Students see Baldwin Hills as environmental case study
Environmental Science students at UCLA participate in fieldwork to study and address issues of environmental concern in the greater Los Angeles area.
"I would definitely entertain the idea of taking this knowledge and helping communities who are experiencing environmental adversities outside of the United States."
By Vincent Lim
Shahir Masri, whose mother is an Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science high school teacher, says he "always had a desire to get involved in the field of environmental science." After transferring from a community college to UCLA, Masri jumped at the opportunity to participate in hands-on research in the field as an Environmental Science Major.
The UCLA Institute of the Environment (IoE) offers an innovative degree program in Environmental Science in partnership with the UCLA Departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth and Space Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Geography. The major requires students to complete a three-quarter long Practicum in Environmental Science, normally in their final academic year at UCLA, which culminates in the publication of an environmental case study.
In the fall quarter, students attend lectures and presentations that introduce them to research tools and methodologies in environmental science. In the winter and spring quarters, students work in research teams on real-life environmental case studies in the Los Angeles area that require them to perform original data collection and analysis in collaboration with local agencies and non-profit institutions.
Masri is a member of one of two undergraduate research teams studying environmental phenomenon in the Baldwin Hills of southwestern Los Angeles.
The Baldwin Hills is an area of 1,400 acres and elevation of 500 feet above sea level that is surrounded by a densely populated urban area. Yet it remains one of the largest undeveloped areas in the Los Angeles Basin. The Baldwin Hills is also an area of conflicting land uses in close proximity to many businesses, highways, municipal buildings, and an oil field.
The research team that Masri is working with is studying the differences in bird prevalence in California coastal sage scrub habitats in the Baldwin Hills. A number of rare and endangered species occur in Southern coastal scrub habitats including endangered bird species. After completing their investigation, the team will present their findings to the Baldwin Hills Conservancy for use in future planning in the area.
The other research team, which Victoria Zalameda is working with, is seeking to understand the source and dispersion of odors in the Baldwin Hills and its effect on local communities. Because of the large minority and low-income populations in these areas, there are also concerns about environmental justice. Community members are worried about the potential impact to their health from environmental hazards including nuisance odors.
Air contains a mixture of chemicals that are produced in modern day society. Exposure to these chemicals is part of daily life in a community, but sometimes people will find the odors of these chemicals so objectionable that they declare them a nuisance.
The results of the study may help to identify specific areas in the Baldwin Hills that should be considered for long-term air quality monitoring and focus efforts to mitigate future nuisance odor.
"I hope to understand more about the processes involved to effectively build more compliance among businesses and communities," Zalameda said. "I would definitely entertain the idea of taking this knowledge and helping communities who are experiencing environmental adversities outside of the United States."
Serving as guides and mentors to students like Zalameda and Masri, as they work on their case studies, are UCLA faculty members Travis Longcore and Magali Delmas and graduate student Travis Brooks.
Zalameda says the experience of engaging in fieldwork with distinguished researchers and environmental scientists as undergraduate student is giving her an opportunity to see what working in the environmental sciences entails.
One of the goals of the major is to prepare students to enter careers in environmental science or pursue graduate work with an environmental focus. Zalameda says she hopes to attend graduate school and focus on "studying the social responses to various environmental issues."
Masri said he now knows how to produce a research proposal and even admits to having developed an enthusiasm for performing the oftentimes tedious task of data collection.
Published: Thursday, June 04, 2009