Real World Science: Students Partner with Santa Clara County in Forest Research

Senior students at Mount Madonna School (MMS) are helping Santa Clara County’s Department of Parks and Recreation to monitor forest health in Mount Madonna County Park. This hands-on collaboration is a part of Science with Humanity, an honors science class taught by  Nicole Silva Culbertson. 

 “The health of California’s forest ecosystem is threatened by wildfires, invasive species and climate change,” said Silva Culbertson. “To mitigate some of these threats, the state is monitoring and actively working to reduce biofuel (through field breaks) and removing invasive species.” 

MMS students are helping by measuring the presence and coverage of native and invasive species, rate of vegetation regrowth and signs of new or intensified pathogens.

“This is an excellent opportunity for our students as it is real world science work and they are contributing and making a difference in their own community,” Silva Culbertson said. “They get to participate and learn first-hand how ecologists and scientists work to help protect and support the health or our own environment especially as it pertains to mitigating the effects of human induced climate change.”

Science with Humanity is a survey of college-level topics in life science with an emphasis on bioethics. The central questions of the class are, “what can science tell us about being a human being,” and “what are the ethics of using the tools we’ve developed in science?” Major units in the class are biomedical technology, physical anthropology, psychology, environmental science and physiology of illegal drugs.

The class gets its name from Mahatma Gandhi, who named seven social sins; the sixth was practicing “Science Without Humanity.” The honors course at MMS is named to reflect two meanings: practicing science while considering the effects of the tools on mankind, and learning about being human through science.

Since its inception in 2013, Science with Humanity has been a favorite subject for many MMS students. 

“I love how our Science with Humanity class connects to the outside world,” said senior Sky Weir. “By studying the intersection between science and society, I am able to learn about the practical applications of scientific discoveries and how they impact our daily lives. For example, studying the effects of climate change on human societies has allowed me to understand the importance of sustainable practices and the need for collective action to combat this global challenge.” 

 “My favorite subject is Science with Humanity,” said senior Cecily Kelly. “I love learning about such a variety of important topics in science such as bioethics, climate change and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This class really opened my eyes about a lot of issues I thought I had set opinions on, and has made me think.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.