Natural History Field Quarter

bunny-clubIn 1973, the late professor Kenneth Norris started a field-based environmental studies class called Natural History Field Quarter (NHFQ).

“We’re off on the greatest adventure of our lives!” he would exclaim as they piled into a big blue bus headed toward the Mojave Desert.

Over 40 years later, Natural History Field Quarter continues to promise great adventures, experiential learning, environmental connection and above all, an unforgettable experience for 28 UCSC undergraduates each spring.


NHFQ is a ten week, 15-unit course that is offered each spring through the Environmental Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. There are 4 trips, each anywhere from 7-12 days, that “follow the spring” to four different locations, including several UC reserves: the Granite Mountains in the Mojave Desert, Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve in Big Sur, the Angelo Coast Reserve in Mendocino County, the Santa Cruz Island Reserve, and a private site in the Mono Basin in the Eastern Sierra.

bigsur-journalingThe Curriculum

NHFQ strives to create connection between students and their environment through experiential-based education. The core teaching model is based on student observation, inquiry, and reflection about the natural world. This is supplemented with student presentations on the flora, fauna and resource management of each area, instructor knowledge and feedback, technical skills such as using a Jepson manual to key plants, and most importantly, detailed field journaling. From dawn until dusk, everything from describing a plant, composing poetry, sketching insects or researching land use history is recorded in the field journal. Students emerge from NHFQ as capable naturalists, ready to apply their skills as scientists, educators, writers, poets, artists, and ecologically-minded citizens.

sierra-scopingWho Can Take Field Quarter?

Natural History Field Quarter combines science, art, history, creative writing, environmental studies, politics and more. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, Field Quarter truly offers something for everybody as a learning experience. Enrollment is not restricted to Environmental Studies majors, even though it is offered through the Environmental Studies department. Talk with your major advisor to see how Natural History Field Quarter can fit in with your schedule, and check back in Fall 2015 for the Spring 2016 application.

olmstead-pointWhy Should You Do Field Quarter, Really?

NFHQ creates a foundation of environmental connection and education from which to build lifelong interests, careers, and friends. We learned through an alumni survey in 2012 that many NHFQ students credit their course as the pivotal undergraduate experience that led them into their post-college environmental careers.

NHFQ not only provides invaluable ecological and biological knowledge, but also creates friendships that last far beyond the ten weeks of the course. The Natural History community at UCSC is a thriving hub for NHFQ alumni as well as other naturalists on campus. Current students are able to network with their instructors and teaching assistants as well as an active community of hundreds of NHFQ alumni. The supportive, creative learning environment that makes Field Quarter so unique lives on in its alumni, their peers and their careers that they pursue long after graduating from UCSC.