While studying Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Michelle Fuller spent six weeks on a boat near the Antarctic Peninsula researching krill. Seriously, six weeks, on a boat, studying shrimp-like invertebrates, at the bottom of the world. OK, that sounds kind of cool to cruise around the South Pole and check out some sea creatures, but who really cares about a bunch of krill?
Ah, you see, these weren't just any old krill, these were Antarctic krill. Still not impressed? Well, know this: Antarctic krill are the most successful species on the planet with a total biomass estimated at 700 million tons, dwarfing the entire non-krill world fishery yield estimated at 100 million tons annually. They are a keystone species of Antarctica's ecosystem and an essential element in forming the foundation of the world's food chain.
"It was really fun and interesting because the krill are so abundant and all of the plankton are really big there so you don't need much of a microscope or anything," Fuller says. "It was definitely a unique experience."
Appreciating the role krill play in the planet's ecosystem is just one way in which Fuller, a master's student in the Social Science program at Humboldt State, has garnered a better understanding of how the world works and how humans can live in a more sustainable manner. She has also studied the ear bones of salmon to determine their growth and migratory patterns, is a certified scientific SCUBA diver, has studied rockfish and algae, and is currently working on her thesis with Professor Yvonne Everett examining the role local fire safe councils play in the state.
"I'm looking at the organizational structures of local grassroots fire safe councils in comparison to the state level California Fire Safe Council. I am studying how the two interact, and some of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach," Fuller says.
Aside from having the freedom to branch out into a new field of study with her thesis, Fuller also appreciates the unique learning environment at Humboldt State that couples accessible, knowledgeable professors and an emphasis on finding applicable solutions to environmental issues.
"In my classes at Humboldt State I learned a lot more about what sustainability really means and how we might actually make it happen in policy and on the ground in real life," she says. "I really liked the diversity of professors on campus. For me, it was important to get along with my professors because it makes it easier to open up and say ‘I don't understand this' and to find people with similar research interests. Most of the faculty I've interacted with have made me feel much more like a peer rather than just a student and that really encourages confidence and growth."