Santa Clara University

Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

News & Events


Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events

  •  William Burke ’13, Environmental Science - WET track

    Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2015

    William Burke '13 worked on a Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment and a GIS project in Nicaragua with ESS professors Iris Stewart-Frey and Chris Bacon. He co-authored a peer-reviewed article and is currently a graduate student in Geography at Indiana University.

    Indiana University - Bloomington is quite different from Santa Clara University, and with the size of IU, is much more of a college town.  This is a new experience for me and I'm definitely enjoying it here!  My studies here are very focused around my research/thesis which is tentatively titled "Assessing projected impacts of climate change on small coastal basins of the Western U.S."  I'm learning a great deal both in class as well as outside of class, on my own, and with my adviser (Darren Ficklin).  I have found that in many ways I have been very well prepared for graduate school.  My time working as a research assistant, taking classes focused on my area of interest (hydrology), and the range of topics and the level of interdisciplinarity throughout my undergraduate courses (the ESS ones at least) all played big roles in preparing me well for where I am now.

    Inevitably, there are things I wish I had done differently, notably I wish I had taken more math early in my undergrad career, but I'm also learning things now that I never would or could have known to be useful four years ago (like MATLAB).  I'll be presenting my research and (some) results next week at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Chicago.

    Santa Clara University was wonderful for me – it helped in launching me toward my goals.

  •  Jennifer Laws ’15 – Research Assistant, GIS Teaching Assistant, ESRI Intern

    Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2015

    Jennifer Laws '15 has been doing research work with ESS professors Chris Bacon and Iris Stewart-Frey. She was recently accepted to the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara.

    I am currently a senior majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Political Science. This year, I have been working as a teaching assistant for the “Introduction to GIS” course and as a GIS research assistant for Dr. Bacon and Dr. Stewart-Frey. I first became interested in research, specifically using GIS, during my sophomore year when I got the opportunity to work for Dr. Bacon, Dr. Stewart-Frey, and William Burke on the first Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment of Santa Clara County. The following summer, I was able to work for the Department of Environmental Services at the City and County of Honolulu, where I used GIS to create maps and reports for numerous watershed remediation projects. Thankfully, all of these experiences using GIS allowed me to become a Community Maps intern at Esri (the leading company in GIS) for the summer of 2014. As an Esri intern, I primarily researched, downloaded, and cataloged free, open, authoritative data from nonparticipating cities worldwide that could be added to Esri’s topographic and world imagery basemaps. After finding how incredibly rewarding it has been to see how GIS research has been able to address and solve many environmental issues, I have been motivated to continue my higher education at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. Hopefully, I will be able to specialize in water resources management and use GIS to solve many water issues that are occurring and will occur in the future as a result of climate change.

    The best advice I have to give to students just starting out in the ESS major is to get a solid foundation in basic sciences and math. Not only will this help them figure out whether they want to be an environmental science or studies major, it will also help them to be more flexible in terms of their career goals and more marketable when they begin to look for jobs. After taking many ESS courses and having multiple environmental research and internship opportunities, I have found that the best people in the environmental field are the ones who can understand the scientific, economic, social, and political facets of environmental issues. 

  •  How to get your Foot in the Door in the Public Sector

    Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2015
    Sara Aliotti '13 recently advised one of our current seniors who is interested in Urban Planning on how to get started with an internship or entry level position in the public sector.

    “My biggest (and hopefully best) piece of advice for you would be to intern, intern, intern and apply, apply, apply.  I foundmy career through the various internship positions I held—I had a lot of fun and learned so much, too.

    Do you currently have a profile or profile set up?  If not, create them.  You will have job opportunities sent to you based on your interests and location.  I would encourage you to apply for positions you might think are “out of reach”. is a similar site that queries private sector internships.  Now is definitely the time to focus on your present situation, but with an eye for your future.  This being said, do yourself these favors:

    1. Ask around.  Ask your aunts, uncles, parents, professors, mentor, and any adult that might have an opinion about public vs. private sector careers.  Figure out what you value: pension vs. high salary vs. fast paced vs. predictable hours vs. helping people vs. growing a company, etc.

    2. Apply to at least one job per week. Getting on the Calopps and GovernmentJobs sites is a great start.  Also, try picking out some companies or municipalities you might want to work for. Find their HR page, and see if they have openings.  Even if they don’t have openings, shoot them an email with your resume and an offer to intern for them for a lower wage or for no pay.  At your stage in the game, experience is more valuable than any money they can pay you. Sounds cliché, but is so true.

    3. Try not to be overly picky, and never decide to not turn in an application because you think that you “aren’t qualified.” My motto during my job search was “Apply and let them decide if I’m not qualified.”— at the very least, you will become very familiar with your own resume, will get lots of interview experience, and will be exposed to lots of different locations and career paths you may not have considered.

    4. Keep your resume up to date, and save every cover letter and supplemental questionnaire you submit.  You’ll notice as you apply more and more, the application questions start to get repetitive.  You’ll save lots of time if you save your answers.  I have all of my application materials saved on, so I can literally access them and apply for jobs from anywhere I have internet service.

    Enjoy senior year, Go Broncos!

  •  Capstone Projects 2015

    Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2015

    Exploring Equitable and Sustainable Transportation Options for the 2016 Ballot Measure

    Client: TransForm
    Team: Harrison Price, Ian Earley, Genevieve Magnan, Gabriel Arámbula

    It is likely that in 2016, VTA will propose a ballot initiative to pass a sales tax that funds public transportation (about $3.8 billion).  This team conducted a study for TransForm, an urban environmental policy organization, on other cities that have successfully invested in transportation. Their work examined bike and pedestrian infrastructure programs, public transportation programs, affordability programs and sponsorships, and programs that promote the sharing economy.

    Understanding Consumer Barriers to Farmers’ Markets: A Partnership with the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association

    Client: Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association
    Team: Muriel Kenniston, Hannah Maryanski, Matteo Rodriquez, Kelly Ryan, Ellen Yun

    The goal of this team’s research was to understand Santa Clara County consumer grocery shopping habits and barriers to farmers’ market access. To this end, the students conducted surveys examining shopping patterns of grocery store shoppers and farmers’ market shoppers and analyzed their results.

    Analyzing Solutions for Unsafe Pharmaceutical Disposal

    Client: Recycling and Waste Reduction Division, Santa Clara County
    Team: Olivia Chambliss, Keely Graskamp, Allison McNamara, Mallory Miller

    The goal of this team’s research was to understand Santa Clara County consumer grocery shopping habits and barriers to farmers’ market access. To this end, the students conducted surveys examining shopping patterns of grocery store shoppers and farmers’ market shoppers and analyzed their results.

    Barriers to Cross: Wildlife Corridor and Policy Analysis in Coyote Valley

    Client: Santa Clara County Open Space Authority
    Team: Kate Cooper, Dana Kilsby, Elizabeth Malin, Emily Rudder

    Coyote Valley is located between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo mountain range in San Jose. This region is home to many animal species including coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions but is currently under pressure from development. Through both spatial analysis and groundtruthing, this team identified potential wildlife corridors and policies that would help protect wildlife.

    Open Streets Comparative Analysis

    Client: Silicon Valley Bicycle coalition
    Team: Victoria Adetuyi, Tyler Brown, Anthony Carnesecca, Morgan Cowick, Savannah Hall

    Reflecting programs all over the world, the City of San Jose is implementing an open streets pilot program next October, 2015. This pilot will close 7 miles of city streets to street traffic, opening up the city to bikes, walkers and runners. This team created recommendations for a post-event evaluation based on four categories: economic, environmental, health, and social.

    Research for the Garden to Table Healthy Cornerstore Program

    Client: Garden2Table
    Team: Amanda Bostwick, Anna Prestbo, Lisa McMonagle

    AB 1990, a new California assembly bill law, allows urban residents to sell their produce and market it directly to the public. Garden2table is working with local corner stores to make this produce available to the public through their Healthy Corner Store Program. This team implemented a questionnaire to gauge public interest in participating in this program, as well as used comparative case-studies to examine similar programs in other cities. They also created a fruit tree care brochure as an incentive for program participants.

    Assessing the Walkability of El Camino Real in Santa Clara County

    Client: Greenbelt Alliance
    Team: Jennifer Laws, Alec Ratto, Lawrence Tse, and Frank Viviano

    El Camino Real is a hotspot for motor vehicle collisions with both pedestrians and bicyclists. This team examined walkability issue along this corridor, mapping collision hotspots and linking them to a lack of important pedestrian and bicycle safety features, such as timed crosswalks and designated bicycle lanes. This team recommended several safety measures including: designated greened bicycle lanes, physical barriers separating motor vehicles from pedestrians and bicyclists, a speed limit reduction for motor vehicles, and the narrowing of car lanes along El Camino Real.

    Fats, Oils, and Grease Control Options for the San José Environmental Services Department

    Client: Environmental Services, City of San Jose
    Team: Ian McCluskey, Andrew Quesada, Julia Peters

    Restaurant fats, oil and grease (FOG) impede processes in waste water treatment plants. This team evaluated the current City of San Jose FOG control program and identified two alternative program formats that would have examined alternative programming having the highest chance of meeting the compliance and costs goals, namely a “Preferred Haulers” strategy based on best management practices, data collection and incentives for FSEs, and an exclusive franchise strategy modeled after solid waste collection.

    Improving Energy Efficiency in San Jose K-12 School Districts

    Client: Environmental Services, City of San Jose
    Team: Matthew Burke, Manpreet Kaur and Uyen Mai

    Proposition 39 provides funding for schools to implement energy efficiency measures and facilities upgrades, yet many schools are not aware that this funding is available. This team surveyed school administrators to identify the key barriers districts face in accessing Proposition 39 funds and propose¬¬d recommendations to assist districts in successfully implementing energy efficiency measures.

    Connecting Local Agriculture with Local Consumers

    Client: Santa Clara County Food Systems Alliance
    Team: Margaret Roe, Drake Swezey, Nick Seabright

    Santa Clara County's farmland has declined by forty-five percent in the past twenty years and fifty-five percent of its remaining farmland is at risk over the next thirty years. This team project examined what local policies that encourage agricultural preservation and viability and policies that link local consumers to local producers.

    “Real Food” at Santa Clara University

    Client: Center for Sustainability, Santa Clara University
    Team: Sara Loewel, Rawley Loken, Tony Ferrari

    Santa Clara University’s 2015 Climate Action Plan contains numerous provisions to help the school reach its sustainability goals, and among these is an improvement upon dining services’ food purchasing principle. This team investigated the quantity of “Real Food” purchased by Santa Clara University, highlighting the areas where our campus food system was the most/least sustainable and examining which kinds of foods the university should focus on purchasing more sustainably in order to meet its target.

  •  ESS alumna Kelly Ferron '10, Waste Zero Specialist

    Tuesday, Mar. 10, 2015

    Before graduating from SCU in 2010, Kelly already had parts of her career trajectory figured out. She'd been awarded a Clare Boothe Luce grant to fund her research, had spent two years as a research intern with ESS faculty, and had presented research on endangered plant restoration at the International Congress on Conservation Biology.

    After graduation, Kelly went on to be a Zero Waste Intern for the City of San Jose, spending seven months working on policy implementation, especially preparing businesses for an upcoming plastic bag ban. After her internship, she went on to become a Sustainability Coordinator with Americorps, working for a year with the City of Issaquah Resource Conservation Office, where she performed habitat restoration on local parks and coordinated sustainability education programs.

    Kelly's first "real" job was as Recycling and Waste Reduction Programs Coordinator for the City of Kirkland, Washington. In that role she developed, coordinated and implemented both the city's internal and external waste reduction and recycling programs, as well as providing environmental education and outreach.

    Beginning last August, Kelly took a position as the Waste Zero Specialist for the Greater Seattle Area. She is now recognized as one of the top waste zero experts in the Pacific Northwest, and is developing state-of-the-art programming with Recology. Regardless of her current success, Kelly hopes to continue her education soon as a postgraduate researcher.

  •  ESS alumnus Carlos Carrillo '14 presents his research at scientific conference

    Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015

     In December, former ESS student Carlos Carrillo (Environmental Science, Water Energy and Technology Track, ’14) presented a poster on his undergraduate research with fellow undergrad Russell McIntosh (Environmental Science ’13), Iris Stewart, and colleagues at the annual American Geophysical Meeting (AGU) in San Francisco. The project examined increases in extreme stream flow and temperature events under climate change for the Sierra Nevada and Colorado River Basins.

  •  Virginia Matzek awarded funding for restoration study in France

    Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015

    ESS assistant professor Virginia Matzek has been awarded a grant to study carbon credits associated with forest management strategies along the Rhône River in France. Virginia Matzek, along with colleagues John Stella of the State University of New York and Hervé Piégay of the École Nationale Supérieur de Lyon, will receive 10,000€ from the Institut Écologie et Environnement in France to perform the study.

    The Rhône is a highly altered and channelized river, having a long history of use for navigation between inland France and the Mediterranean sea, and, more recently, for hydropower. Combined with land-clearing for agriculture, there is very little of the native riparian forest left along the main river channel. However, some stretches of the former main channel, known as the Vieux Rhône, still support riparian forest and experience some of the dynamism of flooding and sediment deposition typical of riverine vegetation.  Previous work done by Stella and Piégay has characterized the forest vegetation structure at sites along the Vieux Rhône. The new project will examine to what extent the growth of forest on sediments deposited in the old channel has increased carbon stocks in soil. Together, these data will allow the group to calculate the carbon credits that could be earned by management strategies that encourage periodic flooding and vegetation growth in the non-navigable reaches of the river.
    Matzek most recent paper on this topic, “Can carbon credits fund riparian restoration?” appeared in January in the journal Restoration Ecology. That paper found that carbon credits earnable by riparian forest restoration on the Sacramento River in California were sufficient to pay back most or all of the cost of planting. Click here for a link to the abstract.
    Photo courtesy of Rama. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
  •  Cold-water fish habitat affected by warmer climate in the Columbia River Basin

    Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015

    Researchers and water managers have wondered how much heat the fish will have to take.

    The Columbia River Basin is a network of streams that spans the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and British Columbia (see first Figure below) and that provides water for public water supplies, irrigation, and for important salmon runs and other species adapted to its cold and forceful waters.

    Water temperature in a stream is an important physical factor that regulates which fish and other aquatic species can not only survive, but thrive.  With warmer temperatures attributed to climate change, that have been observed in the western U.S. mountains there is concern that not only air temperatures, but also stream temperatures will continue to warm up - beyond levels that cold-water native species can tolerate. Stream temperatures are to a large degree determined by air temperatures and by the temperatures of the various waters that mix in a stream, such as water coming from precipitation, water entering a stream from other tributaries or from upslope portions of a watershed, from groundwater, from flow through the soil layer, and from snowmelt. When temperature and precipitation patterns change, the interactions between physical processes shift in ways that affect stream flow and stream temperature regimes. For example, with warmer temperatures, less precipitation is deposited as snow,and snow melts earlier in the year, but warmer air temperatures affect a stream at the same time as the colder water from snowmelt enters it.

    The century is still young, but several years have already broken records, and 2014 was recently declared the warmest year on record on the global scale.

    And air temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming decades, with concurrent changes in precipitation. Thus accurate assessments of the thermal habitats in freshwater systems are critical for predicting aquatic species' responses to changes in climate and for guiding adaptation strategies. For this project, ESS faculty member Iris Stewart and CE faculty member Ed Maurer and their colleagues used a hydrologic model, coupled with a stream temperature model they developed, and output from global climate models (called general circulation model or ‘GCMs’) that are adapted to the local climate patterns (or ‘downscaled’) to explore the spatially and temporally varying changes in stream temperature for the late 21st century at the scale of both small watersheds (sub-basins) and ecological provinces for the Columbia River Basin.

    They found that, on average, stream temperatures are projected to increase 3.5 °C for the spring, 5.2 °C for the summer, 2.7 °C for the fall, and 1.6 °C for the winter, which are significant changes for such a large system as is the Columbia River Basin. At the ecological province scale, the largest increase in annual stream temperature was within the Mountain Snake ecological province, which is home to migratory cold water fish species. The hydrologic models captured the important, and often ignored, influence of hydrological processes on changes in stream temperature on the local scale. Their work shows, that decreases in future snow cover will result in increased thermal sensitivity within regions that were previously buffered by the cooling effect of flow originating as snowmelt. The largest increases in stream in all ecological provinces are forecast for the spring and summer, already a critical time for water supplies and aquatic habitats. 

    A pdf of the paper, which appeared in the open acess journal Hydrological Earth System Science (HESS) can be downloaded from here: PDF

    Citation: Ficklin, D. L., Barnhart, B. L., Knouft, J. H., Stewart, I. T., Maurer, E. P., Letsinger, S. L., and Whittaker, G. W.: Climate change and stream temperature projections in the Columbia River basin: habitat implications of spatial variation in hydrologic drivers, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 4897-4912, doi:10.5194/hess-18-4897-2014, 2014.

    Photo of Columbia River by Iris Stewart-Frey

  •  Nicaraguan smallholders thin shade trees, but maintain high species diversity

    Friday, Jan. 9, 2015


    The majority of the world’s coffee producers are smallholder farmers, managing land in tropical regions globally recognized for high levels of biodiversity and capacity for carbon sequestration. Though researchers have recognized the potential for coffee smallholders to conserve biodiversity by maintaining a layer of shade trees and using low-input farming methods, studies have by and large remained at the landscape scale and we know little about long-term species diversity and sequestration patterns in these systems. A recent study published in  Agriculture Ecosystems and the Environment was conducted in partnership with the same cooperative that has worked with ESS faculty member Chris Bacon since 2001. The research tracked changes in shade trees, epiphytes, and carbon stocks in smallholder coffee farms in northern Nicaragua over a 10-year period, offering insight in response to this pressing question.
     Authors Chris Bacon (Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences Santa Clara University), Katie Goodall (Wellesley College), and Ernesto Mendez (University of Vermont) found that tree density and carbon stocks declined over the decade-long study, but diversity of tree species remained unchanged

    Epiphytic plants increased over the ten-year period despite decreasing host tree densities, suggesting either a change in farmer management or improved habitat conditions for epiphytes.  The authors also found that farmers who individually managed coffee farms maintained a greater tree density than collectively managed farms, but that species diversity and carbon stocks were no significantly different.
    This research not only highlights the contribution of smallholder coffee production to the conservation of shade tree diversity and epiphyte communities, but also the pressure smallholders may experience to cut shade trees in order to increase coffee yield.  You can taste the coffee by asking for the Nicaraguan coffee at the Sunstream Café in the Learning Commons. 
    Full citation: Goodall, K. E., Bacon, C. M., & Mendez, V. E. (2015). Shade tree diversity, carbon sequestration, and epiphyte presence in coffee agroecosystems: A decade of smallholder management in San Ramón, Nicaragua. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 199, 200–206. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2014.09.002



  •  Scientists and land managers at odds on invasive species research

    Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

    Invasion ecologists study the phenomenon of invasive species—plants, animals, and other organisms that have been moved around the globe and established outside their native range, often with disastrous results. Well-known invaders in California include that prickly pest of the state’s rangelands, yellow starthistle, and the quagga mussel, a tiny mollusk that clogs water pumps and pipes, threatening the state’s water infrastructure.

    Research on invasive species is in great demand by natural resource managers who protect the state’s wilderness, agricultural lands, and waterways from pests. But how much of the research done is actually aimed at serving managers’ needs? And are scientists taking care to make their findings can be easily accessed and used by managers outside academia?

    Santa Clara University professor Virginia Matzek set out to answer these questions by comparing the output of research scientists, published in scientific journals, with the needs land managers had identified in an earlier survey. With the help of two Santa Clara undergraduates, Sophia Cresci ’13, and Maile Pujalet ’14, she searched through all the articles on invasive plants relevant to California that were published in top scientific journals from 2007-11. The contents of the articles were then compared to what managers had said they needed to be more effective at controlling plant invasions. Articles were also rated for their usability to managers (e.g., if costs were detailed); how long it took for the findings to be published; and whether the article could be accessed online without a subscription to a university library.

    Matzek, Pujalet and Cresci found that researchers published far more basic science, and far less applied science, than managers would prefer. A handful of invaders got the lion’s share of research, while many other troublesome species were virtually ignored. The usefulness of published research was also hampered by the small scale and short timeframe of research studies, and by lengthy delays between the end of work and the publication of the results. However, with the advent of Google Scholar and “open-access” journals, articles were relatively easy to find online, with about 2/3 being available online with no subscription.

    In the paper’s conclusion, Matzek and colleagues lay out several ways scientists could be more responsive to managers’ research needs while working within the constraints of the academic system. The work was published in Conservation Letters in September 2014; click here to read the full text. Matzek’s previous study, which first identified managers’ needs, was also published in Conservation Letters and is available here.