The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum offers one of the first pilot programs of the California Naturalist Program (CNP). Utilizing a combination of science curriculum, guest lecturers, field trips, and project-based learning, this intensive certification program introduces students to the wonders of California’s unique ecology and encourages engagement in the stewardship of our natural communities. CNP's goal is to train a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education, and restoration. Students learn what it means to be a naturalist; how to integrate knowledge about the interconnectedness of abiotic, biotic and cultural factors and their influence on the natural history of the central coast; how to record natural history observations; and how to apply knowledge of central coast ecosystems to local and global environmental issues.
Darrow Feldstein, a recent graduate of the UCSC CNP, was contacted by the Arboretum and enthusiastically agreed to share his experiences. Originally from Los Angeles, Feldstein did not grow up connected to nature. After having his mind opened to the beautiful intricacies of the natural world during college, he set out to ensure that more young people have an opportunity to connect with their surroundings.
In 2012, he graduated from the UCSC Environmental Studies department with a degree focused on natural history and education. His passion for understanding the natural world has taken him all around the globe to immerse himself in deep, wild places. Feldstein has taught seasonally for a variety of nature education programs, including the Natural History Field Quarter and Wilderness Orientation program at UC Santa Cruz. He has also worked as an assistant reserve steward for the UCSC Upper Campus Natural Reserve and as a natural history and nature awareness instructor for an alternative elementary school, the Riekes Center, in Santa Cruz. Recently, Feldstein has spent his time working in Yosemite National Park as a field biologist studying the alpine habitats of Sierra Bighorn Sheep and American Pikas and the populations of California Spotted Owls and Great Gray Owls.
Why did you get involved in CNP?
As an Environmental Studies student who had taken advantage of the various natural history opportunities on the UCSC campus, such as Sierra Institute, Natural History Field Quarter, Wilderness Orientation, the UCSC Recreation Department, I was seeking to continue my naturalist journey after graduation. CNP seemed like a great way to stay involved with the naturalist community and to push myself to continue my personal learning after college. The opportunity to learn from experts in the field and to learn about current natural history work being done was inspiring and exciting.
What were your experiences in CNP?
I expected to learn a lot which I did. I really enjoyed our field trip to meet the forestry steward up near the come property. She was very inspiring. It sometimes felt like the course wasn't super organized and that one could get by without doing much. A little more structure or formed classmate support systems could have helped the cause. If folks are considering the program, I would recommend it. They'll learn a lot. They will learn more if they go the extra mile and meet up with classmates in their free time to share nature stories, interesting articles, or just casual jaunts in the environment.
How do you use, or intend to use, CNP in projects, events, activities?
My capstone project for the course was what is now called The Bird School Project (BSP), which is a hands-on, environmental education program that I run year-round. The program takes binoculars, field journals, bird specimens, and knowledgeable UCSC interns into local schools to take kids outside and engage them with their local birds and habitats. It is a 5-week long life science curriculum and works with about 2000 students each year.