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Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Torrey Trust

In workshops she has conducted, UCSB Education Ph.D. student Torrey Trust talks about the importance of a stellar online presence, or “digital reputation.” Do a “vanity search” of your name, she advises, and see what shows up. If you don’t like what you find, it’s time to clean up that reputation, and in her seminars, Torrey tells you how to do that. But she says there are some things that simply cannot be erased from your digital profile, such as when you’re involved in a world news event. Torrey was thrust into such a situation in 2007.

If you Google “Torrey Trust,” on the first page of the results you’ll find this UC San Diego headline: “Newlywed Alums Aboard Ship That Sinks in Antarctica.” Yes, that was Torrey, who was on a honeymoon cruise with her husband Trevor Takayama when their ship hit an iceberg in the Antarctic. They huddled in a lifeboat in frigid waters for more than four hours before help arrived. Once on dry land in Chile, they were interviewed about their ordeal by Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

Although Torrey hasn’t made the world news since then, her other activities and accomplishments are no less noteworthy. Among her many talents, Torrey is a surfer, a soccer player, a photographer, a blogger, an author, an environmentalist, and a teacher.

Torrey took some time for an interview with the GradPost. She shares what it’s like to have your father as your teacher; how she came to establish an eco-friendly surfing school; why she wants a particular T-shirt after she earns her Ph.D.; her advice for grad students; and why she’ll never own an ice cream shop.

Diane Sawyer of "Good Morning America" interviews Trevor Takayama and Torrey Trust in 2007.

Since we’re no “Good Morning America,” we can’t promise Torrey this post will land on Page One of a “Torrey Trust” Google search. But it is possible that if we get enough clicks, it could find its way to the front page. To make that a reality, read on and share this with your friends. …

Name, year in graduate school, discipline/emphasis, expected graduation date; other degrees

Torrey “Surf’s Up” Trust,

2nd Year in Grad School, Education (Teaching and Learning emphasis); Hopeful Graduation Date: June 2014. Other Degrees: M.A. in Educational Technology, San Diego State University. B.A. in Visual Arts: Media with Film Emphasis, UC San Diego.

Where did you grow up?

In the lovely surf town of Encinitas (San Diego), California.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

My research focuses on K-12 teachers’ use of professional learning networks to connect, collaborate, and learn with other educators from around the world. Professional learning networks (PLNs) are a combination of social media tools (i.e., Facebook, Edmodo, Twitter) and information aggregation tools (i.e., RSS readers and social bookmarking). PLNs help teachers overcome the feeling of isolation, the embarrassment from seeking help, and the idea that they have to reinvent the wheel any time they design a new lesson plan or activity. In Edmodo, for example, a teacher might post a request for solar system resources and will generally receive 5 to 15 responses with multiple resources (lesson ideas, online resources, learning activities) within 24 hours. Teachers can pool the collective knowledge from experts around the world to find the most effective solutions, resources, and best practices.

I first became interested in the idea of professional learning networks and online communities from my ED 210A: Advances in Learning Sciences course. I realized that I had been building one using Google Reader and Diigo since 2008, so I was familiar with the tools. The idea of PLNs was gaining popularity in the Education field, so I jumped on in and started my research by building an e-course to help teachers build their own PLNs:

What has graduate student life been like for you?

Graduate student life has been an incredible opportunity. I often think how lucky I am to have the opportunity to spend time engaging in conversations and thinking critically about the theory and practice that inform pedagogy and an understanding of how people learn.

Of course, not all of my time is spent trying to answer the world’s most pressing questions. I am part of 3 soccer teams and 2 softball teams. I work multiple jobs. And, my husband and I often spend our weekends exploring the local activities and outings.

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?

Even though I should have taken a hint because Ph.D. stands for “doctor of philosophy,” I didn’t quite realize how much time would be spent philosophizing. Nothing is black and white. There really is no right answer. Learning is not about an individual soaking up information from an expert.

Culture, history, activity systems, prior knowledge, background experience, personal upbringing, and many other factors are at play as a student sits in a classroom. I never realized how much time I would spend thinking about thinking.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

Being called “Dr. Trust.” I started a Ph.D. program so that when I graduate I can wear a “Trust me, I’m a doctor” shirt.

Seriously, though, I’m driven by the opportunity to improve education. I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2010 to pursue a career in K-12 education. I found a job at a turnaround school in Southeast D.C. as an instructional aide. I spent most of my time working with an adorable third-grade student with severe autism spectrum disorder, however I also had the opportunity to lead small group activities in both reading and math. Working in one of the lowest performing elementary schools in Washington, D.C., was an eye-opener. The teachers faced incredibly challenging obstacles and yet they stayed late at night and came into the schools on weekends to do their best to change the lives of their students. I want to find a way to help teachers excel. Showing teachers how to build a professional learning network is just one way to improve support and professional development opportunities for teachers. I will continue to search for more ways to support the individuals who spend countless hours being coaches, parents, counselors, nutritionists, and inspirations to the students in the classroom.

Who is your hero and why?

Torrey's father, Jerry Trust, on Earth Day 2009.I have two heroes: my mother [Beverly Trust] and father [Jerry Trust]. Before my mother passed away from breast cancer in 2003, she had worked as an elementary teacher and Science resource specialist for San Diego City Schools. She was truly passionate about education and improving the lives of her students. I want to continue her quest of making a difference through education.

My father was a high school science teacher for over 30 years. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher twice. His AP Environmental Science course took students on over 15 field trips around San Diego to explore different ecosystems (tide pools, whale watching, chapparral). In that class, we learned through inquiry and projects. His course and extreme love of the environment have inspired many students to pursue environmental science studies and jobs.

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

I started the first ever eco-friendly surfing school in the world, Surf eCo, in 2008. After witnessing the devastating effects of deforestation in Costa Rica, I told my husband that I wanted to find a way to raise money to save acres of rainforest. Having been a surf instructor at UC San Diego for multiple years, I decided to start a surf school. However, the school was very different than other surf schools – students learned to surf on eco-friendly biofoam surfboards, used bamboo towels, tested natural sunscreens, and waxed their boards with soy-based wax. I also spend the last 15 minutes of every lesson talking about human impact on the environment (deforestation, pollution, etc.) and how to take small steps to make a difference. Many repeat participants showed up to the second or third lesson with reusable bags/bottles and actively participated in the discussions about the environment. This school received a lot of media attention and was very popular. We raised enough money to save 72 acres of rainforest during the first summer. Unfortunately, the regulations in Encinitas banned surf schools from operating on weekends, which, since I also worked a full-time job, resulted in the closing of the school.

What do you do to relax? Any hobbies or favorite places? What makes you happy?

To relax, I nap. In fact, I usually write naptime into my schedule before any of my other commitments when planning out my week. This is a healthy way to reenergize and shut my mind off for a short period of time so I can go full speed when I wake up.

Torrey and her beloved chihuahua, Lily.For hobbies, I love to travel. I apply to present at conferences just so I can travel all over the country.

My husband and I have been to all 7 continents and to over 30 countries together. My favorite country is Costa Rica – rainforest, excellent surfing, and an active volcano that heats the hot springs – can’t beat that. The most beautiful place that I’ve been is Iguacu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil.

What makes me happy – Chihuahuas, penguins, and Chihuahuas wearing penguin outfits. My husband and I traveled to Antarctica during our honeymoon just to see penguins.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you and/or something that most people don’t know about you?

1) My childhood dream was to own an ice cream shop. Since I now follow a vegan diet, that dream has a very slim chance of happening.

2) I wanted to name my chihuahua Cha-Chi, but since we got her from a rescue organization, she was already named (Lily).

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

Teaching at a university, doing freelance instructional design for K-12 schools and businesses, conducting research, publishing my third book, and traveling around the world to present.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

There are two essentials in grad school: relationships and resources. Connect with other graduate students, staff, and faculty. Seek out mentors. The more relationships you build, the more support you will have as you achieve your goals. Also, UCSB has a wealth of resources to offer – take advantage of them while you are a student. Most of them are free (i.e., counseling, career services, instructional development).

OK, really three things – don’t sweat the small things. Life is short.

What are your goals as Academic Peer Advisor in the Graduate Student Resource Center?

While my title is Academic Peer Advisor, my real goal is to help all students develop personally, professionally, and academically. I hope to achieve this goal by writing helpful articles on the GradPost and hosting workshops and office hours. I look forward to finding a way to get all grad students to subscribe to the GradPost so they can be informed about all of the amazing resources at UCSB.

Anything else you’d like to add?

To save teachers the time they would have to spend searching for online resources and figure out how to use technology tools, I built an education technology database that hosts over 2,000 links to websites, videos, and other helpful resources that teachers can use when integrating technology into their lesson plans. The resources are categorized by subject, grade level, and standard. The website has been viewed over 110,000 times by individuals from over 140 countries. Members of the database include superintendents, directors of technology, teachers, parents, students, and administrators from all over the world. Website:

Here are a few links you may come across when Googling “Torrey Trust”:

YouTube Video: Torrey Trust on UCSB’s Graduate Student Resource Center

“Honeymoon on Ice,” New York Times

Travel TT (Torrey's Travel blog) Book: “Graduating With Confidence: A Guide to Making the Most of Your College Experience"

Getting a Job 2.0: Branding, Digital Reputation, and Social Media

Managing Your Digital Reputation

UC San Diego Tritons Bio

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