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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sarah T. Stewart: Parade Marshal for Picnic Day 2019

From advancing planetary science to leading a rich, historic Davis event

The 105th Picnic Day, to be held on April 13, is an event filled with engaging activities and an opportunity for others outside of the Davis community to look at what the campus has to offer. While many people are working diligently to plan out the course of events for the exciting day behind the scenes, Dr. Sarah Stewart, this year’s parade marshal, has been given the grand opportunity of representing Picnic Day as well as the Davis community. Her work in planetary science has been recognized as the embodiment of this year’s theme of adventure –– Stewart was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant for her work on celestial collision and the formation of the Moon. Stewart shared her past experiences with Picnic Day and what it means to her to be a Parade Marshal.

While Stewart may not have been aware of the true breadth of her work, it all came to fruition once she found out that, by nomination, she was chosen as this year’s parade marshal.

“The student organizers for Picnic Day put out a call for nominations for the marshal,” Stewart said. “Someone nominated me and went through to find a good match for the theme, and they thought me and my work were a match for Adventure Awaits.”

The annual theme of Picnic Day is a celebration of one of the many aspects of UC Davis that make it a unique environment for the students and faculty. From building “Foundations for the Future” in 1960 to “Leaving a Mark” in 2007, themes have given the event a personalized feeling that brings the community together.

“The idea that the campus is full of adventure, and you come to Picnic Day to discover it and be surprised by everything happening on campus truly makes it a celebration of adventure,” Stewart said. “Showing up and wandering around campus in a new space, meeting new people, there’s always something to be found.”

With everything there is to see on campus, Stewart hopes to introduce a new atmosphere this year that truly lives up to the theme of adventure.

“I’m trying to encourage people to do something different,” Stewart said. “I’ll be going to events this year that I have never been to. I want students to purposefully seek out that surprise moment. That will be my call to action that morning: find something new.”

Much like the new students on campus today and the prospective students soon to come, Stewart recalled her first Picnic Day event and remembered the shock of seeing all there was to UC Davis in one day.

“I had that same experience of, ‘There is so much going on,’” Stewart said. “With my kids, the first thing we did was see all the animals since that’s one of the main attractions on campus. I’ve been in the parade with my daughter, so I’ve walked in the parade before with her and many other groups.”

Along with seeing the animals and dairy presentations, Stewart also enjoys exploring the chemistry show, making sure to attend that event whenever time permits her. The Battle of the Marching Bands is another highlight that Stewart encourages students to see, noting it as another of her favorite events.

In recent years, Stewart has worked with the geology department to bring new and engaging activities for students during the day.

“The dinosaur hats you might see on campus, those are from us,” Stewart said. “We spend the weeks leading up to Picnic Day making them in-house, taking time with volunteers gluing together some hats and then they’re gone in a few hours.”

Another presentation Stewart implores students to attend is the sandbox visualization, an interactive tool that allows students to see the differing water levels attributed to varying terrains.

“As you move around the sand and build mountains or lakes, a projector that controls [the] water level will fill in where water would flow in real time,” Stewart said. “The software for this was written here, and we’ve sent it all around the country as a teaching tool.”

Stewart’s newest addition has been her Shock Compression Lab, which has allowed her to give some insight to students about her work.

“In the lab, we conduct impact experiments to study what happens when planets collide,” Stewart said. “It’s an amazing facility and it’s one of the few times that students can come and take a peek at what goes on.”

Stewart recalled the years prior to the introduction of her lab and remembered the excitement she had knowing what new events were to come on Picnic Day, something she enjoys seeing again this year and hopes students will enjoy as well.

“You do see a lot of the new things being built on campus, gorgeous places like the Shrem Art Museum, and what events these places will be hosting,” Stewart said. “When you see the continual rejuvenation of the campus that occurs just by waiting a year, it’s like looking at snapshots in time.”

Although Stewart has a busy schedule ahead of her as Picnic Day draws nearer, she finds great pride in knowing she was chosen as the person to lead Picnic Day this year. With her goals and excitement for adventure, Picnic Day is aimed to be as extraordinary as ever.

Written by: Vincent Sanchez –– features@theaggie.org


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