Campus: UC Santa Cruz
Angelo Coast Range Reserve
Hastings Natural History Reservation
Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve
Santa Cruz Island Reserve
Sweeney Granite Mountains
Desert Research Center
For More Information:
Transect 21:1 (Spring 2003),
pg. 9: "Founder's UCSC Field Quarter has taught new ways of seeing to two generations of students" http://nrs.ucop.edu/Transect-Santa-Cruz.htm
The topographic extremes of the Big Sur coast provide a perfect laboratory for student field studies. The Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve includes rugged ridges, redwood forests, coastal scrub and grasslands, oak woodlands, and the rocky shoreline. The reserve extends one mile offshore into the Big Creek State Marine Reserve, where students practice scientific diving techniques.
Every site we visit is unique and filled with interesting things to observe. These students are bright, but they have very little field experience. They've mostly been in classrooms, studying policy or theory. Now they get to actually do science, and every bit of success they experience really encourages them. They realize they can figure things out.
-Breck Tyler, UC Santa Cruz
The course most identified with the history of the UC Natural Reserve System is UC Santa Cruz's Spring Natural History Field Quarter. Established by NRS founder Ken Norris in 1973, Field Quarter takes students on a natural history journey across the state. Though the exact itinerary changes from year to year, the trip always begins in the Mojave Desert at Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center and moves northward with stops that might include the Channel Islands at Santa Cruz Island Reserve, the Big Sur coast at Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve, the Carmel Valley at Hastings Natural History Reservation, and the redwoods of Mendocino County at Angelo Coast Range Reserve, before ending in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Norris's goal was to teach students how to observe critically and see patterns in nature. His philosophy is carried on today by Steve Gliessman and Breck Tyler. As Gliessman explains: "We put students in the field for an extended time, and they're able to disconnect from the daily pressures of life. By immersing themselves in a natural environment, they begin to slow down and take note of the environment in ways they just can't do otherwise."
Adds Tyler: "We start doing natural history as soon as we get up in the morning - observing, identifying, and thinking about the plants and animals around us. We continue to do natural history all day long, and we're still doing it at ten o'clock at night. And the students think that's great. They bring energy and curiosity to the task each day. They turn off the filters and take the time to understand what an organism is telling them."
Where students once all piled into a battered blue school bus for their journey, conducting natural history presentations as they traveled, today's students travel in the relative comfort of passenger vans. But even on the road, no time is wasted, as students work on their field journals, do background readings on the next habitat, or rehearse a presentation they'll make in camp that evening.
Field Quarter has been a life-changing experience for generations of students. "People come out really motivated in lots of different ways," explains Gliessman. "There's a powerful part of Field Quarter that makes them all naturalists, no matter what walks of life they enter in the future. Some choose to go into it head on and become involved in conservation projects or policies. Others just carry it with them into whatever career they choose. But the course changes the way they treat nature. It's wonderful to see. It's one of those transformational experiences that really works."