I remember vividly the day I became interested in pursuing a Biology major, specifically a Biology: Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior major at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I visited the San Diego Zoo and witnessed a spider monkey and hippopotamus interaction where the monkey was jumping on the hippos back and swinging from a vine, putting it’s hands all over the hippo’s face, and I sitting there wondering “Wow. That monkey does not care that this hippo can eat him.” (not that hippos actually eat monkeys, but I am assuming y’all understand the point.) Then I remembered when I became fascinated with birds during my internship at the Living Coast Discovery Center, a non-profit organization that provides a rehabilitation center for injured birds. I remember being asked during my internship interview, “Aquarium or birds?” and I, not being interested in either, went for the species that breathed at least air and was a bit more terrestrial. After that internship, I knew I wanted to study birds; that internship was all it really took for my interest to spark.
Now I am going to back track like ten years back, because I always knew I wanted to pursue the sciences, and I am trying to remember when I figured that one out. Upon immense pondering, I always trace back to this small community park in the middle of the city of Los Angeles right on the intersection of Compton Avenue and Slauson Avenue, which now I know is Augustus F. Hawkins Nature Park, but before I just called it the “Compton Park”. I remember going every Friday after school to plant all these vegetables and fruits, playing all these science games about precipitation and condensation, sticking my hands in a compost pile to feel the worms crawling all over my hand, and being able to take eggplants home. I didn’t eat eggplant, but I planted it, so I was always excited to take it home. I really do think the “Compton Park” planted the seed of ecology and wildlife within me and that’s where my interest for the sciences are rooted.
I am sharing this because I value third spaces. Third spaces are spaces of learning that are outside of home and a formal academia setting such as school. Third spaces are also considered an informal educational setting. There are some things that are valuable about third spaces: grades are usually not involved and people come with an open mind and usually a desire to learn. Upon my first day of my internship with Los Angeles Audubon, I was taken back to the “Compton Park” program. We have an educational program with community college students on plant species within a chaparral coastal sage scrub plant community. We are talking about different plant families and being able to smell white sage and black sage, feel the leaves of the laurel sumac, and have conversations on common characteristics of this plant community and why birds need them. It is pretty clear, that this group enjoys the outdoors, and while most seem overwhelmed with all of the information given, some are really intrigued and are asking questions such as “What other things belong in this family?” Then I realize, I am planting seeds right now. There’s a possibility I am talking to the next botanist the same way my Living Coast Discovery Center Supervisor was talking to the next bird enthusiast. There are some things that sometimes academia does not teach everyone. If I hadn’t formed part of these third spaces, I always wonder, “Would I have pursued Biology?” Probably not, because I never really enjoyed academic biology even in college. I am Tania Romero and as an education and research specialist intern with Los Angeles Audubon, I am excited to continue creating these third spaces, planting these seeds, and creating a community where we can learn as much as possible.
“Do work that matters. Vale la pena!”- Gloria Anzaldua