's course), Don Croll and Gage Dayton from UC Santa Cruz. It is open to undergraduates from any UC campus – but don't delay: Enrollment (capped at 27 students) for the spring 2016 course closes Oct. 30.

Michael May, a fifth-year student at UC San Diego, "thought [the course] would end up being a sheltered version of what actual ecologists do." Far from it: "We have been thrown right into the life of a field ecologist," he said.

Classmate Hannah Spinner, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, agreed. "I’ve never learned so much in such a short time with such incredible people," she said. "The first day at the Angelo Coast Reserve, we thought of, executed, and presented a small research project to a class. In any other class this would take days."

Enroll now
California Ecology and Conservation is open to undergraduates from all nine undergraduate campuses. Enrollment (capped at 27) for the spring 2016 course is open through Oct. 30. Upon completion, students will earn 19 quarter units or 15 semester units (with an extra project). Applications are available online.