The Arboretum, which offers one of the first pilot programs of the California Naturalist Program (CNP), is delighted to highlight students who graduated from or participated in the program. 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.
Mary Simonis, a recent graduate of the UCSC CNP, gladly shares her experiences.
Why did you get involved in CNP?
I got involved in the CNP my fourth year of college after taking a restoration ecology course and interning at the UCSC Arboretum. As an undergraduate, I mainly focused on the social sciences of environmental studies. After completing restoration ecology and the interactive ecology internship, my thoughts and interests in natural history were turned upside-down. I felt that it was pertinent for every environmental studies major to grasp onto how the natural world works and to experience it firsthand, not just focus on the social or economic aspect. Brett Hall, in particular, inspired me to look deeper into nature and realize how significant California's biodiversity is and its role in society. And so, I thought the CNP would be a great way to gain a breadth of knowledge.
What were your experiences in CNP?
I honestly did not expect the CNP to be filled with a diverse group of people. I expected a room full of college students all ready and excited to learn. What I found in my CNP was a group of intelligent and bright individuals of all ages ready to become California naturalists. Everyone was incredibly helpful and brought so much of their own knowledge to the table, whether it be about herpetology, bird watching, or geology. Their excitement, passion, and knowledge steadily passed onto me, a novice. I encourage everyone who is interested, beginner or not, to join the program. CNP covers a broad range of information—something for everyone—and information on how to become a naturalist. The field trips, especially, enhanced the program and the learning experience.
Some advice: keep a notebook that is easy to carry around, take legible notes, don't be shy, ask a bunch of questions, observe, observe, observe, take pictures, have fun!
How do you use, or intend to use, CNP in projects, events, activities?
I will carry my CNP experience with me wherever I go. Currently, I am working on creating a butterfly garden at a historic ranch park called the Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch in San Jose, California. I will use this project to educate park visitors about the local butterflies in our area and the dwindling monarch population. It has been an amazing and rewarding experience so far, and I don't think I would have created this project if it weren't for the encouragement and resource of the California Naturalist Program.