From the moment his bare feet hit the sand, it’s easy to differentiate Noah Kolander from the other college students that arrive for a day of fun in the sun. If his easy-going smile and casual dress don’t set him apart, the tower of orange buckets, pile of shovels, and bags of miscellaneous gear that he’s unloading from a rental van certainly do.
These tools (paid for by a $500 undergraduate research grant awarded to Noah through a national scientific honors society called Beta Beta Beta) and a group of dedicated volunteers have been instrumental in helping Noah continue his research into the anecdotal decline of Pismo Clams in Newport Beach.
According to Noah, these clams were once a significant food source for people living in the region, and their near disappearance is important to identify and understand.
Digging for clams on the beach, and presenting his results before esteemed panels and professors, is a far cry from what Noah thought he’d be doing when he enrolled at Concordia University Irvine three years ago.
Spending his summers on dairy farms and horse ranches, Noah envisioned a career as a large animal veterinarian. However, on his first day at Concordia, his plans changed.
An Unusual Opportunity
“As I sat down in my first biology class, Dr. Sean Bignami asked for volunteers to help run a marine laboratory that had just opened on campus. I didn’t think too much about it, but I signed up. There were so many other interested students, as a freshman I imagined I wouldn’t have much of an opportunity.
A few weeks later, Noah quickly became a growing fixture in the lab. He found himself in the lab, after midnight, dreaming of ways to organize the work and streamline its processes.
“I couldn’t get enough. By the start of my sophomore year I was managing the lab outreach programs and all of the other student volunteers.”
Home to more than 50 species ranging from jellyfish to sharks, Concordia’s Marine Lab has grown rapidly in just a few short years. Realizing this type of ground floor opportunity isn’t available to undergraduate students at many other academic institutions, Noah is grateful to have been a part of such a formative experience. He credits the lab for igniting his passion for marine biology and directing him towards an unexpected and exciting career path.
He credits the lab for igniting his passion for marine biology and directing him towards an unexpected and exciting career path.
A Unique Relationship
As Noah’s involvement with the Marine Lab developed, so did his relationship with Dr. Bignami. Under Bignami’s direction, Noah collaborated with a researcher from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on the clam study and began to attend conferences and academic showcases where he could present the findings.
“I am continually surprised at the access I have to my professors. Their dedication to hands-on projects and the openness to new ideas is amazing. Scholarship is definitely at the forefront of the Concordia experience. I would never have dreamed that my projects would receive grants and win several awards, including first place for my oral presentation at Beta Beta Beta’s national conference this year. The opportunity to travel and represent the work we are doing alongside more than 100 other college students from across the United States was an honor in itself, but to bring home this award was more than I could have imagined.
“All of this is possible because of Dr. Bignami. He’s a terrific mentor and has opened my mind to so many opportunities both professionally and personally. It’s a pleasure to call him my professor and my friend. One of my favorite things to do with him away from the classroom and lab is to scuba dive.”
I am continually surprised at the access I have to my professors. Their dedication to hands-on projects and the openness to new ideas is amazing. Scholarship is definitely at the forefront of the Concordia experience.
Beyond his passion for the Marine Lab and his research, Noah is involved in two different Concordia choirs. The mix of music and science is curious, and Noah credits living on campus and small class sizes in helping him to connect with other students who have encouraged him to explore other interests.
Wide Open Doors
When asked about his future plans, Noah reflects on his favorite Bible verse in Genesis 1:26.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
“I love that we have been given dominion over the animals. It is our God-given task to take care of them. I hope to continue to study and make an impact in the world through marine research.”
I love that we have been given dominion over the animals. It is our God-given task to take care of them. I hope to continue to study and make an impact in the world through marine research.
Noah is continuing his research on Pismo clams, spending his summer working in the lab, fishing, and scuba diving. In August, he’ll return to Concordia for his senior year and begin to strategize about life beyond graduation.
An advanced degree? Continued research? Teaching? These are all possibilities on the horizon for Noah. However, at the moment, he is content with the projects at hand.
“I’m not sure what will be next, but more than ninety percent of the ocean is covered in darkness all the time. We’ve only just begun to explore the mysteries beneath its surface. There is so much left to discover.”