Securing a Place in the Sun


—Allison Sanders

Paul Nyhof has spent a lot of time slogging around knee-deep in the muddy marshes of the Moffett Field salt ponds. As a graduate student, Nyhof, ’13 MS Environmental Studies, studied the Western Pond Turtles that live in the marshes along a then-new section of the San Francisco Bay Trail.

“No one had studied how recreational traffic affects pond turtles,” says Nyhof. “The turtles bask on logs to regulate their body temperature with the sun. If they are scared and stop this important behavior, their survival is compromised.” He decided to base his graduate thesis on the question of how the Bay Trail is going to affect this species.

Despite the expense of precious time and resources, the marsh slogging wasn’t going quite as Nyhof had hoped. Needing some inspiration, he went to a rare pond species workshop at Sonoma State University, led in part by biologist Jeff Alvarez. While observing turtles together, Nyhof explained his goal to him. “Jeff basically told me, ‘I believe in your research. Here’s $500.’”

Nyhof used the unexpected gift to cover tuition and the cost of equipment such as netting and traps. After finishing his research, he completed his master’s degree and decided to pay it forward. Nyhof reached out to friends from his program with the idea of giving back to SJSU together. They were in.

Nyhof and fellow graduates Matthew Lambert, Zuhayl Lambert, Johnathon Fata, Jeff Sinclair and Clayton Leal established the Environmental Studies Alumni Research Fund for Exceptional Graduate Students. The annual award is $500—the same amount of the gift that helped Nyhof and his turtles secure their place in the sun.

Today, Nyhof is a science teacher at John Muir Middle School. And in case you were wondering, pedestrians “almost never” disturb the turtles, bikers do “sometimes,” and vehicles “almost always” startle them back into the water. “Something to keep in mind when designing trails!” Nyhof concludes.

Allison Arbuthnot Sanders

Allison is a staff writer in San Jose State's marketing and communications department. A former food writer, she enjoys telling the stories of the people and places that power SJSU.

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