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Species Preservation

Jul 23, 2013

By Dean Caparaz ’90

(Originally published in the Summer 2012-13 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.)

The hard-working, do-it-all mentality that served Kyle Marsh so well on the pitch has translated well to the classroom. The soccer player has parlayed his academic success into a Pac-12 Postgraduate Scholarship that he hopes will give him, and in turn others, a deeper understanding of the environment in order to protect and preserve endangered species.

A product of Santa Rosa High School, Marsh played for three seasons – and redshirted one year due to injury – on the Golden Bear team. He graduated with his degree in conservation and resource sciences this past May.

Marsh came to Cal completely focused on soccer. He dreamed of someday playing professionally, as head coach Kevin Grimes’ lauded program has produced several players who are still active at the next level. Over the years, Marsh watched as many of his former teammates, including A.J. Soares, Servando Carrasco and Hector Jimenez, left Cal to become pros.

A speedy midfielder/defender, Marsh appeared in a total of 38 games for the Bears and started 20 times. An injury sidelined him in 2010, forcing him to the sidelines when Cal produced arguably its best season in program history with a berth into the NCAA quarterfinals. Personally, Marsh had his most outstanding year in 2011, when he started 11 games and scored the first two goals of his career. This past fall, he started in nine of 15 games played and scored twice more – in a 4-1 win over Central Florida and a 5-0 rout of Houston Baptist.

But over the years, his focus changed. Despite seeing many of his teammates advance to the next level, Marsh realized that reaching the pro ranks was going to be a long shot.

“That was my aspiration in the beginning,” Marsh said, “and obviously it shifted to a more realistic future for myself and something that I can control a little bit better with schoolwork and hard work than I could with soccer. Once I got here I found another passion. That’s when it started to shift a little bit more towards education and my classes.

“Actually, it was a big shift,” Marsh admitted. “I was always super passionate about soccer, and that’s what pushes any athlete to be their best. And then when you find a passion in school, it’s pretty similar, and you work as hard in both. Athletes are usually pretty competitive, so doing the best you can always is just kind of a mindset you’re stuck in.”

Marsh worked in two different research positions as a senior. One entailed analyzing data about coyote activity over the previous four years. The other position was part of the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP), in which he assessed the quality and catalogued the sound recordings of East African Sunbirds for the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology as well as for the Ph.D. student he worked with.

Marsh’s emphasis on his schoolwork resulted in him claiming Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention notice in 2011 and 2012. He also earned the conference scholarship, along with swimming’s Caitlin Leverenz, volleyball’s Robin Rostratter and Isaac Howell, who competed in swimming and crew. In collecting his Pac-12 award, Marsh rubbed shoulders with other high achievers in both the academic and athletic realms.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Marsh said. “It makes me pretty proud to be part of this group of people.”

Like many newcomers in Berkeley, Marsh became aware of academic pursuits he didn’t know existed before arriving on campus. And a class he took as a freshman not only piqued his interests, but sent him in a direction that will shape his post-Cal career and inspired him to try to do his part of make the world a better place to live, a sentiment shared by so many others on campus.

 “In my freshman year I had a seminar class that was on environmental issues and green energy, and that kind of sparked my interest because I didn’t know that was an actual area of study until I got to college,” Marsh said. “And then that led to taking Biology 1B. My GSI (graduate student instructor) was a conservation biologist from Madagascar, and he was talking to me about his research and everything that he’d been doing. That definitely opened my eyes to a possibility that I didn’t know existed. It was definitely something that I was very interested in, and that’s shot me on this path.”

With conservation biology serving as Marsh’s favorite area of concentration within his major, his “path” has led him towards protecting wildlife and the environment.

“To be able to prevent a species from going extinct is a dream of mine that I will always strive for, and with the education I received here I know that it is possible,” he said.

Now a young Cal alumnus, Marsh is spending his summer in Yosemite National Park, though he’s not sight-seeing, at least not in the conventional sense. He is assisting a Cal graduate student in her research of Dark-eyed Juncos, “which are these tiny birds,” March said. “We’ll be catching them, taking DNA samples, banding them and watching them. [We’re] doing a study on how clutch size (the number of eggs that a bird lays in one nesting) goes down or how clutch size changes as elevation changes.”

Marsh hopes to take at least one year off from school to do research, prepare for the GREs and decide what he wants to pursue in graduate school before renewing his studies.

“My ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. in biology or ecology,” he said. “After graduate school all I know is that I want to be using my knowledge to better our society’s understanding of our natural world and prevent species from going extinct.”