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Grounded in impact

With a love of animals and a dedication to climate issues, Mitchell Zimmerman stewards the ecosystems across Stanford’s land for an impact that’s as widespread as it is personal.

Mitchell Zimmerman smiling on a bright day at Lake Lagunita
Image credit: Nancy Rothstein

For Mitchell Zimmerman, what began as a free-time hobby in wildlife identification flourished into a lifelong commitment to conservation biology.

Zimmerman was an undergraduate in “Introduction to Ecology” when they first learned about Seek, an app where members of the public can upload photos and observations of local species. They enjoyed using it so much that they started planning outdoor expeditions to continue this work beyond the class. Soon enough, they said, “wanting to take pictures to upload to the app turned into an interest in wildlife photography.”

That interest grew into a deep appreciation for plant and animal life, which in turn fostered a love for ecology and biology. Zimmerman knew they wanted to explore this newfound passion by doing direct work in the field and eagerly applied to become a technician with the Stanford Conservation Program.

Part of Stanford's operations, the group protects biodiversity on university lands through efforts like native plant restoration and the monitoring of endangered species. The team also provides educational opportunities for students and community members to learn about conservation and ecology.

Mitchell inspecting a patch of native grass
Image credit: Nancy Rothstein

From weeding non-native species to conducting population surveys of the California tiger salamander, Zimmerman enjoys how this work fosters a personal connection to the land.

“I’ve gained a lot of intimacy with the specific ecosystem and organisms that inhabit Stanford,” they said. “Even something as simple as being able to recognize and name what’s around you strengthens the relationship.”

A coterminal masters student in Earth systems, Zimmerman is very conscious of the complex challenges posed by climate change. They said it was once difficult to reconcile the contrast between the vastness of these issues and the site-specific concerns of conserving a plot of land.

But working with the Conservation Program has helped them realize the significance of their efforts. “Local-scale work is not only just as important as global-scale endeavors, it’s foundational to it,” Zimmerman added.

“I knew I wanted to find my path towards working on this enormous issue that we’re facing,” they said. “Conservation work is very fulfilling personally – while also allowing me to make my own kind of impact on fighting the climate crisis.”

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