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Bios Magazine: Spark the Travel Bug

Kiana Nava
For UC Davis College of Biological Sciences student Kiana Nava, the Dean's Circle Study Abroad Scholarship allowed her to spend the summer studying biology in Ireland as part of the "Bio Sci 2B in Dublin" program. Courtesy photo


Nearly 200 years ago, a one-kilometer wall was constructed on the northeast side of Ireland’s Dublin Port. Sand accumulated over the wall, creating a 15- square-kilometer spit known as Bull Island Today, it’s a national nature reserve home to plants, mammals, birds and sea life. Inland from the shore, Bull Island changes. Small sand dunes dappled with tufts of grass grow in size as flora and fauna shift.    

For UC Davis College of Biological Sciences student Kiana Nava, Bull Island exemplifies principles of ecology and evolution she learned as part of the “Bio Sci 2B in Dublin” study abroad program. Ask Nava, and she’ll say the experience revealed to her the causal nature of biology.

“One thing leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next, and I think that’s really beautiful in the sense that everything has a purpose and has significance,” says Nava, a sophomore majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. “That’s what intrigues me the most about biology.”  

Nava’s trip to Ireland was made possible thanks to the Dean’s Circle Study Abroad Scholarship. During her voyage, Nava attended classes at the University College Dublin, made new friends and traveled to Ireland’s many ecological and cultural landmarks, including Bull Island and the Cliffs of Moher.  

“This has been a great experience and I’ve been very thankful for the opportunity,” says Nava, who noted the scholarship eliminated financial pressures.  “Even though I was studying, I was still able to have really no worries and I was really able to soak up everything that this country has to offer.”

University College Dublin
Nava spent the summer touring Ireland and taking classes at the University College Dublin. Courtesy photo

An eye on biology    

Raised in El Centro, California, Nava eyed medicine as a potential  career early. Her positive experiences while visiting the optometrist influenced her decision to explore the ophthalmology field.    

During high school, she interned in a lab at the Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego, investigating the molecular mechanisms of age-related eye diseases, including glaucoma. Though guided by mentors, Nava learned the importance of self-reliance. After all, acclimating to a new lab requires adaptation and fast learning skills. It was the perfect primer for college.     

At UC Davis, Nava decided to major in neurobiology, physiology  and behavior, inspired by her interest in the optic nerve. When  she heard about the Dean’s Circle Study Abroad Scholarship, she applied.      

“I wasn’t going to be able to afford it otherwise,” says Nava.  “I knew that if I was going to go and travel that I should at least try to take the opportunity that the school is offering.”

Fortunately, Nava received the scholarship. In June 2019, she boarded a plane for the Emerald Isle. It marked her first time traveling outside of the United States of America.   

Establishing a lifelong curiosity

Nava embraced her new surroundings.  She explored Dublin, marveling at cathedrals and museums, tasting the local cuisine and imbibing at the Guinness Storehouse. In addition to Bull Island, she visited the Cliffs of Moher, where the choppy Atlantic blue meets steep cliffs capped with vibrant green grass.

On the academic side, Nava learned evolution and ecology principles from faculty at the University College Dublin.

“We actually had six or seven different professors and they were selected based on their specializations in ecology and evolution,” says Nava. “It was very personal because we were in such a small class.”

The passion exhibited by her professors was inspiring. It made Nava realize that science is a lifelong curiosity.

Now in her sophomore year, Nava reflects fondly on her summer experience. More than anything, the trip furthered her self-confidence.

“It’s kind of daunting to travel alone,” says Nava. “But when you’re alone, it’s really the one place where you’re able to think  and appreciate everything that’s around you and when you’re really able to learn by observation.”  

“You’re also learning about life,” she adds. 

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Kiana and other students
Nava (left) and the other study abroad students visited Ireland's famous landmarks, including the Cliffs of Moher. Courtesy photo