Teaching a field program amid a pandemic

Krikor Andonian and Tim Miller, instructors of the NRS’s California Ecology and Conservation program, deliver a report from the field on their Fall 2020 course. CEC program is one of relatively few UC classes being conducted in person right now, and is likely be the only one that will remain in its own social bubble for the entire quarter. The fact that students and staff can reside at isolated NRS reserves makes teaching this field program feasible.

CEC Fall 2020
The California Ecology and Conservation Fall 2020 cohort soon after arriving at Blue Oak Ranch Reserve to begin the term. Note everyone is wearing masks and maintaining their social distance. Image: Krikor Andonian

We have been living, working, eating, and learning together as a community for 14 days. Despite much concern over how to operate such a unique field course in the time of a pandemic, we have all been doing quite well and working together to make things as smooth as they could be.

The group is feeling incredibly grateful to be learning in-person and in nature, despite the occasional rattlesnake that visits our barn! Our COVID protocols have introduced a few new challenges, but despite slowing us down a bit, we have all grown accustomed to the culture of caution in order to facilitate this remarkable learning experience.

Student projects have been diverse and fruitful so far. A few groups have chosen to research the effects of the recent SCU Lightning Complex fires that burned many UC Natural Reserves, including half of Blue Oak Ranch Reserve. Students have been collecting data on how the fire has affected insect communities, squirrel behavior, and the presence of mammals. Other groups have been studying lichen distribution, bullfrog feeding behavior, ant foraging behavior, and the effects of disturbance on invasive plants.

Thursday, Oct. 15 was our first day as an officially COVID-free pod, when we shed our masks and distancing protocols. For the first time, all of us can interact as we would have before the world changed last winter.

CEC Fall 2020
This is a photo of the class gathering without masks for the first time in Blue Oak Ranch’s Cedar Barn. Students and staff will do their best to maintain a social bubble throughout the term. Image: Krikor Andonian

We wrapped up field research Thursday and shifted gears to begin data analysis. Students presented on their projects Friday.     

All in all, the first two weeks of this term have been remarkable, enriching, and rewarding. Next, we travel north to Angelo Coast Range Reserve to greet the redwoods, the Eel River, and its many pristine tributaries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *