For many college students, summer vacations are a time to work—in offices, labs or malls. But for Nik Tyack, spending his summers outside has helped him carve out a niche for his academic interests.
Nik came to Pomona with an interest in neuroscience, but two experiences steered him toward the study of environmental issues, which he does through his biology major and history minor.
First, the summer following his freshman year, Nik worked as a camp counselor and Greenscapes intern with the North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSWA) in Norwell, Massachusetts, which is near his hometown of Hanover. For six weeks, Nik led kayaking explorations for local kids, teaching them how to kayak and about local watershed and river preservation efforts. He also performed outreach at community fairs, discussing the impact of things like storm water and fertilizer on the watershed.
“Coming to Pomona has been really good, experiencing a new place,” says Nik, who mentions the wide variety of students he’s met from the West Coast, New England and nations like Singapore and Japan. “But part of the process has been connecting what I’m learning here to stuff back home.”
Back for fall semester, he took Professor Char Miller’s “U.S. Environmental History” class, during which he read Changes in the Land by William Cronon. It inspired Nik to continue to explore his own native Massachusetts. “[It was] about how the ecology of New England changed after the colonists arrived,” he says.
The next summer, Nik was able to tie in history to his interest in the watershed. With the help of a Pomona’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) grant, he returned home to take a closer look into the colonial history of southern New England and King Philip’s War. “This war in 1675 took place right in my backyard basically between the descendents of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag,” says Nik.
Completing the research project at home offered him close proximity to many of artifacts of the time, local research and even the opportunity to visit the location where the Wampanoag leader, King Philip, died.
Last summer, he took a 72-mile kayak journey up Wampanaog Canoe Passage as part of fundraiser for the NSWA. Over the course of four days, Nik and his companions saw first hand the beauty of the ecosystem that played a significant role in the conflict and daily lives of the Native Americans and colonists. “I could think about the environmental issues confronting the rivers now, but also relive this historical old waterway,” says Nik.
During the school year, Nik also uses his time to explore his interests: He writes about sustainability issues for The Student Life newspaper, uses the campus’s free foldable bikes to get to his biology internship at the Rancho Santiago Botanic Gardens, did a sustainability fellowship studying the College’s water usage and takes part in local trips around Southern California in the On the Loose club.
Nik’s plans for his senior year include two projects that juxtapose the environmental issues and the history of the North River. His goal is to work on a herring restoration project with the NSWA and use his senior thesis to push his research into the concept of historical memory and how different communities have distinct perceptions of the past. “Pomona really gives you a unique opportunity to do undergraduate research, which I think is a really great thing,” says Nik.