Test drive into the future

Learning opportunities at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability are limitless. Undergraduates enrolled in the Institute's academic program often go beyond the classroom and take their higher education experience to a new level via an internship program. 

Growing up in the coastal community of Dana Point, Environmental Science senior Serena Lomonico was drawn to an organization dedicated to caring for California’s beaches. She opted for a two-part internship with the Laguna Ocean Foundation. As a Tidepool Educator she assisted in teaching the public about Marine Protected Area laws and intertidal organisms, and served as a resource to visitors.  The second part of Serena’s internship was research-oriented. She conducted shorebird surveys and human-use surveys in order to document the effectiveness of the Tidepool Educators.

Serena described her duties. “My job was to approach people in a friendly way, letting them know that we were available for questions, and take preventative measures to make sure they understood the rules. I was really inspired to find ways to communicate the science behind these new policies in an accurate and positive manner.”

serenaWith a minor in Conservation Biology, working with the Laguna Foundation was a perfect match for Serena.  She said, “I’m really passionate about marine science and especially sharing knowledge about the ocean with the public. It was always encouraging when you talked to a person with great questions and genuine interest.”

Serena encourages fellow students to try an internship. “An internship is the best possible way to explore a field and determine if you are interested in pursuing something similar in the future. Getting involved in research, internships, and volunteering is just as valuable as learning in a classroom setting."

She continued, "You also make connections with people willing to share their knowledge that will help you in the future!”

Recent graduate Melissa Traverso’s internship took her off planet Earth and into the skies. She participated in the NASA DEVELOP Program through Science Systems and Applications Inc. at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Along with two other UCLA students, Melissa worked on a Los Angeles Air Quality and Health Project. The project’s goal was to find Policy Relevant Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Scenarios for Los Angeles utilizing current and future remote sensing capabilities, specifically involving the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite NASA will launch in 2014.

Melissa said, “My focus was on developing reduction scenarios that could be applied and understood given the limits of the modeled satellite observations and the specificity of reduction policies. On top of the research we were responsible for meeting multiple deadlines every week for invoices, outlines, rough drafts, and other types of documentation." 

Reflecting on the experience Melissa noted, “I made friends and important professional relationships with mentors and science advisors working at JPL and the California Institute of Technology. The Mars Science Laboratory Mars Rover landing was happening around the same time." 

She added, "I had opportunities to attend lectures to learn more about not only the Curiosity Rover but the history of JPL and other current research at both JPL and Cal Tech. I was able to go inside the building where the mission control took place for the Curiosity landing.”

Melissa’s self-described “amazing experience” continues — she's back in the DEVELOP Program for the Spring 2013 term.

Nicole Grucky, currently a junior in the degree program, interned at Grades of Green.  Based in the South Bay, Grades of Green is an environmental education non-profit with a mission to inspire and empower students and the broader school community to care for the environment.


Beginning in September 2012, Nicole was tasked with a variety of duties. Initially she worked on the organization’s website, creating content such as announcements, press, and news write-ups.  In the summertime she became more actively involved in Grades of Green’s hands-on programs.  She started going to K-12 schools and assisting with the lessons, assemblies, and other activities Grades of Green was implementing.  Nicole worked individually with kids as part of Grades of Green's Youth Board of Advisors. She also participated in eco-audits and waste audits at the schools.  After each audit she would draft a follow-up report.

Still currently involved with Grades of Green, Nicole has been promoted to Program Associate. She hopes to secure full-time employment with the non-profit when she graduates.

Internships are a partnership between the university, student, and external organization. This synergy can facilitate a bridge to an interest and passion that can last a lifetime.