Embarking on Green Careers

White sharks serve as important apex predators. Image David McGuire

Shark Stewards Partners with UC Berkeley Students Fung Fellowship on Shark Watch Program


There’s a common pattern followed by college students trying to find their places in the world: classes in the fall, winter, and spring, followed by summer internships or jobs to gain a little hands-on training. But what if there was a better model, where both in-class learning and real-world experience happened at the same time?

That’s exactly what the Fung Fellowship’s new Conservation + Tech course is offering for students interested in keeping the Earth a healthy, life-giving planet. The Fung Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley is an immersive, undergraduate learning experience that inspires students in their junior year to be innovators for social good. Founded by Coleman Fung, a tech entrepreneur and UC Berkeley alumnus, the annual Fung Fellowship offers some 120 undergraduates the opportunity to train in human-centered design and design thinking principles with a focus on technology. The fellows also get to participate in team-based design challenges to address societal issues pitched by industry partners.

The inaugural year of the Conservation + Tech course launched in fall 2020 in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources and in collaboration with Earth Island Institute. During the spring 2021 semester, the Fung Fellows partnered with two of Earth Island’s fiscally sponsored projects: Environmental Finance Center West (EFCWest), which works to catalyze the power of vulnerable populations and ignite community capacity, and Shark Stewards, with its mission to save endangered sharks and protect critical marine habitat.

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David McGuire of Shark Stewards challenged the fellows to develop a better way to coalesce data on California shark sightings. Photo by Elias Levy / Flickr.
David McGuire of Shark Stewards challenged the fellows to develop a better way to coalesce data on California shark sightings. Photo by Elias Levy / Flickr.

The partnership with Shark Stewards was fruitful. Founder and Director David McGuire challenged students to develop a better way to coalesce data on California shark sightings, in part to create a rapidly shareable public response and education system that could aid scientific study as well as help minimize the risk of human-shark encounters. The students’ multipronged solution included a QR code posted on piers, lifeguard stations, and other coastal locations that leads to a mobile app where people can not only report their shark sightings, but also learn more about the critical role sharks play in maintaining ocean health. With the help of a high school student they recruited to the team, the fellows also developed an early-stage version of what’s known as a “web scraper,” i.e., computer code that can automatically search, collect, and parse postings about shark encounters from social media platforms.

“Working with David and Shark Stewards was an inspiring experience,” Afghanistan War veteran and transfer student Chris Gould said. “David’s enthusiasm and passion for the environment are incredibly contagious, and he motivated my team to go above and beyond what was being asked of us.”

By grounding their learning in human-centered design and problem solving for real-world organizations and communities, undergraduates have a better chance of gaining the confidence needed to embark on successful environmental careers. As Erica Varon Rodriguez, a conservation and resource studies major, put it: “I learned a lot about myself and how to be a better team member in the future … [and] how community-based conservation is done in the real world.”

Daniel Zevin

Daniel Zevin is the Fung Fellowship Conservation + Tech Advisor and a Public Education Specialist at UC Berkeley. His 30+ year career trajectory reflects his love of the natural world both down here on Earth, as well as out in space.

Learn more about the Fung Fellowship, EFCWest, and Shark Stewards at fungfellows.berkeley.eduefcwest.net, and sharkstewards.org.