It’s Worth Working Towards

Honors College natural resources student Zach Mize is a stunning example of what undergraduates can accomplish outside of the classroom.

Zach, a student at Oregon State University – Cascades, participated in a Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) program at California State University, Monterey Bay during the summer of 2018. This experience culminated in co-authoring a paper in a research journal – all before even starting his thesis work.

This accomplishment is just the latest chapter in, in his words, a “long story.” This long story began when he left high school without his diploma in 1999 and then received his GED in 2000. He went on to join the military in 2001 and served on and off for eight years. He then went to work as a traveling ironworks millwright. After six hand surgeries due to the strenuous work, Zach decided that he needed a change. Despite his fear about returning to school, he felt it was his only option to support his family. He started by continuing his education at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, where a teacher helped him learn how to invest himself in his learning. With the assistance of this faculty member, Zach applied to a plethora of REU opportunities, and was accepted into California State University’s program.

Through this opportunity, Zach studied a mud snail, Batillaria attramentaria, at the Elkhorn Slough estuary in Monterey Bay, California. The mud snail was previously considered invasive to the area, but the populations have declined considerably. Researchers on the project investigated why the mud snail went from invasive to noninvasive, studying various factors such as the predator crab Pachygrapsus crassipes and warm water temperatures.

Zach’s favorite parts of the research process were doing data analysis and the opportunity to work with parasitologists. These experiences sparked an idea for his honors thesis, which focuses on the diversity of parasites in rainbow trout.

After his time at Central Oregon Community College, Zach decided to further build and enhance his education by attending Oregon State University – Cascades as an Honors College student. OSU-Cascades and its honors program have allowed him to find a high-quality education while staying in Central Oregon with his family. The ability to attend school and continue to raise his family has been incredibly valuable for him.

Now, Zach is almost finished with his honors thesis, and after he graduates, he aspires to attend graduate school and eventually earn a Ph.D. in an aquatic epidemiology field.

Zach’s path toward discovering his passion has been a long and unique one, but it has led to a field he loves and a promising future. With a research publication already under his belt and an honors thesis in the works, his story continues to head in exciting new directions.

Zach, who has demonstrated the value of hard work and resilience, has simple advice for anyone with a dream: “It isn’t always easy, but if you want it bad enough, then it’s probably worth working towards.”

Check out his research publication in the Biological Invasions Journal, Volume 22, titled “Multiple factors contribute to the spatially variable and dramatic decline of an invasive snail in an estuary where it was long-established and phenomenally abundant,” or go to

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