Cohort Three

Cherish Cartagena

Cherish was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, surrounded by foothills and miles of fruit and vegetable fields. Growing up in a very small town, she spent most of her time outside where she developed her love for nature. While attending community college in Visalia, CA, Cherish spent nearly every weekend volunteering at Project Survival’s Cat Haven. Located in the foothills of the Southern Sierra Nevada, Cat Haven is home to various large and small exotic cats, most of them critically endangered. During her time there, she was a volunteer zookeeper as well as a docent, leading groups of all ages on educational tours, explaining the conservation efforts that Cat Haven supported all over the world. It was this experience that interested and exposed her to the field of conservation. Cherish relocated to southern California to attend California Polytechnic University, Pomona where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with an emphasis in Zoology. While Cherish was attending Cal Poly Pomona, she worked on campus at the vivarium where she was responsible for the care of more than 80 individual reptiles and amphibians and also lead tours for visiting elementary and Cal Poly students. Additionally, while working towards her degree, she volunteered at the OC Zoo as a zookeeper and learned about the various native species of the Southwestern U.S. Throughout her experiences as a zookeeper, Cherish realized her true passion involved the conservation of species and habitats, which lead her to this program. Through the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science program, she hopes to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute in the protection of wild species and native habitat, and to discover the various career opportunities that are available after her time at UCI.

Lyuyi Chen

Lyuyi is originally from Fuzhou, China and received her B.S. in Ecology from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. During her undergraduate career, she worked as a research assistant in Key Laboratory of Biopesticides and Chemical Biology, Ministry of Education of China, which concentrates on the biological control of invasive pests. In the summer of 2018, she worked as an international volunteer focusing on marine ecological environment conservation in Thoddoo, Maldives. All these experiences make her realized the importance of natural resources conservation to maintaining the three main ecosystems (forests, wetlands and oceans) at a healthy level. Besides, she is interested in how to effectively restore damaged ecosystems and ensure the sustainability of forests in balance with wetlands and marine life to maximize their ecological benefits. This directs her to the Masters in Conservation & Restoration Science (MCRS) program at the University of California, Irvine for gaining further knowledge and experiences in natural resources.

Michaela Coats

Michaela grew up in Tustin, California and has always had a strong affinity for wildlife and the environment. The connection she made with nature at a young age through hiking, traveling, and wildlife photography had a lasting impact on both her academic career and personal sustainability. For her undergraduate degree, she attended UC Santa Barbara where she received her B.S. degree in Environmental Studies with a concentration in marine environments. While in pursuit of her degree, she volunteered as a docent for Western snowy plovers and worked as a homeschool educator for the Santa Barbara Zoo. Her passions for endangered species conservation and environmental education flourished through these experiences and lead her to the MCRS program at UCI. She would like to be able to use the knowledge and skills gained from this program to pursue a career that embraces the intersectionality of environmentalism and education.

Hailley Coleman

Hailley grew up in Seattle, Washington where her love for the environment developed into a deep passion. She moved to California at the age of 18 to attend college. Her move from Seattle to Orange County opened her eyes to the importance of educating the world on the state of our planet. She earned her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a focus on Ecology from Chapman University. During her time at Chapman she studied carbon and nitrogen mineralization in Coastal Sage Scrub soils. Following her graduation she began working as a data analyst at an environmental testing company where she tests soil, water, and air samples for gasoline range organics. Her environmental interests include species vulnerability to climate change, and mitigating the future impacts of climate change.

Khai Dang

Khai has always been interested in biology. During his first few undergraduate years, he focused his study on molecular and biochemistry. However, he shifted his interest toward ecology after his internship with the Center of Environmental Biology at UCI. The fieldworks that he did during the internship had ignite his love for outdoor activities and ecology. After graduating, he spent 2 years working as informal educator at Ocean Institute and Crystal Cove Conservancy. During that time, he realized the importance of education and outreach. His goal after the program is to be able to find the most suitable methods to help the environment as well as to involve the community in the process.

Carmen Gardner

Carmen was born and raised in South San Francisco, CA and developed a love for the environment and its natural systems at a young age while often visiting Yosemite National Park. She loves visiting state parks and national parks around the world with her family and friends. While studying abroad in Australia, she enjoyed diving in the Great Barrier Reef and is recently dive certified. She is interested in volunteering with the scuba dive community to participate in marine conservation projects and events. She graduated from the University of Redlands with a B.S in Environmental Science and a GIS/Spatial Studies Minor as a four-year student athlete playing water polo. She knew she wanted to focus on furthering her education within the environmental field. She chose UCI’s Masters of Conservation and Restoration Science to further acquire skills in environmental planning, while incorporating her GIS skills to new planning and research projects. Her goal as a master’s student is to not only expand her knowledge and experience doing field work, but learn more about natural resources, native plants, and environmental impacts. She plans to pursue a career in the environmental consulting field.

Kyle Killian

Kyle has grown up in Southern California. While Orange County, where he is from, is largely a metropolitan area, it is the beauty of the natural areas that has always stood out. This appreciation for nature has seeded his interest in environmental science, which sprouted during his time at the University of California, Irvine as an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major. He decided to continue his journey at UCI through the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science program. Through these studies, he hopes to gain and develop the skills and knowledge needed for a career that will allow him to help care for the environment. While the future is difficult to predict, he realizes that working with the community is an important aspect to ecological work since while these beautiful natural areas exist around us, it is up to all of us to protect them.

Andrew Laleian

Andrew was raised and spent most of his life in Pasadena, California near the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, where he fell in love with nature. While most people know Pasadena for the Rose Parade, seldom few explore the mountains in the backdrop. Andrew spent most of his early years hiking through these mountain ranges, which sparked his interest in ecology and the chaparral ecosystem. During his time at CSU Northridge, Andrew worked on many diverse experiments for the Gray lab and independently in ecosystems that ranged from the tropical rainforests of Ecuador to the harsh and expansive deserts of the Southwestern US. During his final year at CSUN, Andrew co-founded an urban gardening initiative called One Plant-it which helped novice gardeners with getting their first plant to fruit and appreciating the joys of growing one’s own food. After CSUN, Andrew was fortunate enough to be a part of a multitude of engaging wildlife and conservation projects working with sage-grouse, birds of prey, bats, and ducks. However, it wasn’t until working for the Santa Monica Mountains restoration crew on the recent Woolsey Fire that Andrew knew what he wanted to focus his career on. In our modern world, so much of the products of our work are detached and invisible from the labor that goes into them. The chaparral affected by the Woolsey Fire will take decades to return to a mature succession state. However, in his short time there, Andrew saw how a well thought-out restoration plan that utilizes adaptive management techniques can rescue an ecosystem from being converted into a collage of weedy invasives following a large-scale disturbance. Through the MCRS program, Andrew aims to refine his botanical experience and knowledge of modern restoration principles so that he may one day contribute meaningfully to the field.

Melissa Lippincott

Melissa spent her childhood exploring Southern California with her adventure-loving family. During weekend hiking and summer backpacking trips, she explored the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevadas. She attended UCSB and became interested in botany. She has worked as a consulting botanist in Orange and LA counties and is interested in habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors. Melissa enjoys skiing, surfing, hiking and mountain biking on the side.

Ashley Lockwood

Ashley was born and raised in southeast Michigan where she spent most days outdoors, camping, or at zoos and museums.  From there, her passion for informal STEM education and wildlife conservation grew, modeling her career goals after the likes of Bill Nye, Jeff Corwin, and David Attenborough.  Ashley attained her undergraduate degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences with a focus in Conservation Ecology from Oregon State University and chose to pursue that degree online so she could travel.  During this time, she was able to work with a variety of organizations including the National Audubon Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and local research labs and state wildlife agencies.  Through travel within the U.S., she learned to appreciate how cultural values and regional natural resource issues can influence how society approaches environmental challenges.  In particular, Ashley is interested in the urban-wildland interface and how we, as a society, will move forward with wildlife and habitat conservation issues in the future.  These human dynamics of conservation include acknowledging indigenous knowledge and rights, the quality and funding of institutional STEM education, and encouraging a multidisciplinary approach to revolutionize inclusiveness at the policy table.

Victoria Masjuan

Victoria’s fascination with nature began early, with covert experiments in moss growing techniques alone on her patio. However, she didn’t really begin to delve into the natural sciences until halfway through undergrad. Disenchanted with her degree choice, all it took was some volunteer ecological restoration work to reignite her buried passion for the natural world. Just like that, she switched her major to Environmental Studies and never looked back. After graduating from UCSB in 2014, she obtained her Ecological Restoration certificate at Saddleback College in 2017. Along the way she has held several restoration and biological services positions, and has over 5 years’ experience with skills ranging from nursery management and volunteer coordination to native plant installation and vegetation/avian/mammalian/aquatic surveying. In her last position as staff restoration ecologist, she performed such tasks as conducting field studies, invasive species eradication, herbicide application, planting, and qualitative/quantitative monitoring. She is passionate about local engagement and in her career hopes to encourage community science. Victoria believes in the power of community ownership of natural spaces, and knows that if we come together it is possible to shift the destructive trajectory we are on and shift our path towards a more holistic, sustainable future.

Elias Potashov

Elias grew up in the coastal city of Carlsbad, California. His fondness of nature arose largely from various volunteer experiences throughout San Diego County at various lagoon conservancies where he was first exposed to habitat restoration. Regular hiking and stand-up paddleboarding ventures throughout the dynamic landscapes of California further fueled his appreciation of these settings. Elias got his B.S. from the University of California – Davis in Environmental Horticulture and Urban Forestry with a concentration in Plant Biodiversity and Restoration. While pursuing this degree, he had various volunteer and internship experiences including the managing of native plant nurseries, riparian restoration, and managing both trails and social media for the Putah Creek Reserve. He worked as a research assistant observing and maintaining a grassland setting for a drought research project and was also employed as a greenhouse research assistant who facilitated research on the impact of increased nitrogen deposition on wheat varieties from across the world. After UCD, Elias worked as a Native Plant Specialist at the San Diego Botanic Garden which allowed him to further develop his plant ID, propagation and cultivation skills while maintaining ~ 12 acres of native plant habitat and interpretive garden space. Since 2018, he has been employed as a Restoration Ecologist working throughout military bases in the Southwestern U.S where he applies his knowledge and skill sets to large-scale projects involving habitat restoration, irrigation installation, seed collection, vegetation monitoring and mitigation of invasive species. In the spirit of spurring collaboration among diverse assortments of stakeholders, Elias seeks to synergize habitat restoration, bioremediation, ecotourism and sustainable agroecology to develop multi-faceted solutions that alleviate complex issues faced throughout the world.

Bill Wang

Bill spent his undergraduate conducting research on invasive species and assisted in developing methods to detect the presence of them using environmental DNA. After undergraduate, he spent some time traveling while doing volunteer work as well. Highlights included volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica, being an assistant researcher in China conducting research to determine if male-male competition can enhance captive panda’s reproduction, working with samango monkey’s in South Africa to see if human presence affect behavioral traits, and with USGS working on sage grouse.  Bill’s hobbies include photography, hiking, and mountain biking.

Libin Yuan

Libin Yuan was born and raised in Wuxi, a beautiful city in east China. She has been interested in nature since she was a child. When she was in high school, she served as an environmental protection volunteer to publicize environmental protection knowledge to the general public. When she was an undergraduate, she chose environmental science without hesitation. Out of love for environmental protection, she chose to engage in a soil survey company after graduation. During her six years of work, she traveled almost all over China, witnessed many ecological and environmental problems. This is why she chose to go back to school to pursue the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science. Her goal is to be able to use her knowledge and experience to protect the existing ecological environment and restore damaged habitats, and devote herself to environmental education in her spare time, so that more and more people pay attention to the protection of the ecological environment.

Cohort Two

Kevin Alison

Kevin is a plant propagator at Tree of Life Nursery, a local California native plant nursery in San Juan Capistrano, CA. Like the plants he works with, he also is a California native. He is seeking the Master’s degree in Conservation and Restoration Science to expand his combined education in natural resource management and advanced horticultural techniques. Recently, he established a research laboratory that focuses on plant tissue to propagate rare, endangered, and difficult-to-grow native plant species in-vitro as an ex-situ method of conservation. His research also focuses on culturing beneficial mycorrhizal inoculums to combat soil pathogens as a well as propagating native ferns. His goal is to expand on this research and provide land managers and conservation agencies with additional resources for effective conservation and restoration.

Valente Ayala

Valente’s passion for the outdoors developed at a young age during his time camping.  Like some, he had a change of heart as to what he would pursue as a career. He reflected on what it was he both enjoyed and had a passion for and decided to pursue a career that involved the great outdoors. His undergraduate research at UCI in the San Joaquin influenced his decision to change emphasis during his last two years of schooling to include more ecological studies. After graduating from UCI with a B.S. in Biology and Chicano Studies, he started working with the CA Department of Food and Agriculture, specializing in the detection and eradication of the invasive pest, Asian Citrus Psyllid. He now works as a park naturalist where he provides the public with interpretive knowledge of the Angeles National forest and its flora and fauna.  His goals as a masters student are to develop the knowledge, skills, and experience to work with a government agency doing field work or a nonprofit conducting impact reports.

Lyell Buttermore

Lyell’s pull to nature started at a young age while surrounded by dense forest in the Appalachians, and it has grown into a need to protect that source of life that he has always appreciated. The root of his work ethic is inspired through his natural sense of curiosity, compassion, and collaboration. While pursuing his B.Sc. as an Honors student in Environmental Biology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, he focused primarily on ecotoxicological pollution analysis in aquatic ecosystems. His thesis explored zebrafish sensitivity on a variety of atmospheric and marine pollutants. The immersion in a bilingual French culture provided him with a deep appreciation for the importance of diversity in both an environmental and educational context. This program exposed him to the value of conservation science and impact assessment for the role that they play in environmental protection. He has since worked as an environmental technician and journalist in order to develop a greater understanding for ecosystem sustainability. His mission in the work that he will do as a Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science at UCI is to strengthen those skills and gain experience in working with environmental mitigation strategies and environmental assessment.

Kelcey Chung

Lyell’s pull to nature started at a young age while surrounded by dense forest in the Kelcey is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, where she grew up within walking distance of the lush Ko’olau mountain range and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Having been born and raised on a rock in the middle of the ocean, she spent a lot of her free time outdoors, hiking in the clouds and swimming at the beach. She attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa as a first generation college student and graduated with a B.S. in Global Environmental Science with a focus in Biological Oceanography. Throughout her undergraduate career, she was able to conduct benthic ecology research along the West Antarctic Peninsula, help remove invasive albezia trees and plant native species within the forests in Hawaii, and assist in the restoration of an ancient Hawaiian fishpond being used for aquaculture purposes. Kelcey’s growing interest in natural resource management has led her to pursue a Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science at the University of California, Irvine.  Her goal is to promote the sustainable utilization of our major natural resources, such as land, water, air, forests, fisheries, and wild flora and fauna as she believes that these resources not only provide essential ecosystem services, but also a better quality to human life.

Emma Havstad

Emma currently works as a Biologist at the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. She previously spent 6 years as a botanist on San Clemente Island, managing native plant restoration, invasive species control, and rare plant monitoring projects for the SDSU Research Foundation’s Soil Ecology and Restoration Group. Emma received a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Biological Sciences and has worked on restoration projects for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy in Oregon, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. She grew up in Davis, CA, spending summers backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, and now devotes her free time to cycling and exploring our national parks, especially in the desert southwest.

Maryam Ibrahim

Born and raised in Los Angeles a few steps away from the famed Griffith Park, Maryam has always been immersed in both that natural environment and the bustling metropolitan city. She has always been fascinated by the interdependence of different organisms within an ecosystem and, on a broader scale, with how human development affects (and is affected by) the natural environment. She has spent the latter half of her life in Irvine where she was surrounded by the beauty of marshlands and coastal ecosystems. At Concordia University, she investigated the relationship between soil fungi, bacteria, and root systems as they relate to invasive species. It is truly amazing how something so seemingly small can have a dramatic difference in the fate of whole biomes! She also studies the history and approaches to curbing endangered species poaching, namely in the ivory trade. Her interests cast a wide net, and she hopes that in the course of her time in the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science program she can further hone her passion and get a better sense of the career opportunities that are available in this field.

Sinem Kargin

Sinem is from Turkey, a land which has always been at the crossroads of civilizations and geography. Specifically, she come from Ankara, the nation’s capital and the capital of many ancient civilizations. Beyond human history, Turkey is a hotspot for biodiversity conservation because of its location between three continents as well as Anatolia’s complex topography and geomorphology. These geographical features account for a great variety of habitats and species, and, particularly, for an exceptionally rich flora. She has always had a passion for science and nature. In particular, she is fascinated by the complexity of biology. This fascination began with watching science documentaries and realizing how many unanswered questions remain in the universe. It is, therefore, necessary to push the boundaries of our understanding not only for our sake but for later generations of scientists. Her research background includes microbiology, infectious diseases, and even stem cell biology so she comes to the program with a fresh perspective. She feels compelled to continue the legacy of known and unknown scientists whose accumulated knowledge has made Earth a beautiful place for all of us. Her goal is to study conservation, restoration, to protect mother nature and protect its beauty for next generations.

Peter Lam

Peter was born and raised in Orange County, CA. Like others, he has always felt this connection to and appreciation of nature. It was not until after high school that he realized his interest in the environment was something that he wanted to pursue. To maintain rich biodiversity in environments, his goals are to protect and restore natural resources in the face of a rapidly-changing world.  Peter earned his B.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Irvine. His future career plans include getting involved with land management and providing adaptive management strategies to direct restoration projects. Peter hopes to gain and foster the skills and mentality necessary to accomplish his future endeavors through the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science program.

Omar Moquit

Born and raised in Illinois, close to Chicago, Omar grew up surrounded by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Covering nearly 69,000 acres of public land, he had plenty of opportunities to spend time in the natural environment, seeding his love for it. After obtaining a B.S. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and working in environmental education for the Cook County Forest Preserves, he developed a passion for wildlife conservation and addressing ecosystem sustainability. This directed him to the MCRS program at the University of California, Irvine in the beautiful state of California, where his main goals are to develop applicable skills and gain essential knowledge that will allow him to become a significant member in the field of conservation and ecosystem management.

Justin Morgan

Justin’s love of ecological restoration began as a freshman in high school, when he volunteered on a restoration research project in Bommer Canyon, Irvine, CA. He always had a love of nature and a passion for conservation, and the idea that we could not only preserve and protect the important ecosystems around us, but actually restore degraded or destroyed habitat was eye opening. This, along with his love of science, drove him to earn his B.S. in Environmental Science from Roanoke College and later complete the Ecological Restoration Certificate program at Saddleback College. Working in environmental consulting, outdoor education, and land management, both in the corporate and non-profit sectors, has given him a great deal of experience with the flora here in his native Orange County, as well as a unique perspective towards ecological problems. His areas of emphasis include: reconnecting fragmented ecosystems, restoring plant diversity, and developing land management strategies for the conservation and promotion of special status plants.

Julia Peay

Julia is originally from New London, Connecticut, where she received her B.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Connecticut. During her undergraduate career, she worked with a research team to study how alewife migratory patterns and conditions were impacted by climate change. Additionally, she studied how the distributions and abundance of striped salamander populations were changing across the northeastern Unites States due to anthropogenic effects. Teaching students about ways to reduce their carbon footprint got her interested in going into conservation outreach. Additionally, being from a multi-racial background, she understands the importance of diversity both in the classroom and in the organisms on this planet. She would like to be able to use the knowledge and skills gained from being in the MCRS program to teach people about restoration techniques and the general field of conservation.

Corrina Tapia

Native to southern California, Corrina grew up in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest in Redlands, CA. She received her B.S. in Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies from the University of Redlands and shortly after, a graduate certificate in wildlife management from Oregon State University.  Before coming to UC Irvine, Corrina had the opportunity to participate in a variety of wildlife studies. These ranged from conducting behavioral studies for enrichment programs at a local zoo and rehabilitation center, to studying the predator-prey interactions between rattlesnakes and kangaroo rats, and finally to working with environmental agencies conducting biological assessments of project sites.  She has always been drawn to how wildlife and humans interact, and specifically, how to ensure that the survival of one does not mean the loss of the other. With a master’s degree she hopes to work with a non-profit organization to help conserve wildlife populations by learning about how they function within a changing landscape and to help preserve/restore their native habitats. Community engagement is a large facet of any ecological work; therefore, she also hopes to work with different communities and help foster and develop their interest and compassion in the protection of wildlife species.

Yvonne Valencia

Yvonne was born and raised in Garden Grove, California, but did her undergraduate degree and played collegiate soccer at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. As a first generation minority college graduate and student-athlete, she obtained a B.S. in Environmental Studies with minors in Biology and Sociology. She joined the Southern Oregon Animal Rehabilitation Center as an undergraduate intern over the summer before her senior year, which allowed her to help injured and ill animals return to their ecosystems, shaping her passion for wildlife conservation. Her senior capstone project was focused on pine seedling recruitment for the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, furthering her interests in restoring and monitoring vegetation dynamics. It’s those moments Yvonne treasures because it shows nature displays beauty in its purest form. Now, she is a graduate student in the Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science program at the University of California, Irvine.


Cohort One

Marcus Gonçalves

Marcus Gonçalves received his B.S from the State University of Maringá, Brazil, where he conducted  studies on freshwater ecology and biodiversity of the Parana River Basin. He completed an internship at Project Bats of Pantanal, a partnership with Conservation International for long-term monitoring of biodiversity, before he moved to United States. After a decade of living in California and nurturing his passion for its natural habitats, Marcus has returned his focus to the biological sciences. He aims to transfer his experiences in project management and his earned business acumen to the field of Conservation Biology and Resources Sustainability. It is his primary objective to obtain the knowledge and to learn the skills that are necessary for achieving effective endeavors in preservation of habitats and its species.

Hailey Laskey

Hailey grew up in Sonoma County, California, where she was surrounded by open spaces representing diverse habitats. Her love of nature stems from a family that depends on natural environments for fishing and hunting. She joined the Center for Environmental Biology as an undergraduate research intern her senior year of college at the University of California, Irvine. The opportunity to be an intern studying native California fauna and flora guided her toward a career in restoration and conservation. A first generation college graduate, she obtained her B. S. in Public Health with a concentration in global environmental health. Her first job after graduating was with the California State Parks, where she restored and monitored various habitats and their inhabitants in Orange County and Sonoma County. She wants to emphasize the rich economic value of our native habitats and wants her science to influence land management and conservation decisions.

Amos Zerah

As an ecologist and environmental storyteller, Amos believes in the role of universities to develop creative and ambitious ways for sharing scientific developments with the public. Working on his capstone project with Native communities in southern Utah, he is very excited about the challenges and opportunities in the conservation-sustainable development nexus, something that he would like to continue to pursue after graduation. He currently works with the UCI Office of Environmental Planning and Sustainability and the UCI Environment Collaboration to conduct a sustainability culture assessment on UCI’s campus. This assessment will allow UCI to better understand the ways students connect to sustainability and identify areas for improvement or continued outreach. Before arriving at UCI, he gained diverse international experience in project management, designing outdoor education training programs as well as community engagement activities.