Sonoma State University hosts largest youth campus tour ever

Here’s an article in the Press Democrat about the outreach I took part in last week at SSU:

Photo from Press Democrat

Hundreds of elementary and middle school children swarmed the cafeteria, dorms, quads and halls of Sonoma State University Thursday for what’s becoming an annual tradition.

It’s the second year the Rohnert Park campus has hosted “I Am the Future Day” for the Sacramento nonprofit Roberts Family Development Center, which provides academic and other services to hundreds of economically disadvantaged children and their families. The event is intended to give children a “taste of college” to encourage them to pursue higher education.


You can read the entire article here:

Scientific Literacy

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 10.15.36 PMYou can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster. And I don’t mean just whether a politician is scientifically literate, but people who vote politicians into office.

~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

This is more relevant than ever right now, and it’s a very good motivation for me to remember that this is why I do what I do.

Western Pond Turtles Being Reintroduced to Southern Marin Park Sites

Originally posted on the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks Science and Learning Blog

The National Park Service has entered into a cooperative partnership with the San Francisco Zoo and Sonoma State University to reintroduce the western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) to Muir Beach and to sites in the Rodeo Lagoon watershed where it once lived. Western pond turtle populations have declined dramatically throughout the State of California in recent decades, including in Marin County. The species was last seen at Muir Beach in the 1990s.


Western pond turtles being raised at the San Francisco Zoo will be reintroduced at Muir Beach and Rodeo Lagoon. Photo by Jessie Bushell, San Francisco Zoo.
Western pond turtles being raised at the San Francisco Zoo will be reintroduced at Muir Beach and Rodeo Lagoon. Photo by Jessie Bushell, San Francisco Zoo.


The reintroduction effort will use eggs collected from donor sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s north district lands, which are managed by Point Reyes National Seashore. They will join seven juvenile turtles already at the zoo—five from eggs from a female killed on a road in southern Marin and two from eggs salvaged from a predated nest at a donor site in Tomales Bay. The hatchling turtles will be reared for one to two years at the zoo before being released.

The effort to locate these donor sites led to the first comprehensive survey for western pond turtles in Point Reyes and Golden Gate’s north district lands. Concurrent research by Sonoma State University will help us learn more about western pond turtle nesting behavior in a coastal environment. Long-term monitoring at the release sites will also provide critical information on survivorship and management needs for this species in a semi-urban environment.

Contact Golden Gate National Recreation Area Aquatic Ecologist Darren Fong to learn more about this project.

Western Pond Turtle Reintroduction Begins

Originally posted on the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks Science and Learning Blog

A program to reintroduce western pond turtles to sites at Golden Gate National Recreation Area from locations at Point Reyes National Seashore has launched! It will take place over the course of several years with the aim of reestablishing a self-sustaining turtle population in lower Redwood Creek, and possibly Rodeo Lagoon watershed. Recent National Park Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (GGNPC) surveys have not found western pond turtles at sites where they were previously recorded in southern Marin County. The project is a collaborative effort between the two national parks, GGNPC, Sonoma State University, and the San Francisco Zoo.

Western pond turtle in hand with a solar powered radio transmitter on its shell


The first stage of the project involves collecting eggs just prior to their expected date of hatching so that their sex can be determined by natural environmental conditions. The eggs will then be transferred from Point Reyes to Sonoma State University. Upon hatching, the baby turtles will be brought to SF Zoo to be reared and released the following year. Discovering intact nests is no easy task, however.  Nest predation is high, so nests are protected on site through the use of exclosures. Biologists are employing radio telemetry, affixing radio transmitters to potentially reproductive female turtles in order to track them to their nesting locations. Twenty-one turtles were tracked in the spring, though each of the two intact nests discovered and processed so far were found by ground search. Twelve nests were discovered in total. Transmitters are now being removed and set aside for re-use in the fall and next spring, and additional remote sensing techniques are being explored for easier and more accurate detection of nesting.

The reintroduction program represents an important milestone for local western pond turtle conservation. The western pond turtle is the Pacific Coast’s only native freshwater turtle, and its numbers have been declining throughout most of its wide range. Contributing factors include habitat loss, degradation, and/or fragmentation, competition and predation from nonnative species, and many other threats dating back to the commercial harvesting of the species in the 19th century. Already a Species of Special Concern in California, the species is also under review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The Art of Possibility

I had the opportunity to attend a couple of fantastic events this week sponsored by ieSonoma (Innovate, Educate, Sonoma).

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 6.46.56 PMOn Tuesday night, I attended the keynote address: “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander. He is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and he’s also an inspirational speaker who encourages a great deal of participation from his audience. Right from the start, he got us involved by inviting anyone who chose to do so to come up and sit on the stage with him. It seemed like a good idea, so my friend, Kandis, and I both decided to take him up on his offer. (You’ll see me in some of the photos below . . . I’m wearing a purple shirt). These photos were grabbed from the SSU Department of Education’s Flickr:

Rather than trying to describe his talk, I’ll just point you in the direction of this video – this is some of the same material he shared with us, and I highly recommend giving it a watch:

There are a few things I took away with me that seem worthwhile to share. For example, the rationale behind asking people to come sit on the stage went something like this: when people enter a room, and decide where to sit, it’s an indication of how they “show up” in their lives, and that people who make the choice to sit in the very front row are open to being exposed, rather than “hiding” by sitting farther back. Hearing that did give me some added motivation to get up and sit on the stage, when he offered that option.

I also really liked what he had to say about how we can empower others by the way we are in our lives. I think what stuck most was the idea that we can know that we’re reaching other people when their eyes “shine.” I do like the thought of asking myself, “How am I being right now, if my students’ eyes aren’t shining?”

My very favorite part, though, was near the end, when he encouraged everyone present to sing the “Ode to Joy” movement from Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken.
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Now, I can honestly say that I have sung onstage in the Green Music Center! Haha!

A complete photo album from the evening is available on the SSU School of Education’s Flickr: “The Art of Possibility


Intro Bio Student Comments

This semester, one of the questions I asked on the final exam (to give them a freebie) was to ask them their favorite organism that we looked at during the course. I’m posting a few of my favorite responses here.

I found this one particularly touching:


“Thank You. You’ve actually caught my interests in science, which I never felt smart enough for. You’re also one of the most understanding and empathetic professors I’ve had, which helped with my severe anxiety disorder.” 

This is so important to me. Being able to touch people’s lives in a positive way . . . well, that’s why I’m doing this. It feels really good to know that, at least some of the time, I’m hitting the mark.