Grad student fellows and undergrad assistants

Graduate Student Fellows

Tom Devitt

Tom Devitt
Graduate student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from University of Texas at Austin, Masters degree from Louisiana State University
Berkeley High School

“Generally, I’m interested in the ecology, evolution and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. For my dissertation research, I’m investigating geographic variation and speciation in a group of local salamanders, the Ensatina eschscholtzii complex. I’m excited about working with the K-12 program because it offers the perfect opportunity to integrate my research and experience with education. One of my goals as a biologist is to enrich young people’s lives by connecting them with nature. We’re fortunate at Berkeley in having some of the most comprehensive natural history collections in the world available for research and education, and I hope that we can more actively integrate them into education through programs such as the K-12 project.”

Ryan Hill

Ryan Hill
Graduate student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from University of Oregon, Masters degree from University of Texas at Austin
Berkeley High School

“I am interested in the natural history, ecology and evolution of a group of butterflies that reside in Central and South America. What attracts me to studying these butterflies is that they are unpalatable to vertebrate predators and exhibit a wide range of color patterns that range from bright reds, yellows and orange combined with black, to transparent wings with little color. These color patterns function in part to warn predators that the butterflies are unprofitable prey.”

Crissy Huffard

Crissy Huffard
Graduate Student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from Long Island University, Southampton College
Pittsburg High School

“Ever since I was a child, I've loved mucking around outside to learn about how animals live their lives. I am excited to share my enthusiasm for natural history with students in the K-12 program, and it is my goal to help them to become confident and responsible naturalists with an appreciation for biodiversity and the environment. For my dissertation, I am describing the behavior and ecology of a small, intertidal octopus species found in the tropical Pacific Ocean, so that we may one day understand their evolution.”

Brian Kraatz

Brian Kraatz
Graduate Student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, Masters degree from University of Wyoming
Adams Middle School

“I am a vertebrate paleontologist. I study really old, really dead things. My focus is mammals, and broadly I’m interested in what types of things drive evolution. More specifically I study pikas, which are most closely related to rabbits but smaller and cuter if you can believe it. My research involves the earliest members of this group and I’m interested in how, why,and when they split from their “not-as-cute” ancestors. Most of the fossils I work on are from Asia, which is where all the action really happened in this story.
“I’ve worked with middle and high school students for three years. It’s a challenge I greatly enjoy. I’ve had the chance to work with rural Wyoming students and inner-city Chicago students and what I’ve learned, among many, many other things, is that it’s not too hard to get someone exicted about getting outside and digging up fossils no matter where they’re from.”

Jen Skene

Jen Skene
Graduate Student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from Brown University
Adams Middle School

“My research focuses on marine ecology. I work in the marine intertidal, and I am studying the factors that determine the distribution of Pelvetiopsis limitata, a brown alga that lives on California's rocky shores. I am looking at how conspecific neighbors, herbivores, and physical conditions influence where this species can live. I am also interested in conservation and the causes and effects of climate change. When I am not doing research, I like to travel, read, and go rock climbing.”

Joe Spagna

Joe Spagna
Graduate Student, UC Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Division of Insect Biology; Bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College (Biology and Philosophy)
Richmond High School

“My field of study is the evolution of mechanical systems of arthropods— how they run, how they catch prey, etc, and to develop and test hypotheses about how these features evolved. I am particularly interested in spiders and insects, and how they have become so successful in terrestrial environments. To study this, there are two main things I do: the first is to establish the pattern of relatedness for the animals, called their phylogeny, or ‘evolutionary tree,’ using their genetics and morphology. Then, I study their biological characteristics to better understand the processes that may have led to the phylogenetic pattern. When not researching and teaching about bugs, I like to play with my family, watch sports, cook, make bad jokes, and read.”

Meredith Thomsen

Meredith Thomsen
Graduate student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors degree from Carleton College; major in Biology, concentration in Environmental Sciences
Adams Middle School

“My dissertation research focuses on determining what makes certain areas of CA coastal prairie grasslands vulnerable to invasion by Holcus lanatus (Velvet grass), a European species that forms dense stands and forces out native plants. In my career, I would like to integrate basic ecological research with education. Teaching in the natural sciences lets me share a knowledge of the process of science, an understanding of what causes the patterns we see at all levels in nature, and an appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the world around us. I am excited about the K-12 outreach program because it gives me the opportunity to learn effective teaching techniques for younger students and how to use natural history museum materials in education.”

Matt Wedel

Matt Wedel
Graduate student, UC Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology; Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Oklahoma
El Cerrito High School

“I am interested in the relationship between an organism’s development and its evolutionary history. I’m working on pneumatic (air-filled) bones in dinosaurs and birds. The only pneumatic bones in humans are our sinuses, but in many birds and dinosaurs other parts of the skeleton are also filled with air. What especially interests me is that the development of pneumaticity in birds parallels its evolution in dinosaurs. My goal in the GK-12 program is to show students that science is accessible. We are all embedded in the living world, and you don’t need a Ph.D. to understand and appreciate the living things around you.”
Webpage: http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/people/padian/people.html

 

Undergraduate Assistants

Kacey

Kacey Ballard
Fourth year undergraduate student: IB major, Art History minor
Berkeley High School

“Ever since my childhood camping trips, I have loved learning about the outdoors. My interests in the natural sciences have taken me many places: from UCMP where I have worked for three years, to the deserts of Arizona and Utah on a paleontology field expedition, to the neuroscience laboratory where I am now working on my senior thesis research. I am thrilled to now share my enthusiasm for biology with others through the GK-12 program. Last year I watched from behind the scenes while building the web site, and now I am eager to work with students in the classroom and the field.”

Hilary

Hilary Benson
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student
Berkeley High School

No photo and biography.

Amy

Amy Gee
Fourth year undergraduate student: Molecular Environmental Biology major
Pittsburg High School

“I’m a 4th year undergrad majoring in Molecular Environmental Biology and will be graduating this semester. Working with the Exploring California Biodiversity Project has definitely allowed me to further appreciate the beauty of our environment. I find myself learning alongside my students as I am trying to guide them in understanding more of our natural history. I want to experience more of the world, so anything related to travel and wandering around is top priority, but don’t worry, because I will return and satisfy my interests in environmental law and policy.”

Ellie

Ellie Knecht
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student
Richmond High School

No photo and biography.

Trevor

Trevor Miller
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student
Berkeley High School

“I’m a third year student at UC Berkeley majoring in environmental science. I grew up in Placerville, CA a small town just east of Sacramento, but more importantly just west of Lake Tahoe where I like to spend my winters skiing. I hope to someday either work in marine biology or as a veterinarian. As long as I can remember I’ve tried to immerse myself in the outdoors as much as possible. Berkeley is by far the most urban place I’ve ever lived and I love the fact that this program seeks to expose students who grew up here to the incredibly beautiful and diverse environments just a few hours outside the city. I’ll be spending this next semester studying abroad in Australia, but this program has helped me to realize that the forests of Northern California have just as much to offer as the rainforests of Australia.”

Darren

Darren Ng
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student: Molecular Environmental Biology major
El Cerrito High School

“What can I say about Biology? Its fun and its great! At the moment, I’m majoring in Molecular Environmental Biology and my interest is the utilization of molecular techniques to solve ecological problems, particularly transgenic mosquitoes to resist malaria. I come from sunny Southern California at a town called Monterey Park. What I love about biology is that it is all around us. Animals and plants are adapted to their environments; different species have similar morphologies yet are unique to their own niche; organisms evolve with attributes that enable them to live.”

Catherine

Catherine Sweere
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student
Pittsburg High School

No photo and biography.

Jack

Jack Tseng
UC Berkeley Undergraduate Student: Integrative Biology major
Adams Middle School

“I am interested in how animals are equipped for aggression and destruction. I also have a soft spot for cute mammals. These are the reasons my undergraduate research projects are focused on 1: What makes marine crustaceans called mantis shrimps really mad and want to destroy things, and 2: How tiny teeth can be used to tell the relatedness of different species of fossil pocket mice. I love to be in the field and observe nature, because I think appreciation for nature comes only after one learns to see how it works. In the GK-12 program, I get to share with students the satisfaction of seeing nature in action.”

 

Previous Years

Student profiles for 2003–2004 Graduate Fellows and Undergraduate Assistants

 
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