Researching bay-ond the curriculum

Working Together | Senior Sabrina Li (top row, far right) gathers with other Californian students for the SCAS research program.

Working Together | Senior Sabrina Li (top row, far right) gathers with other Californian students for the SCAS research program.

On the Tile | A tile covered with barnacles collected by Li from San Diego Bay, Calif. Sept.10 2018.

On the Tile | A tile covered with barnacles collected by Li from San Diego Bay, Calif. Sept.10 2018.

By the Sea | Tiles lay on the coast of San Diego Bay, Calif. set by Li to later observe its accumulation of barnacles.

By the Sea | Tiles lay on the coast of San Diego Bay, Calif. set by Li to later observe its accumulation of barnacles.

Senior Sabrina Li was in biology class when she received an email, discovering she would be receiving an honor after three years of research and hours of dedication.

Li recorded information on the effects of textured tiles and tidal elevation on the recruitment of barnacles in San Diego Bay. She began to research during her sophomore year after applying to the Southern California Academy of Sciences program. After her research in a California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) lab, Li has been named a top 300 Scholar in the 2021

“I am proud of the work I did and the dedication that I put in.” Li said. “Every single time I collected the data at the lab or went out to collect the tiles at the beach, I felt satisfied that I was able to do something [for CSUF]. They could be able to see the [barnacle] species that they need to avoid.”

The Southern California Academy of Sciences program teaches students how to write research papers and present their work with the help of professors from different colleges. Li was immediately interested and applied. She worked alongside graduate student Bryce Perog, her mentor, and CSUF professor Dr. Danielle Zacherl on her research topic. Li spent three hours at the lab three times a week, and while spending almost ten hours on the weekends. 

“I felt like I could talk to [Perog and Dr. Zacherl] about things like college. Since they are older, they tried to accommodate me.” Li said. “It felt nice to be able to work with them, especially on the weekends when we spend an entire day.”

Li’s interest in science research stemmed from her passion for aquatic life and going to beaches. She attached herself to marine ecology while exploring subjects of her interest. 

“I’m passionate about working to protect and restore marine life,” Li said. “I wanted to learn more about how to use science in experiments to better the lives of marine organisms. I emailed almost a dozen professors focusing on marine ecology, and that was when Dr. Zacherl was delighted to meet me.”

Li is planning to use her prize money for college savings. Walnut High School will also receive $2000 to perform STEM activities in science classrooms.

“A lot of the sciences, and even choir, do not have a lot of [donation] contributions.” Li said. “I’m happy that I was able to contribute that $2,000 for more research experiments that students can do in class because there have been more cut offs.”

Li is interested in continuing to research and work in sciences. Though she is unsure of what career she would like to pursue, she plans on carrying her passion for marine ecology into her future.

“In college, I might check around and see what types of other STEM fields I might be interested in. I’m just wandering.” Li said. “I’m happy and thankful for what other people have done for me to help me out. This experience helped me recognize my limits, and prioritize my mental health.”

By Sophia Parungao, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Li