Samantha Stephan

2021 Restoration Scholar – UC Davis

Samantha Stephan has always had a love of the outdoors. From the time she completed what she termed “a real hike, and not just a quick little nature walk” at age 5, the Elk Grove native has held a deep-rooted passion for the natural world.

“Finishing that hike was not so much conquering nature as much as being able to be part of it and appreciate it,” she said. “Ever since then, I felt like I’ve always had a connection to the outdoors, and in high school I knew I wanted to study environmental science.”

That connection continues to this day. During her summer internship with River Partners out of the Sacramento office, the Environmental Science and Management major at UC Davis collected soil samples at the Stone Lake Project site and analyzed the differences in the samples in order to determine if the soil is optimal for particular types of plants. The benefits of this work are multifold. 

Stephan said that before planting projects begin, an outside agency would typically come in, take soil samples, and analyze them. But River Partners takes this on themselves, analyzing the soil before planting—and her analysis is helping to keep that work in-house for River Partners.

“I’m analyzing the site to see why one area isn’t doing as well as the others looking into soil characteristics, so that should help River Partners in the future implement some better methods to take before planting,” she said. 

Additionally, she and her team can analyze the soil to monitor its overall health, track any changes that have happened within the soil, and determine whether that site remains viable for future River Partners plantings.

“Knowing where certain types of plants can go in the future, we may not have to deal with low mortality, saving River Partners future replants,” she said. “Knowing if soil differences are the reason for the disparities and mortality will be important, because if soil isn’t the factor, this opens up the gates to ask, ‘is it something to do with air quality, is there something wrong with the drip lines, is it a bit more of a maintenance thing, or is there a bigger issue as a whole?’”

Stephan is on track to graduate from UC Davis in 2023, and she has some pretty good ideas of what she’d like to do. She does know, however, that River Partners played a large role in helping develop her skill set—while feeding that love for the outdoors.

“I think I want to work more with plants than with other wildlife, which is what we did at River Partners most of the time,” she said. “I’ve considered the AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps has some options where I could go out and work with specific projects, or the National Forest Service or national parks where I would go and essentially monitor a bunch of sites and work with other biologists and ecologists to work to fix problems.”

Also, the fact that Stephan is doing restoration work in what is essentially her hometown has helped make her River Partners internship a more memorable experience.

“It’s been really cool being able to work on a restoration project that’s essentially in my backyard,” she said. “It’s been really cool to be able to work in my hometown like that in a positive way.”