Webster Fellows Program

The Webster Fellows Program is an award of up to $3000 is being offered due to a generous gift from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation. The award is for registered UCSC undergraduate students who are currently doing or planning to do a senior internship or thesis (minimum two-quarter project) that promotes collaborations between the Norris Center for Natural History at UCSC and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History (Museum). For more information see the Student Award section of our education webpage

Current Webster Fellows

Maria Velazquez: Interactive Education about Dynamic Marine Ecosystems

maria velazquez in a tropical forestDynamic Marine Ecosystems is a hybrid project between a mobile museum and an enrichment activity designed for the elementary and middle school students of Nueva Vista Community Center. The Pacific Ocean, beaches, intertidal pools, vast redwood forests, grasslands and many other ecosystems that surround Santa Cruz have instilled in me a sincere appreciation for the natural world. I now have a strong desire to make natural history and science available to Latino students. Creative learning spaces provide an avenue for students to engage in deep thinking and to increase their interest and career aspirations in math and science. However, spaces that facilitate and encourage students to observe their natural surroundings and to think critically about observations are often not available to Latino students. While this economic barrier hinders opportunities for learning from and immersing one-self in nature, it simultaneously stresses the importance of interactive education. As such, I intend to encourage students to investigate and explore marine ecosystems through observation based inquiry, enhancing critical thinking skills while inspiring student curiosity for marine research and stewardship. I am determined to enhance Latino participation in science and conservation by exposing younger generations to marine education through art and natural history.

Deanna Davidson: Backyard Ranger Nature Journals

deanna with a rock on her headResearch shows that children develop a deep connection to nature and sustainable attitudes as adults when they are able to explore a natural area around them on a regular basis and develop a strong relationship with this place. My project, titled “Backyard Nature Ranger”, will involve creating a printable nature journal for the “Nature Rangers” program that will include prompts and activities that follow up on concepts taught through the field trip and that are aligned with 4th grade NGSS standards. The journal will take an interdisciplinary approach and incorporate many subjects, encouraging students to see how nature is connects to everything they are learning. I will also be creating a teacher’s guide to nature journaling which will include curriculum and material lists to go along with some of the activities and prompts in the journal as well as general tips and tools for incorporating nature journaling into teaching. By contextualizing theis project to the local Santa Cruz area and specifically to where children spend most of their day, I hope to help students develop a deep connection and appreciation for their home.

Brian Johnson: Collections Management and Saving the World Through Specimens

brian johnson holding lava rocksNatural History Museum’s have a unique responsibility of protecting and preserving our knowledge of the natural world.  At the base of this knowledge is the specimen and its data. As time moves on, old specimens become more important for countless reasons and in ways never thought of when they were originally preserved. Thus it is important ensure these specimens and data are well kept. Old specimens may become lost as data tags break off, disappear into collections drawers, or become dirty and damaged. My project will be working in collaboration with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, specifically their Bird and Mammal collections. I will be checking inventory, taking notes on the specimens condition, cleaning the specimens when needed, checking available data tags, digitizing the specimens through photos, inputting associated data into a database, and determining the best storage. The goal is to create a guide for museums to use to teach collections staff or interns proper collections management. The guide will include information on how to clean, handle, and store these collections. 

Previous Webster Fellows

Julianna Valdez: The Field Journal: An Exploration of the Natural World

julianna valdez smiling in sunglasses at a table outsideI believe that interest and passion for the earth is what leads to responsible stewardship. I believe the first steps to improvement begin with curiosity and respect for the natural world. In collaboration with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History I am creating a workshop that inspires this curiosity through field journaling and observation.  Field journaling is a great way for students of all backgrounds and interests to explore the natural world. By making these basic scientific skills like field journaling more accessible to diverse demographics we can create a larger community of intelligent, skilled naturalists with compassion for the earth.

Aliya Cacanindin: Bringing Nature to Santa Cruz Residents

Aliya CacanindinAs we grow older, we rely more and more heavily on informal learning—learning outside of the classroom, outside of school. Museums have the unique ability of providing this style of learning, not only to children but to adults. I worked with the Education team of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History to create a guide for future docents, to learn how to interact with the public during Mobile Museum Exhibits, and bring science collections directly to families of Santa Cruz. I presented these mobile exhibits at Santa Cruz Farmer's Markets and festivals. In support of future mobile exhibits, I documented the specimens contained in our Education collection, which will make it easier for future docents and future education teams to create new and interesting mobile exhibits. By empowering future docents, I hope to encourage the growth of informal learning, not only through the museum but for each individual or family that we have the pleasure to meet. 


Sofia Vermeulen: The Beauty and Natural History of Bees of the Central Coast

sofia vermeulens headThe natural history project titled "The Beauty and Natural History of Bees of the Central Coast" is an art-science interdisciplinary collaboration between UCSC graduate students Hamutahl Cohen and Juniper Harrower and UCSC undergraduate student Sofia Vermeulen. Hamutahl Cohen has spent five years working with gardeners to study the diversity, biology, and decline of bee populations along the central coast of California. Sofia, with the help of funds from the Webster fellows program, joined the project and worked closely with Hamutahl to design a book featuring aver 25 of student's artwork and poetry celebrating California's native bees. The book highlights the amazing diversity, beauty and ecology of the wild bee species while also painting the problem of bee population decline. The published books are available for sale at the Norris Center as well as on Amazon. The funds from the Webster Fellows award was also used to frame 10 of the student and faculty bee illustrations, which were then hung at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum's annual exhibit, The Art of Nature show. The book the beautiful illustrations will serve as a reminder of how important and beautiful our native bees are. Click here for information on how to order the book.

Maggie Hames: Digitizing and Curating SCMNH's Collection of Indigenous Basketry

maggie hames' face

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is home to a beautiful and expansive collection of Indigenous basketry which represent a priceless collection of baskets which are both culturally and historically significant. Over the last two quarters, I have been working on a project that has focused primarily on the digitization of this collection. The bulk of my work consists of inventorying items, and entering catalog card information into a searchable database. I have also been including additional information about materials, techniques and location based on my research and in consultation with experts. Another significant component to this work involved comprehensive object photography of the items to accompany their database entries. As I work with the baskets, I have been completing conditions assessments, and when possible, have created storage trays for the more delicate or damaged objects. Lastly, the SCMNH has shared some of the more unique baskets on social media to create greater public interest and awareness. To date I have cataloged and photographed more than 160 baskets. Upon the completion of this project, I will also be submitted a research guide to the collections and the work I have been doing.