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A Living Laboratory at Gavilan College By Jan Janes H Using a GroPro, Alexis Miranda, accompanied by Biology instructor Rey Morales, inspects activity in an owl nesting box placed at an upper location of the Gavilan College campus in Gilroy. igh in the hills above Gavilan College, off the beaten path, students have installed bird boxes to shelter house wrens, tree swallows, kestrels and owls. The Bird Habitat Project offers students hands-on sci- ence skills as they place the boxes and then visit one to three times each week to document avian activity. Begun in 2016 as a STEM internship project by Andrea Alvarez, the project transitioned to new students after she gradu- ated and transferred to UCSC. Students Alexis Miranda, from Hollister, and Juancarlos Rojas, from Gilroy, currently lead the project. The team has scouted additional locations on campus. They are also looking to expand to other locations, including Gilroy Golf Course and Santa Clara County Parks locations. “For my project I sighted blue birds, house wrens and tree swallows,” said Miranda, an environmental chemistry major. The monitoring and findings are posted on birds., a site managed by Cornell University. A chemistry major, Rojas worked on the Bird Habitat Project as a STEM intern as well as his own project, ana- lyzing the deactivation of glyphosate using absorption. He likes being able to see behind the scenes. “Normally, students see finished studies and the pretty work,” he said. “With the internship, I got to see a lot of the STEM work behind the scenes.” Rojas participates in MESA (Mathematics, Engineering Science Achievement) and is the historian for the college SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/ Hispanics and Native Americans in Science). Students use a GoPro camera equipped with software that records the exact location. The camera can be inserted into the bird entry area to record occupancy and activity. Through the season, students note arrival, occu- pancy, count eggs, count chicks and record when the young birds leave the nest. As more nesting boxes are built and students monitor the boxes on campus, Miranda and Rojas are also busy with their academic work. Miranda is currently taking chemistry and math, on track to complete her transferable units in Spring 2019. She plans to transfer to UCSC and continue studying envi- ronmental chemistry. Her career goal is to work locally as an industrial hygienist developing work protocols and safety processes. Rojas will take more chemistry, math and physics. He plans to transfer to a CSU or other school where he can pursue a degree in chemistry or dendrology, then travel everywhere. Guiding the program, instructor Rey Morales has a vision as well, noting the hands-on training the life sci- ences programs offer. “My dream is to have the student internship program institutionalized. It will deliver practical experience to stu- dents in the arboretum, with the birds on campus, as lab tech assistance, paid for by work study funding,” he said. Contact Rey Morales about STEM participation as well as opportunities to collaborate on projects at 84 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN december 2018-january 2019