UC Merced Connect: Using llamas in park research

November 20, 2012 

— Graduate student Kaitlin Lubetkin and several sure-footed assistants spent much of the summer in Yosemite National Park.

Her frequent hiking companions were Toronado and Bravo -- llamas who shouldered up to 100 pounds of equipment. The pack animals were critical to her continued research on conifer tree encroachment into subalpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada.

"They make it possible to do those longer trips," Lubetkin said.

Lubetkin is a University of California, Merced engineering graduate student and doctoral candidate with an interest in botany, plant ecology and Sierran ecosystems. She's been studying conifer encroachment -- mainly by lodgepole pines -- into meadows, and how that can impact hydrology.

Her work received a boost this year from the Natural Reserve System's Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant program. The $2,900 award supports Lubetkin's dissertation research in Yosemite.

Engineering Professor Anthony Westerling, whose research areas include climate change, said Lubetkin is a dedicated field researcher who is organized and driven.

"The work she is doing is extremely important for our understanding of how climate change is affecting these important resources, which influence water flows downstream in the summer time," Westerling said.

"Her work contributes to our understanding of what our treasured Sierran landscape will look like in the decades to come, and how we should best manage this resource," he said.

Lubetkin, of Placerville, is in her fifth year at UC Merced. She hopes to finish in 2014.

In 2007, Lubetkin earned her bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. She wanted to continue her education, and UC Merced was a natural choice.

Student self-sufficiency

Students who visit UC Merced's Students First Center will see it's different from other student services offices.

For one thing, the computers can turn around to face students, letting them learn to accomplish unfamiliar tasks -- not just watching someone do it for them.

"We hope to be the place students remember for teaching them how to be self-sufficient," center director Lisa Perry said.

The center focuses on teaching students to use tools such as the MyUCMerced portal and their UC Merced e-mail address to stay up on important deadlines and opportunities. Eventually, students learn to find their own answers and solve or even avoid problems related to their college education. In the meantime, the center can help.

"Our staffers are cross-trained in admissions, financial aid, registrar-related issues and billing," Perry said. "Customers can come to us for assistance in any of these areas."

That makes the center a "one-stop shop," a relatively new concept in student services. Perry said the UC Merced center is the oldest one-stop shop in the UC system, having started when the campus opened in 2005. UC Riverside has started a similar operation, and UC Berkeley is building its own one-stop shop.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, e-mail communications@ucmerced.edu.

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