Makenzie O’Connor

Science major Makenzie OConnor waves to camera

Major: Environmental Science and Ecology , Outdoor Adventure Leadership

Class of: 2016

Sometimes the most amazing experiences rise from the ashes of things that have been swept away. In August of 2012, my admission from UC Santa Cruz to study Marine Science was rescinded due to a 2-day late transcript from a high school summer art class. The real issue was that UC Santa Cruz had over-enrolled students and needed to cut the incoming freshman class, but at this point I had already declined enticing offers from both Cal Poly and San Diego State.

I found Sierra Nevada College through the rolling admission program and moved to Incline Village two days later, not knowing what I’d gotten myself into. I immediately signed up for a school 3-day backpacking trip in Yosemite, hoping to meet other like-minded students.

Science major Makenzie OConnor rock climbs in Utah“This trip marked a new chapter in my life: one where I could carry everything I needed on my back and see the world in its most raw form. I felt connected in an entirely different way.”

Although I had originally planned to transfer back to UC Santa Cruz, my first two years at SNC Tahoe propelled me in a completely new direction. Small classes and tight-knit friends trumped echoing lecture halls, and the mountains became as – if not more – endearing as the sea. My science focus shifted from marine systems to water resources. My phenomenal advisors and teachers were there for me every step of the way, providing an experience that I would have never gotten at a large institution.

I did a six-month internship through the Truckee Trails Foundation as part of my minor in Outdoor Adventure Leadership. Because kids from low-income households do not typically get the outdoor exposure that middle to upper class kids in the Truckee-Tahoe area do, I designed a free three-day, all inclusive outdoor summer camp to expose them to outdoor experiences without the hefty cost of gear.


Response of Riparian Denitrification to Dry-Wet Oscillations in Montane Ecosystems

OConnor-Riparian-Denitrification-Montane-Ecosystems-PPTcover-150x113For my Research Methods in Environmental Science course with Andy Rost, I designed a study to research the effects of prolonged wet and dry periods on soil denitrification in riparian wetland zones of the Sierra Nevada region. Denitrification, an incredibly important process by which nitrates are removed from soil and runoff, is very sensitive to small environmental variations. It has not been studied in montane environments such as the Sierra Nevada, which is why I chose Perazzo Meadows outside Truckee as the location. Through the extensive research and design that went into this project, I became more and more intrigued with riparian processes. Although I did not conduct my research, I did extensive research and developed the study design. I plan to implement a similar study in graduate school.


I ended up graduating in three and a half years at the top of my class, with a BS in Environmental Science and Ecology and a minor in Outdoor Adventure Leadership. I’ve worked, and will continue to work, as an outdoor guide, where I can continue extending my love for the outdoors to others, and also plan on pursuing my Master’s degree in Hydrology/Water Resources.

It’s been a crazy ride, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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