Senior Spotlight: Trevor Tuma

Juan Zuniga – Mejia


The four years a student dedicates to a college provides several paths and opportunities for growth and development. For fourth-year Trevor Tuma, he has dedicated all his actions and decisions with the intent to further discover who he is and who he wants to become. Tuma has spent his Whittier College experience participating in the College’s Swim Team as well as pursuing his double major in Biology and Environmental Science. 

As a Biology and Environmental Science major, he has participated in several research programs and fellowships, including a study abroad trip to South Africa with Biology Professor Dr. Cheryl Swift through the Ondrasik-Groce Fellowship.

In his second year, Tuma went on a Jan Term trip with Dr. Swift to South Africa. This was a crucial decision to Tuma’s discovery of his true passion in the sciences. “My specific research project was in invasive species, and seeing how they were able to outcompete the native species and how they become a little more successful,” said Tuma when explaining his trip. “It definitely gives you a perspective of doing science outdoors and collecting data in a more strenuous environment. I really enjoyed the experience. For me, being able to have this experience at the time was a catalyst for the rest of my experiences.” When his research was organized and prepared, Tuma presented it to the Ecological Society of America (ESA) this last summer. “Being involved with that many scientists and collaboration and ideas you are getting, it was really important for me to confirm that this is what I want to be doing,” said Tuma. It was the experiences of using both the tools and the academic environment he was surrounded in that helped guide Tuma into selecting a field of study to focus on: botany and plant physiology. 

Growing up in Vashon Island, Washington, plants have always been a major topic of interest to Tuma. “I grew up on an island and was always fascinated by nature, the Earth, and the world we are living in,” he said. “I was always really fascinated and interested in plants themselves, [on] their resiliency and [how] they are able to survive and thrive in such diverse and beautiful climates. And when you think about the actual processes of plant systems, it’s really quite remarkable.” His respect and admiration with nature and plants is what helped him find his focus in study. Tuma is confident that what he researches in the future will carry his ambition and dedication towards finishing his future work.

As a recipient of the Ondrasik-Groce Fellowship, Tuma worked with his advisor, Associate Professor Department of Education, Lauren Swanson, in studying science education. This journey began during Tuma’s second year in a course that allowed him to visit and teach eighth graders in a local middle school about brain anatomy and the nervous system. Feeling he made a positive impact on the students’ education, Tuma was inspired. “As students thanked me for teaching an engaging lesson, I cherished the sense that I had inspired their interests in science,” said Tuma. This was the moment he decided to continue to influence upcoming generations’ passions for science as what he describes as “an effective and innovative educator and researcher.”

In his undergraduate research, Tuma took interest in the use of scientific language in high school classrooms. He developed a research question based off of his discovery of a gap in the relationship between teacher questioning and scientific models. Tuma examined how a secondary school biology teacher’s use of questioning during model-based activities benefits students’ understandings of scientific models. The goal of his research is to understand how a teacher’s use of questioning and model-based lessons currently impacts students and to create an effective teaching strategy to be used by both teachers and school districts. “It was humbling and exciting to work on a project with results that can make a real, practical, contribution to improving educational practices,” said Tuma. This March, he will be presenting his research at the 2018 annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST). After further revision, the work is planned to be submitted to a journal for publication. 

With all the stresses of a double major weighing on his shoulders, Tuma was able to find comfort in his experience of being a student athlete with Whittier College’s Swim Team. Having just finished the season, he finds it strange to be done after four years of competing for the College and fifteen years in the sport total. Tuma said that he reflects on the impact it made to his life. “I’ve learned a lot of important things about who I am as a person. [I learned about] time management and dedication and perseverance; really being able to work hard,” said Tuma. 

He shares a strong love and admiration for the team he has bonded with over the years. “The team has been a huge area of support for me — especially with my fellow classmates and seniors,” said Tuma. “So, all of the laughter and memories are just something really special and make my experiences that much better. I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of it for so long.”

Tuma began swimming at six years old and competed on his high school’s swim and track and field teams. Being in the water has always been the better of the two for Tuma. He finds clarity in the water when facing the pressures and frustrations of life. As a member of the College’s Swim Team, Tuma shared how, during early morning practice, his teammates’ jokes and support was what made things easier for him. He is glad to have finished and have been part of the environment. He loves his team dearly and will miss them the most after graduating.

Tuma is an individual who seeks challenges and self-development when opportunity strikes. For his third year, he took on the position of resident advisor (RA) in the hopes to provide his services to help students. He wanted the position to aid him in taking on a leadership role. From his brief time as an RA, he became a resource outlet and a collaborative member in diverse groups to plan activities for the benefit of students. Tuma felt what he learned during the experience are transferable to any professional environment he may encounter. At the end of his third year, he decided to channel his attention to his final year and towards developing himself as an individual,  preparing his life for post-graduate preparations. 

When looking towards the approaching graduation ceremony, Tuma’s ambitions do not yield. Tuma shows he is a determined researcher and learner. “I don’t feel my education is complete . . . there are just so many more things that I am thinking about. So, I’m excited about these school years giving me the chance to figure out what those things are and understand what I want to do,” said Tuma. Whittier College has given Tuma the foundations to complete his goals through the tools, course content, and professors that he feels have greatly prepared him towards discovering his true passions. 

After graduation, Tuma is looking at several directions. This past Fall semester, Tuma applied to study botany and plant physiology at the Universities of Massachusetts, Georgia, Hawaii, Colorado, and Michigan. “I’m really excited because I’m hoping to start my PhD right out of college and focus on plant physiology and different ways that plants respond to different stressors,” said Tuma.  

Alongside his PhD, he continues to pursue his interest in biology education and he challenges those passions by applying for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Program. If Tuma is given this prestigious and competitive fellowship, the NSF would cover the cost of three years of graduate school for his research on students and faculty negative relationships and the impact that has on the student experience. 

Look at Tuma’s journey: he lived his four years in Whittier College with determination, integrity, courage, and an ever going thrive to further improve himself. As he makes his way towards graduating, he passes a piece of his wisdom to his fellow Poets: “Whittier has a lot of really unique and special opportunities that are available for you, and I would recommend you take advantage of everything that you can do. You have the opportunity to be an athlete if you want to, and also be a scientist. Or you can be a musician, or an artist, or you can write for the [Quaker Campus], or pursue your talents [in] whatever you want to do. You have the support of all the wonderful faculty, and that’s something that’s really valuable.” 




Photo Courtesy of Trevor Tuma

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Tuma

Trevor Tuma and Professor of Biology Cheryl Swift studied invasive species in South Africa during Tuma’s second year at Whittier College.    Photo Courtesy of Trevor Tuma

Trevor Tuma and Professor of Biology Cheryl Swift studied invasive species in South Africa during Tuma’s second year at Whittier College. 

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Tuma