April 28, 2003
UCSC offers world of opportunities to undergrad
By Jennifer McNulty
As a high school senior, Julie Chao chose UC Santa Cruz for its environmental
studies program. Little did she know her choice would enable her to
perform at Carnegie Hall before the end of her freshman year.
|Julie Chao's UCSC career has
included a performance at Carnegie Hall, an internship with Global
Village Beijing, and a quarter of study in China, where she posed
for this photo.
"Ive studied piano for 15 years, and being able to do music
as a nonmusic major has been really important to me," said Chao,
who performed with the UCSC Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall in May 2001.
"It was incredible. The hall sounded amazing. It didnt compare
to any other hall Ive played in."
Now a junior majoring in environmental studies and sociology, Chao,
20, recently returned from studying in China and hopes to cap her college
experience with a Wind Ensemble performance at the Sydney Opera House
It would be a fitting end to an extraordinary four years of college.
Chao was accepted to UCSC, UCLA, and UC San Diego but chose Santa Cruz
for its excellent Environmental Studies Department. "I knew I wanted
to do environmental studies, and when I visited the campus, it was so
beautiful. I knew I wanted to come here."
Chao took an early interest in environmental issues. As a teenager,
she worked on restoring the habitat of an endangered butterfly in her
hometown of Palos Verdes, cleaned up beaches, and did other volunteer
work. Her leadership and commitment were recognized by the Audubon Societys
youth environmental service program, which sent her to a national conference
as a panelist discussing ways to promote youth participation in environmental
"Id always been involved in environmental issues at the
local community level, where you can see how your work makes a difference,
which is a really good feeling," said Chao, who credits her studies
at UCSC with broadening her perspective and helping her see issues from
an "academic perspective instead of as an activist."
Referring to the joy of being surrounded by "brilliant people"
at UCSC, Chao singled out sociology professors Andrew Szasz, Melanie
DuPuis, and Ben Crow, as well as environmental studies professors Weixin
Cheng and Brent Haddad, and Sean Swezey of the UCSC Center for Agroecology
& Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), as having been particularly
influential. It was Haddads Freshwater Policy class, in
which she learned about the controversial Three Gorges Dam, that sparked
Chaos interest in China. She studied Chinese during her sophomore
year, applied for a summer internship with Global Village Beijing, a
nonprofit environmental group, and enrolled in UCs Education Abroad
Program (EAP) for the fall quarter of her junior year.
Chaos academic and professional experiences in China further
broadened her horizons. She attended the 2nd Assembly of the Global
Environmental Facility, her first international environmental conference,
helped Global Village Beijing prepare grant applications and map outreach
strategies, and she traveled to the infamous dam.
The visit to Three Gorges was perhaps the most eye-opening of all.
"Seeing it firsthand, I really got a better sense of why they wanted
to build it," she said.
Having studied the negative impacts of the dam, which displaced at
least 2 million people, Chao was struck by its benefits, which include
improved navigability on the Yangtze River.
"They need the river for commerce and trade, and I really saw
that when we were going down the river and everyone had to get off the
boat to keep it from scraping the bottom," she said. "Before
I went to China, it was easier to be critical. Now, having been there,
I understand their choices, even with the negative impacts. It has broadened
how I look at environmental problems."
The trip had deep personal meaning, as well, because Chao was able
to connect with relatives shed never met, including family members
still living on the farm where her grandfather grew up. "I met
a lot of relatives who told me stories about my grandparents that Id
never heard," she said. "It was wonderful."
Chao credits UCSC faculty members with supporting student interests
and encouraging undergraduates to "get out there and study abroad."
"I know a lot of my professors really well," said Chao. "My
friends at other campuses cant believe students here call professors
by their first name."
Chaos double major in sociology and environmental studies has
provided the framework for her study of sustainable agriculture. With
support from CASFS, she hopes to return to China after graduation and
work with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations
integrated pest-management program. Living and working in a small farming
community, Chao hopes to share low-impact, sustainable farming practices
with growers. "Volunteers set up experiments in different plots
so farmers can see for themselves what works," said Chao. "They
work directly with farmers to educate them."
Its a program that integrates environmental protection with grassroots-level
activism, a combination that appeals to Chao, who also sees graduate
school and a career in environmental policy in her future. But for now,
UCSC is where she wants to be.
"Im really happy here," said Chao. "Four years
seems almost too short."