A colorful illustration of a tidepool, with a gloved hand reaching in towards purple urchins, orange sea stars, green anemones, and other creatures.
Artwork by Keila Alejos

The Pathways Program

A Research Experience Based on Discovery and Diversity

Quick Summary

  • The Pathways Program at the Bodega Marine Laboratory is a unique experience that expands STEM education. Transfer students who complete the program say they feel more emotionally in tune with their peers and their personal goals.
Three people standing next to a window with light streaming in on them.
From left to right, Mandy Rousseau (Marine and Coastal Sciences & Earth and Space Sciences Academic Advisor), Dr. Claire McKinley, and Dr. Alyssa Griffin.

“Everyone is inherently valuable,” states Dr. Claire McKinley, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Bellevue College, “there has to be room for students coming from different places with different perspectives.” Paired with Dr. Alyssa Griffin, Assistant Professor of Biogeochemistry at UC Davis, the two foster a welcoming environment at the Bodega Marine Laboratory.

“Geosciences are the least ethnically, racially and gender diverse of the STEM fields. There's a real opportunity, but also a challenge to change that,” states Griffin.

The Pathways Program, funded by California Sea Grant, offers the opportunity for incoming transfer students to feel more prepared before attending UC Davis.

Less Traditional Does Not Mean Less Capable

Griffin and McKinley are familiar with the challenge of entering a new environment due to their own experiences. As educators, they are supportive of all intersections and acknowledge the challenges that transfer students face when entering a university.

Griffin studied music as an undergraduate, beginning, “my college applications were auditions—this is not what I wanted to do. I felt super lost because it was all I prepared for for over half my life.” Deciding to experiment with STEM courses was a difficult mental battle for her. “I assumed that I was bad at it because I had never applied myself to math or science,” she adds. She settled on a geology course, initially hearing that it was easy, and fell in love.

 

Student Experience: Cassioppeia Snyder Webb, 2nd year transfer, Geology

Cassioppeia has never conducted research before this experience and felt she would be out of place entering the program as a geology major. “But that was not true at all,” she recalls, “this experience definitely helped sculpt a mission in my undergraduate career.” 

Cassioppeia appreciates the bond with her mentor as she helped him conduct research to fossilize flatworms. “I helped collect eggs, feed the [flatworms], and keep their habitats clean. We would also read articles and he would give me mini lectures to help me gain a better understanding of what we were doing.” ​​​

 

In that class, Griffin recalls, “I had an amazing teacher instill the confidence to pursue something that I'd never thought I'd be interested in doing—or even be capable of doing.” She hopes to help other students who may feel the same paralysis of thinking they are incapable of achieving their goals.

McKinley’s path was also less traditional—she began her undergraduate studies as a political science major. She had little training in science, explaining, “I came from being a high school volunteer at a summer camp in an environmental education program. That was most of the earth science curriculum I got.”

 

A view of Horseshoe Cove, with picnic tables covered with brightly colored tablecloths in the foreground.
View from the lunch tables at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, looking out at the Bodega Marine Reserve.

 

After discovering a passion for science, she became fascinated in the different pathways that people take to achieve their goals. McKinley shares that, “I was always motivated to get other people to find interest in the environment.” She believes inclusion in STEM education is incredibly important, “just because a student isn't going to be successful in one environment, doesn't mean that they might not be successful in a different one.”

What Pathways Seeks

For three weeks, six to eight students who are interested in marine science have a paid opportunity to connect in an inclusive environment at the Bodega Marine Laboratory.

McKinley says, “every undergraduate was matched with a graduate student and a lab that aligned close to their interests.” Not only did students learn more about their research interests, but also about the challenges in research, “like how slow science can go sometimes,” explains McKinley.

 

Student Experience: Emma Pacheco, 1st year transfer, Marine and Coastal Science emphasizing Biology

A formative experience for Emma was spawning sea urchins. She shares, “I’ve never done anything like this before. The whole procedure itself was fascinating, and it will be something that I will remember forever.”

Everyone is still learning new things—everyone was treated equally, we felt like colleagues. she adds, “If I did not know something in particular, they would go over the concept as many times as needed.”

“I feel more experienced in my major, as well as being confident that I chose the right career path.”

 

Griffin also adds that, “each week we had tea time with the undergraduate students as an opportunity for them to ask questions they were interested in.” They also provided students with skills in emailing professors and engaging in presentations. “Those skills are [often] treated as ‘sink or swim’,” suggests Griffin. She hopes to minimize this extreme perception and to support the self-confidence of incoming transfer students in a breadth of topics.

 

A collage of three images that show marine invertebrates and scientists interacting with them.
Left: Graduate Mentor Christopher Mulligan, and Pathways Visiting Scientist Cassiopeia Snyder Webb. They are looking at invertebrates in one of the research tanks at the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Center: Invertebrates found in one of the research tanks in the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Right: Graduate mentor Jordan Colby explaining the anatomy of a mussel to a group of students, including Pathways Visiting Scientists Jasper Jacobs and Emma Pacheco.

 

Along with these more technical skills, Griffin and McKinley are adamant about the role of community for transfer students. Griffin remarks that, “these students are going from complete strangers to going out to dinners with each other and taking selfies at sunset.” They were amazed by how close the students grew over such a short period of time. 

The professors express that approaching education with empathy is crucial for these connections to form.

“I have long felt that the empathy piece is missing from a lot of STEM faculty,” expresses McKinley, “ it's something that's needed to [feel safe], and that means that I bring more of my authentic self into teaching”

On a deeper level of meaningful connection, Griffin explains, “when you're talking about anything outside of the norm, there's this sort of hesitation.” She felt that the students overcame these social boundaries and formed friendships with their mentors and peers. She says that the students bonded as, “a network of folks that could have [difficult] conversations with one another knowing that they're already on the same page.”

Students can learn more about the Pathways Program and application details by reaching out to their undergraduate advisor. For more inclusive opportunities in discovery and education, visit California Sea Grant for a list of projects across California.


About the Author:

Elijah Valerjev, UC Davis class of 2024, is a Molecular and Medical Microbiology major with an Education and Professional Writing double minor. Interested in science communication, he enjoys the storytelling aspect of science writing, and is especially interested in connecting research topics to societal issues. Elijah works as board editor for the Aggie Transcript Undergraduate Research Journal, in addition to his work for the CMSI. In his spare time, he can be found enjoying his hobbies which include boxing, fiction writing and watching movies.

About the Illustrator:

Keila Alejos began her undergraduate studies at UC Davis in 2023. She aspires to combine both her passion for art and narrative illustrations with the insight of science or historical eras. Motivated by the opportunities at UC Davis, she is determined to learn and grow as both a scientist and artist with CMSI. Aside from the work being done for CMSI she also enjoys drawing her own series and ideas. On her days off, She often enjoys playing her bass, reading comic books, or her personal favorite, listening to loud music.

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