Student Experience at College of San Mateo
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Student Experience
Collette Yee
Collette Yee College of San Mateo

When Harvard Forest called CSM student Collette Yee and offered her admission in its summer research program, Yee enthusiastically accepted. Little did Yee realize that she had competed among 500 college students nationwide for a program that accepted only 31 students.Even more impressive was the fact that Yee was the only community college student in the program!

Yee, a 2009 graduate of Terra Nova High School, became interested in environmental sciences, a field that integrates physical and biological sciences to the study of the environment. Due to the broad nature of the field, she decided to attend a community college so that she could explore the different sciences. After attending another local community college, Yee visited CSM and found that she liked the “look and feel” of CSM and its science department.“CSM seemed to offer a lot of resources for science students, and I wanted to take full advantage of that.”After transferring to CSM in spring 2010, she honed in on the field of botany. “Botany was my first college-level science class, and it really sparked an interest with me. It’s what made me look into majors such as environmental science and ecology."

As a CSM student, Yee met with Counselor Modesta Garcia who helped Yee to develop an educational plan in the natural sciences. During that meeting, Garcia, a Harvard graduate, suggested that Yee apply to the Harvard Forest program, a department of Harvard University.The Harvard Forest Summer Research Program in Ecology provides opportunities for college students to participate in 11 weeks of mentored and fully-funded summer research at a site located on 5,000 acres of land in Petersham, Massachusetts.Not knowing the competition that she was up against, Yee followed through with the application process.When she received the call from Harvard Forest that she was being considered for the program, she was thrilled.Following two phone interviews, Yee received wonderful news that she had captured one of the coveted 31 Harvard Forest program slots.

As Yee prepared for the program, her initial task was to select a research project. “I focused my study on understanding the growth patterns of red maples.I found red maples to be particularly interesting to study for its characteristics of being able to grow on a wide variety of conditions set it apart from other species.” Yee explained. Upon arrival at Harvard Forest, Yee was paired with a faculty mentor with whom she collaborated on her research over the course of the summer. In addition to their research work, Yee and her fellow student research assistants were able to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities in and around the greater Boston area.

The program concluded with a two-day symposium in which each student presents his or her research and experiences of the summer. In what was Yee’s first public scientific presentation, she shared her findings with an imposing audience that included professors, scientists and researchers.“I loved working outdoors in the forest. It was an intense learning experience; I made great friends and had a great mentor,” says Yee.

As a result of the Harvard Forest experience, Yee finds that she has an expanded number of opportunities for studying the natural sciences.“I have decided to step out of the botany box and study something else like biology and chemistry. I want to go into research, maybe in the area of ecology.” She added, “The summer changed my life. And, I was so very fortunate to meet Modesta Garcia at CSM.”

Yee returned to CSM for the 2011-12 academic year to complete her lower division coursework and is also conducting research at the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City. She has applied to UC Berkeley as a conservation and resource studies major and hopes to transfer in fall 2012.

The Harvard Forest Summer Research Program is funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. EPA, NASA, Harvard University and Mt. Holyoke College.