Coming into college, Peter Nguyen (Rachel Carson ’22, ecology and evolutionary biology) was unsure of what he wanted to study. As a POC first generation college student, he said he felt pressured to pursue a career in medicine, but in his third year at UC Santa Cruz, Nguyen found his passion in ecology.
Nguyen is one of three undergraduate UCSC students funded through Frontier Fellows—a pilot undergraduate research funding program under the Earth Future’s Institute (EFI). Piloted in spring 2022 by astrophysics and astronomy professor emerita, Sandra Faber, the Frontier Fellows program funds undergraduate research for a full year, giving students a unique career-building experience. Frontier Fellows funds interdisciplinary research focused on preserving Earth’s future.
“Being able to interact with so many professors in my field and getting to work with them on my project has inspired me to become a professor one day and start my own research program; which would not have been possible without the EFI’s program,” Nguyen said. “Because of this, I will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall.”
Nguyen is studying the effects of climate change on the growth and reproduction of Lupinus nipomensis, a federally listed endangered flowering plant. With a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funding from UC Santa Cruz’s Earth Futures Institute Frontier Fellows program, Nguyen is on the front lines of groundbreaking exploratory research in ecology at UCSC.
Nguyen uses eDNA techniques to identify potential microbial communities that may be supporting the species’ success during intensified climate scenarios and reintroduction efforts. He’s hopeful that this conservation model can be used for other species as well, to protect the biodiversity of the planet.
“This research is important to me on a personal level because I am very passionate about biodiversity conservation,” Nguyen said. “Earth is experiencing a mass extinction of biodiversity, and this research project showed me there is a lot of work for us to do if we want to save our planet.”
In the coming months, Nguyen and his team will present their work at the annual BOTANY Conferences, CNPS Conferences, the annual California Botanical Society student research symposium, and to the USFWS Lupinus nipomensis endangered species recovery team. In addition, Nguyen aim’s to publish their work in Madrono and provide summaries of the research to share directly with land managers.
“The EFI Frontiers Fellow Program is important to me because it allowed me to explore the world of biology by pursuing a research project that would have been unfeasible if not for the support of the program,” Nguyen said.
Funding for the Frontier Fellows program is made possible through the generosity of UC Santa Cruz’s supporters. For more information on how to support undergraduate research through Frontier Fellows, contact Branwyn Wagman.