As a recent 1969 UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in forest science and plans to be a ranger, Ron Felzer applied for a temporary position grading biology tests at Merritt College until he could find his dream job. But his career path changed dramatically after he was asked to fill in for a forestry instructor and then co-taught a natural history class: He discovered that teaching was a great way to share his love of nature.
“There’s nothing like getting out there and walking the trails and scratching the bark of a red fir tree, smelling the bark of a Jeffrey pine, and discovering a field covered with billions of beautiful wild flowers to really learn about natural history,” says Felzer, who spent his career at Merritt teaching and creating more than 120 courses before retiring but continuing to teach part time. “There’s a real world outside of the classroom, and it’s been a lifetime passion of mine to allow students to experience it.” (“Natural History of the Carrizo Plain,” BIOL 62N, starts 3/1. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
In fact, Merritt College has been dedicated to offering natural history classes for nearly six decades, with a combination of lectures and field trips that have covered five continents, a majority taught by Ron Felzer and fellow nature enthusiast and recently retired biology instructor Hank Fabian. Students have gone on trips from as close as the Sierra Nevada to as far as Iceland to study plants and animals in their environment. The popularity of the classes, especially in recent years, shows the renewed community interest in the environment as well as the desire to find jobs in related fields, according to instructor and long-time birding guide Daniel Edelstein.
“The number of people who enjoy outdoor recreation and take field classes has increased multifold since the 1950s, and there are more than 70 million birdwatchers in the country,” says Edelstein, a freelance environmental consultant and biologist who has been teaching and studying birds for more than 25 years. “Merritt is one of the only colleges in the Bay Area to offer a natural history program for students that leads to jobs such as biologists, naturalists, rangers, science teachers, and other diverse professions related to physical and natural sciences.” (“Waterbirds of Central California and the SF Bay Area,” BIOL 48N, starts 3/14. For more info, contact email@example.com or go to danielsmerrittclassesblogspot.com)
Dr. Brad Balukjian, Merritt’s newest natural history and biology instructor, took students out in the fall semester to discover nature in urban Oakland for the first-ever class, “Biology of the Living World” (BIOL 29) and is teaching it again in the spring. An expert in island biogeography, Dr. Balukjian will also teach another new course this spring to explore the islands of California which will include field trips to several of them, including the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, where students will learn about the life forms that can only be found on these unique ecosystems.
Dr. Balukjian urges students to enroll in at least one or more of Merritt’s natural history classes to understand the important issues currently affecting the planet. “Natural history classes are important as a way to expose students to the ecosystems around us and the threats that could destroy them,” he says. “Learning about nature and seeing the beauty in real life gives students a personal, emotional connection when they realize that our lives are dependent on the natural world. The only way to protect the environment is to first learn to love it.” (“The Natural History of the Islands of California,” BIOL 62S, starts 3/13. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and go to bradbalukjian.com.
Spring enrollment is open now! To apply and/or enroll in any of the above classes, go to www.merritt.edu/steps and for questions, feel free to contact the instructors directly as shown above. Space is limited!