Karolina Zabinski standing at the podium in the BML Lecture Hall
Karolina presenting some of the results from her Fall Quarter course during the 2024 CMSI Graduate Student Symposium

Learning and Leading

Mentorship in the MCS Major

Karolina Zabinski, the Lead Mentor for the Marine and Coastal Science (MCS) Major during the 2023-24 academic year, has done a lot with her time at UC Davis. Starting her PhD in 2020 and advancing to candidacy in 2023, she has taken on classwork, fieldwork and labwork. But mentorship was an entirely new adventure. Embracing the role of Lead Mentor has meant listening in new ways, guiding others as she was learning, and bridging the gap between undergraduates and their identities and futures as scientists.

Turning Interests into Opportunities

During her time as a grad student, Karolina noticed a recurring theme in her conversations with undergraduates: they knew they loved marine science, but they weren't sure how to turn that passion into a career. As many do, maybe they grew up dreaming of “becoming a marine biologist”, but didn’t realize that not all marine scientists are biologists and not all careers in science look the same.

To give them insight into all the different ways marine science can be done, she developed two key courses. The first, "Professional Development in Marine Science," is aimed at first-year and transfer students. This course was all about student-led, hands-on learning and helped students start thinking of themselves as marine scientists right from the get-go. Surveys taken before and after the course showed significant boosts in students' confidence and skills.

The second course, "A Survey of Careers in Marine Science," was for upper-division students ready to think about life after graduation. Karolina connected students with six UC Davis alumni or affiliates working in various fields for informational interviews, helping them build networks and gain insights into different career paths. The feedback was fantastic, with students appreciating the real-world connections and guidance.

A classroom full of students who are focused on a presentation at the front.
Graduate and undergraduate students attending one of the workshops on applying to careers in resource management.

Karolina structured the academic year around different stages of career exploration: Fall for discovering interests, Winter for exploring potential careers, and Spring for workshops on finding jobs. These workshops were a big hit, attracting over 60 participants and allowing students to meet professionals from state and federal institutions like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Water Resources. 

Learning Beyond the Classroom

Three people posing in front of a series of canvas images of marine creatures
Karolina, Moose, and Anne in the classroom where many of the MCS Major Lead Mentor courses are taught.

Being a mentor was a two-way street for Karolina. She learned a lot from seasoned mentors like Moose O’Donnell, the Deputy Director of the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute (CMSI), and Anne Todgham, CMSI Associate Director of Academic Programs and an Associate Professor in the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, which helped her grow as a teacher and leader. This mentorship pipeline was all about mutual development, with Karolina finishing her term feeling more empowered, just like her students. 

"Not only was I learning how to teach and mentor, I too was figuring out where a marine science degree could take you alongside the students. This position was as much of a development opportunity for me/the Lead Mentor as it was for them/students."

Leaving a Legacy

Outside of teaching classes, Karolina has worked with Ellie Fairbairn, Academic Administrator at the Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML), to make field trips to BML more accessible and easier for future mentors to plan. Together, they created an SOP document to streamline the process of securing transportation, planning activities, and making the most of time spent at the laboratory and reserve. During this year’s field trip, students learned about classes offered at BML, how to apply for summer and fall courses, available scholarships, and the support team available to them at the lab.

Two people taking a selfie with paper hats in the shape of crabs on their heads.
Karolina and Ellie Fairbairn making crab hats during UC Davis Picnic Day.

One of her lasting contributions is making the transition easier for future mentors. Karolina organized all the course materials, wrote detailed notes on what worked and what didn't, and compiled a "Read Me" document to guide the next mentor. This groundwork ensures that the program can continue to improve and evolve.

Watching students find their niche in marine science and discover opportunities that fit them has been incredibly rewarding for Karolina. As she moves on, she leaves behind a legacy of interactive learning and strong mentorship. Her work has not only enhanced student experiences in the Marine and Coastal Science Major, but has also set a high bar for future mentors in the MCS Lead Mentor program.

Want to learn more about the MCS Lead Mentor Program?

Read about past mentorship experiences:

How CMSI’s Lead Mentor Supports Marine Science Undergraduates

Supporting Marine Science Undergraduates Through Flexibility, Agility, and Inclusivity


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