For expert ecologist and conservationist, Jodi McGraw (Rachel Carson ’94, Environmental Studies and Biology), UCSC is an environmentalist’s paradise. With its massive redwoods, an onslaught of wild animals, and its stunning seascape—the immersive campus serves as a classroom both inside and outside.
While she was a student at UCSC, the environmental studies department encouraged McGraw to pursue her passions in conservation fieldwork. She graduated with a B.A. in environmental studies and biology and published a senior thesis that led her to pursue a Ph.D. in integrative biology at UC Berkeley.
“UC Santa Cruz is such a naturally beautiful campus; you’re basically studying in an ecological preserve in many ways,” McGraw said. “I had amazing professors and opportunities and a senior thesis that allowed me to chart my own path and do what I want in this field.”
While at UC Berkeley, McGraw began consulting on projects in the Bay Area, working with clients like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Santa Cruz County, and wrote her book—The Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan—for the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County while simultaneously working on her Ph.D. dissertation. Her expertise in conservation planning, habitat restoration, ecological research, GIS spatial analysis and cartography, and consultation has aided in protecting natural lands and species for decades.
With over 30 years of experience in the Santa Cruz mountains and beyond, McGraw has not only worked to protect the Santa Cruz environment, but has also ensured the growth of UCSC students and recent graduates looking for experience in restoration and conservation management fields.
Now an expert in the field, McGraw has stayed connected to the environmental studies department at UCSC and has provided essential field experience to upwards of 15 UCSC graduates and sponsored almost 50 interns over the past 15 years through her biological consulting firm—Jodi McGraw Consulting.
“Restoration Ecology, Conservation Biology, and Environmental Management sound ‘glamorous,’ and while most people enjoy the work, it isn’t necessarily for everyone,” McGraw said. “Our internships provide students the opportunity to try out a variety of components of the work and also see which they like the most and want to pursue for their academic or professional careers. Several of our interns have gone on to work in the field or pursue advanced degrees in restoration ecology, conservation biology, and similar fields.”
Ingrid Parker met McGraw at UC Berkeley. While McGraw was a Ph.D. student, Parker was a postdoc in the lab next door. The two UCSC alumni bonded over their time at the university and became good friends.
Now a professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC, Parker sends many of her students to work with McGraw.
“Over the years, I have had the privilege of sending a number of my best students to work with Jodi,” Parker said. “At UC Santa Cruz we train students in field methods like plant identification, vegetation survey techniques, statistical analysis, and writing, as well as careful observation and critical thinking skills. Jodi helps these students develop into professionals, learning the lay of the land outside of the classroom.”
In 2014, Jodi McGraw Consulting took on a sand quarry restoration project that spanned 170 acres. It was a massive undertaking that required the help of interns. It was then that McGraw looked to UCSC students to make up her workforce.
Parker said that the skills her students developed working with McGraw in the private sector are some she could not teach them in the classroom, and is grateful for the partnership between UCSC and Jodi McGraw Consulting.
“Over Jodi’s years of Ph.D. studies, she had learned so much about the rare plants of Santa Cruz, and had made a name for herself as one of the most trusted experts in the region in rare plant conservation and land management,” Parker said. “Jodi’s entrepreneurial spirit and total dedication to her conservation work is what made it possible for her to create her own career path. She built a renowned consulting firm from the ground up, and her impact in saving California biodiversity has been truly inspiring.”
Angelica Amesquita graduated from UCSC in 2013 with a B.S. in plant sciences and minors in chemistry and Latin America and Latino studies. Upon graduating, Amesquita’s thesis advisor, Ingrid Parker, referred Amesquita to Jodi McGraw Consulting.
“I gravitate towards strong women business owners and strong women in science,” Amesquita said. “I’ve always admired Jodi in that way; she’s a really positive role model as someone who’s successful in the sciences and has her own business. It’s inspiring for me to work with somebody who’s very dedicated to their work on many levels.”
As a full-time employee, Amesquita said she was given the opportunity to work on various projects which helped her with her own career development, and worked with a handful of UCSC interns.
“When I was an undergraduate, I was pretty involved in projects with different professors and volunteering for different graduate students,” Amesquita said. “I was getting my hands on anywhere I could think of, and if this internship had existed at the time, I definitely would have applied for it.”
Amesquita worked in-person with Jodi McGraw Consulting for over two years before moving to Seattle in 2016 where she continued to work remotely. Beginning in Spring 2017, Amesquita no longer worked full-time for Jodi McGraw Consulting, but remains a good friend of McGraw’s and occasionally visits Santa Cruz to help with large projects.
McGraw and Amesquita agreed that working with staff and interns who had attended UCSC was a unique experience.
“It’s fun; we would talk about having the same professors and all of the cool places on campus,” McGraw said. “You’re coming from the same sort of academic background and shared campus life experience.”
In addition to staying connected to the campus community through her staff and interns, McGraw has also taught a handful of classes at the university, including the natural history field quarter and taking over Parker’s plant sciences course while she was on maternity leave.
McGraw says she is grateful to stay connected to the campus community; however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant turnover in her firm’s workforce. McGraw says she is hopeful to provide more internship opportunities to students and is currently searching for an intern that can aid in monitoring an endangered beetle at night.