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June 7, 2004

Undergrad makes the most of her two years at UCSC

By Jennifer McNulty

Arren Mendezona doesn’t want to graduate. For this transfer student from Sierra College outside Sacramento, two years at UCSC wasn’t enough.

Photo: Arren Mendezona
Arren Mendezona has embraced environmental restoration to help undo damage to the environment.
Photo: Jennifer McNulty

Profiles of other outstanding UCSC students are available online at http://www.ucsc.edu/students/profiles/

“I love it, I love everything,” said Mendezona, 22, who is graduating in June with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. “I feel like the time has gone really fast.”

Mendezona has used the time well, pursuing her interest in environmental restoration through a study-abroad program in Costa Rica, and taking extra classes to squeeze in as many environmental studies courses as possible.

She has helped conduct research for a study of global climate change, and oh yes, in her spare time she coordinates interpretive tours of UCSC’s upper campus, where visitors see firsthand the way the landscape has rebounded from logging a century ago.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Mendezona has embraced restoration as a tool to help undo environmental damage.

“The Philippines is very environmentally degraded,” she said. “There’s hardly any of the virgin forest left, and the coral reefs are in jeopardy. I felt restoration was a solution to the problems I saw around me as I was growing up.”

She moved with her family to the United States at the age of 18 after one year of college, and transferred to UCSC after two years at Sierra College.

“Restoration is really applicable to anything, but it’s crucial in the tropics,” said Mendezona. “It’s almost like playing God. You have to decide the level of restoration you’re after, and whether to let an area recover on its own or to push it. It’s complicated, very political, and very, very expensive.”

After two quarters on campus, Mendezona enrolled in the UC Education Abroad Program and spent spring quarter at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica, participating in the Tropical Biology and Conservation Program.

“Costa Rica reminded me of the Philippines in my dreams, before the degradation. They’re at the same latitude,” said Mendezona.

Students conducted independent research projects and presented their work during a symposium at the end of the term. “I’ve never gotten so much support in my life,” recalled Mendezona, who documented the return of saplings to a grazed pasture. “Each student had two faculty sponsors, and they were always helping us. They even delivered pizza to us at midnight.”

Returning to Santa Cruz, Mendezona “crashed” more environmental studies courses. “I feel like I’m more an environmental studies student than biology student, but I had more transfer credits for biology,” said Mendezona. “In environmental studies, they don’t just complain about environmental degradation, they do something about it.”

For her part, Mendezona coordinated public outreach for the UCSC Natural Reserve System. As a Chancellor’s Undergraduate Intern, she earned academic credit for her work with Natural Reserve director Margaret Fusari. As the coordinator of public tours of the upper campus, Mendezona helped ensure that school groups and visitors saw firsthand the power of environmental restoration.

“When you look at the campus today, it’s so beautiful, but it was heavily logged years ago--there are still old logging roads that cut through the redwood forest,” said Mendezona.

Another highlight of her senior year was taking Michael Loik’s Plant Physiology course and participating in a weekend research trip to the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory near Mammoth. In the heart of winter, she shoveled snow from shrubs to gather growth data for a longitudinal study of precipitation that’s part of a climate-change project.

Mendezona loved getting a chance to use state-of-the-art equipment, and she said fieldwork gives students unparalleled access to professors.

“It really creates a bond between professors and students,” she said. “I felt so incredibly lucky to be in that research station, and over the course of the weekend, he talked to every student in the class--about the class, about life, everything.”

After graduation, Mendezona will return to the Philippines to intern in a marine protected area in Cebu. Her long-term plans include graduate school in environmental studies.

Discussing her commitment to ecology, Mendezona described a moment during her field study in Costa Rica.

“I remember looking out over this vast forest, and my teacher said to me, ‘You know, 10 years ago, that used to be pasture.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, there is hope.’”

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