From Nature’s Playground to Silicon Valley
Junior environmental science major takes every opportunity to think (and learn) outside the box.
Santa Clara University junior and Environmental Science major Zach Gianotti has been drawn to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. His childhood home bordering the Tongass National Forest in Juneau, Alaska is the backdrop for many colorful stories of bear sightings in his backyard and kayaking in the nearby glacial lake. Zach remembers an early urge to understand the ecological changes happening around him, but he was first driven to consider environmental science as a career after a summer job working as a naturalist on a whale watching boat.
After what he recalls as a “rough transition” from nature’s playground to Silicon Valley, Zach helps calm his nature withdrawals by taking every opportunity to throw himself into his passions. On campus, he holds a leadership position with SCU’s outdoor club, Into The Wild, works with Professor Hari Mix researching atmospheric rivers, and holds an internship at the Forge Garden---a half-acre edible, organic garden for sustainable food system education on campus. As an Environmental Ethics Fellow for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Zach also brings the intersection of land, social, and environmental justice, and the diverse motives of activists to the SCU community.
Last summer, Zach returned to his hometown as a member of the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) biogeochemical team. During this eight-week immersion into the wilderness, he and his team worked to collect chemical information from the surface of glaciers to explore the causes of glacial melt and the subsequent effect on the ecosystem. He is grateful to have been able to conduct research as an undergraduate student, and says “the opportunity to do so in my home community was amazing.” He was “constantly blown away while looking at the vast amount of snow and ice,” knowing he grew up less than 30 miles away.
Following a semester abroad in Bhutan, Zach traveled with his JIRP team to New Orleans, Louisiana to share their research conclusion at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting–the largest geoscience conference in the world. To prepare for this, Zach learned about how to submit an abstract and the process of getting into a conference, including applying for grants through SCU.
Zach plans to continue his tradition of applying his skills in a hands-on environment by spending his first year post-graduation with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where he will embark on a mission of service within poor communities. After the JVC, he plans to enter graduate school, where he hopes to explore the intersection of science and policy. These lofty goals aside, when asked to describe his dream job, in a perfect world, Zach simply responds, “I just want to be outside.”