Two Alumnae Join The Diversity Project at UCLA to Study Marine Science
Two recent graduates of Santa Ana College (SAC) spent summer 2023 in the French Polynesia, scuba diving and conducting underwater marine biology research at the Gump South Pacific Research Station on the island of Mo'orea.
Bailey Franco and Ruth Viveros-Martir took part in the life-changing experience thanks to SAC Biology Professor Kimo Morris, Ph.D., who encouraged them to apply and recommended them for The Diversity Project (TDP) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which aims to diversify the field of marine science. Franco and Viveros-Martir are the first community college graduates to take part in TDP.
Franco recently transferred to UCLA where she is majoring in Marine Biology, and Viveros-Martir is studying Marine Science at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Dr. Morris said he told TDP organizers that Franco and Viveros-Martir “are exactly who The Diversity Project wants," in terms of diverse backgrounds and experiences and would benefit from the opportunity of high-level field research, since many community college students who transfer to four-year universities to study science arrive without valuable research experience.
“Even when our students are determined, those in community college who are interested in research as a career, by the time they transfer as juniors, they arrive behind students who are already volunteering in labs," Dr. Morris said.
Viveros-Martir and Franco became interested in marine science careers after taking Dr. Morris' classes at SAC, and both individuals majored in biology. Franco, graduated as a President's Scholar, completing the SAC Honors Transfer Program requirement.
Through TDP at UCLA, they received two weeks of basic diving training and completed additional training in diving research to earn certification by the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) while in the French Polynesia. Dr. Morris, who participated as one of the scientific dive training faculty, explained, “This is an actual category of scientific diving you must achieve to do research. We turned them into scientific divers."
Viveros-Martir and Franco designed and conducted marine research and interacted with other TDP students and top marine researchers from around the U.S. and French Polynesia and presented their findings at the August 2023 Academic Symposium at UCLA.
Read on for their reflections about the experience:
During my last semester at SAC in the Spring of 2022, I enrolled in Dr. Morris' Animal Diversity and Ecology class, which has always piqued my interest. Although originally a psychology major, I have always been interested in zoology and human anatomy. Little did I know how much of an impact this course and professor would have on my life. Dr. Morris introduced me to the field of marine biology and has since become one of my trusted mentors. He encouraged me to apply for TDP.
My experience abroad with TDP allowed me to feel like an actual marine biologist, not simply a student. Unlike other summer research programs, we had the unique opportunity to complete a student-led research project. Within small student groups, we worked as a team to develop our own hypotheses and methods to conduct research and data collection. As we explored the waters of Mo'orea, French Polynesia, my cohort and I were inspired to study the effects of anthropogenic (human-caused) stressors on the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). No collection is allowed in MPAs to prevent overfishing and its massive ecological impacts. My group laid transect lines along the ocean floor to survey the abundance of fish and vertebrate species in these MPAs. We studied stressors like increased water nutrients and sediment effects to determine if MPA status provides enough protection, or if another chemical, ecosystem wide approach is needed.
Participating in TDP as a community college alumna made the idea of pursuing marine research more accessible–both financially and educationally. Since growing my community of supportive peers and renowned faculty in this field, I can confidently say that I am prepared to conduct Ph.D.-level scientific research, and plan to pursue a Ph.D., after I graduate from UCLA.
Much of my success was due to the support of the dedicated faculty and staff at SAC. I especially want to thank everyone at the Transfer Center, Academic Counselor Haydee Gonzalez with the Honors Program, and Honors Coordinator Kathy Patterson as well as everyone with the Alpha Gamma Sigma Honor Society for their guidance. From clarifying the intricacies of transferring to creating a personalized plan for my educational and future goals, everyone I met along the way was always willing to help. Although transferring can seem daunting and complicated, SAC's faculty helped make my goals achievable, manageable and enjoyable. I fell in love with the community college system and absolutely adore SAC's community and culture. With small classes and supportive faculty, it is the best possible education to receive. After completing my Ph.D., I hope to have a full circle moment and become an educator at a community college.
When I first arrived at SAC, I didn't know what I wanted to study but followed my sister's path in medical assisting as a short-term career goal knowing that it would lead to a stable job. After completing the program, I started interning at a medical office where I quickly realized the medical field wasn't for me. During this time, I returned to SAC and started taking a marine biology class with Dr. Kimo Morris to see if I was interested in marine biology. Luckily, I was and it inspired me to pursue marine science.
Dr. Morris ended up having a profound influence in my life at SAC. After taking his class I reached out to tell him about my interest in studying marine science, and he helped me figure out how to get there. In December of 2022, Dr. Morris emailed me and encouraged me to apply to TDP. It was an incredible opportunity where we were able to design and carry out our own research in the French Polynesia in addition to getting American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) scientific diver certified, which would normally be paid out of pocket. My research team and I chose to study blue-green chromis, a small species of damselfish, to see if their habitat influenced how afraid they are of humans. We were diving three times a day, tracking the extent to which the fish retreated into coral heads and how much time it took for them to reemerge. My experience with TDP not only helped me build connections with people, but also pushed me in the direction of studying fish behavior. Before participating in the program, I wasn't sure what I could do with a marine science degree let alone what specific field I wanted to study.
I recently transferred to CSULB this Fall as a marine science major, and I hope to pursue marine conservation, marine studies, and education and outreach. I wouldn't have achieved my academic goals without the mentorship and guidance of my professors at SAC – Dr. Morris, Dr. Minhan Dinh-Mahavongtrakul and Shelly Moore – who all pushed me in the right direction, and SAC's Transfer Center and counselors who helped me manage the transfer process when applying to schools. When I was growing up, I really didn't think marine science was a viable career option, but SAC helped me get there, and I want to spread awareness that you can study something you love and be successful.
For More Information:
Students interested in marine biology at SAC and applying for The Diversity Project should contact Professor Kimo Morris for more information and prerequisites. His email is: Morris_Kimo@sac.edu.
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