Departmental Award Recipients

Congratulations our Spring 2019 Environmental Studies Award Recipients!

The Terence Freitas Award in Environmental Studies: Ariana Acosta

The David Gaines Award in Environmental Studies Recipients: John Armstrong


ariana_acosta.jpg john-armstrong.jpg
    Ariana Acosta                  John Armstrong


Winter 2019 Award Winners

 The Richard A. Cooley Award in Environmental Studies: Lilianne de la Espriella

lilianne de la espriellaOriginally from Florida, Lilianne set her sites on the City on a Hill to deepen her understanding of the natural world and make a real-world difference during a time when humanity needs it most. She embarked on her 3,000 mile, cross-country venture as a twenty-year old in 2014, learning how to make it on her own for the first time. She attended Cabrillo College and worked full-time as a waitress to pay bills while trying to make her undergraduate dreams come true. Now, Lilianne has entered her senior year in the Environmental Studies department, where she currently studies Coast Redwood carbon sequestration potential for her senior project, emphasising the importance science communications as she shares the results of her research with the general public.

James Stuart Chanley Scholarship Recipients:

Carolyn Burch

burch.jpegCarolyn is a soon to be graduate of the environmental studies department and is passionate about environmental justice and sustainability. She currently works in the Sustainability Office for the Green Labs programs, which promotes energy efficiency, waste diversion, and water-use reductions in research labs on campus. She hopes to continue working to promote the sustainable use of resources in laboratories and in broader society after she graduates. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving in Monterey Bay, visiting the local farmers markets, and biking all around Santa Cruz.


Alex McDonald

mcdonald.jpgI am a fourth year Environmental Studies major concentrating in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. I grew up in Modesto, CA in the Central Valley. As a child I used to tell my friends and family that I could see myself working in Agriculture because of how surrounded I was. Although I didn’t grow up on a farm I was surrounded by it. Although I imagined myself working with food I never thought it would be this way.

My interests are not limited to the food system. The Environmental Studies major sparked my interest because of its interdisciplinary nature. I love learning about the environment as a whole, not just nature, but the connections of man and nature. My time spent at UCSC has taught me so much about how man impacts nature and how nature impacts man. The world is connected on many levels and this major has allowed me to explore them. I wake up every morning with gratitude for the opportunity to be in this space and be exposed to the world through my education.


Hammett Award Winners:

Dominique de Wit

dominque de witBoth my upbringing and travels in Southeast Asia, Europe, Brazil and South Africa exposed me to the contentious relationships between economic development, climate change mitigation, and environmental and social justice. As California became my home, how to provide clean affordable energy and what political and regulatory structures were needed for an equitable low carbon economy became research questions. I now write on the politics of energy transitions and the emergence of local climate change solutions in California and Germany. Research from the Hammett Fellowship will allow me to explore the intersection of ethics with politics as decisions are made on best responses to climate change, community scale- or centralized energy governance, and the cost of and access to sustainable energy. Support from the Fellowship will allow me to contribute to both the public and scholarly debate on the various trajectories of California’s climate politics, therein raising questions of ethics and justice that need to be considered.

Justin Luong

justin luongAs a California native, I slowly migrated up the coast from Irvine to Santa Barbara where I attended college and finally ended up at UC Santa Cruz for grad school. After graduating, I worked for several years on vernal pool, grassland and endangered species restoration. After seeing all the effort and passion that went into restoration, I was curious to learn more about improving current restoration methods and decided it was time to leave the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and go back to grad school. I am broadly interested in community ecology, restoration ecophysiology and the interactions between plants their environment and humans. I want to further understand how forecasted changes in precipitation will impact future restoration efforts. Currently, I am especially concerned with coastal prairies which are rapidly disappearing even in areas where restoration is mandated for coastal development. I will explore whether past restoration projects have fared, whether they meet their original project goals and how they can inform developing projects. I also am working on improving restoration planting through incorporating plant functional traits and phylogenetics to better adapt projects for climate change.

Yiluan Song

yiluan songI was born in China and received my B. Sc. in life sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2016. I then worked in NUS as a research assistant on the restoration of freshwater ecosystems. With keen interests in quantitative ecology, I joined Dr. Kai Zhu’s lab in 2018. At UCSC, I have benefited greatly from the interdisciplinary focus of the Environmental Studies PhD program, the wide range of expertise of the faculty, and the close collaboration of different departments.  I am broadly interested in the responses of vegetation under global changes and changing disturbances regimes. In my current project, I aim to study how shifts in plant phenology keep pace with climate change in large spatial and temporal extents using
the metric of “velocity of change” and long-term satellite remote sensing datasets. In the future, I will integrate quantitative and qualitative data from multiple sources to investigate the responses of plant phenology to climate change on local, regional, and global scales. I hope that my research can eventually help human beings anticipate and mitigate the negative impacts of future phenological mismatch due to climate change.

Fall 2018 Award Winners:

The Terence Freitas Award in Environmental Studies: Mark Arenas

mark arenasI grew up in Vista, California, a city in North County San Diego.  I only miss home when I get thinking about my family and it reminds me of how thankful I am for their support. Because of my parents sacrifices as Mexican migrants, I find inspiration in being a first generation latino student and value my education. This has led me to pursue opportunities in conservation and the outdoors, which is completely different than my original aspirations as a physical therapist. Specifically, I enjoy experiential learning which has led me to be part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program @ NAU and California Ecology and Conservation field quarter.

With these experiences, I have narrowed my path in the environmental field and know that I want to be an outdoor educator that goes beyond teaching recreational skills/science. I want to help empower others, specifically underrepresented groups, with leadership skills. As a third year ENVS/BIO major, I am exploring leadership tools by teaching with the Everett Program and being part of the Experiential Leadership Program so I can develop as a facilitator of inclusive spaces. At the same time, I am exploring projects aimed at working directly alongside communities impacted by environmental/social issues.

I will continue this journey as a leader and educator with my participation in NHFQ 2019!


CONCUR, Inc. Scholarship Graduate Student Recipient: Pam Rittelmeyer

pam rittelmeyer

I have a passion for solving real-world environmental problems. Broadly, I am interested in expanding opportunities for effective governance at the human-environment interface. I am particularly drawn to social conflicts over natural resources. My experiences working for a state agency and as an environmental planner before returning to graduate school incited my desire to delve deep into research on the barriers and opportunities for solutions to conflicts over natural resources, especially those that are exacerbated by climate change. My PhD research examining risk perceptions of flooding in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta lies at the intersection of socio-cultural theory, governance, issue framing, and climate modeling. Using frameworks from these fields, I investigate the meanings behind people’s perceptions of natural hazards and resource scarcity in a dynamic environment.

CONCUR, Inc. Scholarship Undergraduate Recipient: Josh Nachowitz

Josh NachowitzMy name is Josh Nachowitz and you can usually find me on a hike in the bush or out by the ocean!  I was born in New Zealand and grew up on the North Island, in the city of Hamilton.  As a Kiwi, I feel a strong resonance with the outdoors and with the indigenous species and natural spaces of my country.  After I finished high school, I had the good fortune to come to the USA to study.  I have had many fantastic opportunities here, and I am now in my fourth year at UCSC pursuing environmental studies and music.  My current project involves studying the legal rights of the environment: what does it mean for natural features to be considered ‘people?’ In New Zealand, a recent law which grants legal personhood to a mountain range and a river resolved a 140-year old dispute between the Crown government and the local Māori tribes, over questions of sovereignty in a treaty signed at the beginning of British settlement in NZ.  The recognition of legal personhood for a river and a mountain has radically transformed the paradigm of conservation and the environmental ethic of the country.  In addition to examining the history of this law, the impacts on and benefits to the various stakeholders, I will be investigating how this approach to conservation holds many possibilities for the future and for rethinking our relationship to the environment in other parts of the world. 

Honorable mention for the CONCUR, Inc. Scholarship: Sean Eickhoff

sein eickhoffI am a second year Environmental Studies major at UCSC. I was born and raised in Brea, CA. Although I was raised in the suburbs of Orange County, my parents made a tremendous effort to save up and take us on annual trips to national parks throughout California. It was on these trips that I developed my love for environmental stewardship. I took this love home with me and began to investigate local environmental issues and started volunteering to help present solutions to them. It is my hope to get involved in environmental dispute resolution after completing my undergraduate education.



Spring 2018 Award Winners:

 The Richard A. Cooley Award in Environmental Studies: Leslie Anne Madarang

Winter 2018 Award Winners:

The David Gaines Award in Environmental Studies Recipients: Justin Luong and Aysha Peterson

Justin Luong

I am from Irvine, California in a perfectly landscaped bubble. Unlike most people in the department, I did not interact much with my environment or nature much growing up. It wasn't until I started my undergraduate studies at UC Santa Barbara that started recognizing and appreciating not only the beauty of nature, but also started questioning the interesting dynamics within ecosystems. I then became enamored with environmental studies and changed my major from Chemistry.

After graduation, I worked for some time in ecological restoration focusing on coastal grasslands and vernal pools. As a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, I work with Michael Loik in the Environmental Studies Department. I am interested in understanding different facets of grassland restoration in the context of climate change from topics spanning on how to improve the efficacy and predictability of restoration outcomes to potential trade-offs in ecosystem services associated with restoration. To answer such questions, I work with drought structures erected at the UC Natural Reserve Younger Lagoon near the UCSC Coastal Campus which is part of a global ecological drought experiment (Drought-Net).


Aysha Peterson

Aysha grew up in Massachusetts where she first learned about agroecology by working at a diverse fruit and vegetable farm near her childhood home. Since then, she has been fascinated by the deep relationships that permeate our agricultural soils. She is now a first-year Ph.D. student studying soil ecology with Dr. Weixin Cheng. Through this research, Aysha hopes to support small farmers’ efforts to maintain soil health while reducing fertilizer and irrigation applications.

James Stuart Chanley Scholarship RecipientLilianne De La Espriella

Lilianne De La EspriellaI am originally from Florida, where I was an avid environmental and social justice activist, school organizer and trail blazer. After setting roots, I realized I needed to go somewhere where I could learn from others. In 2014 I came to Santa Cruz with the intention to attend UCSC. Despite financial hardship and personal shock from being truly alone in a new place, I was able to work and save up to afford high tuition rates. Today, I am an ENVS major with a focus on policy. My interest strongly lies in climate change mitigation through biomass conservation. Healthy natural systems are hugely important not just for air, water and human mental health, but now we're discovering that they can sequester carbon. Through my education and dedication, I hope to make a difference along the way.


The Richard A. Cooley Award in Environmental Studies: Leslie Anne Madarang

Leslie Ann MadarangI am classified as a junior, but this is my second year in UC Santa Cruz. I come from a very low-income family and as the first-generation student, I attained the opportunity to provide a better life for my family. I come from Earlimart, California, which is a small, rural, agriculturally-intensive, impoverished town in the San Joaquin Valley. Growing up surrounded by the fields and entering a new environment at UC Santa Cruz made me realize that I grew up in very difficult conditions. When I realized that inhaling tons of toxic fumes, walking on dirt roads, drinking contaminated water, buying from illegal vendors, holding rooster fights in my backyard, etc. was not something everyone grew up with, it pushed me to continue my education so that I can learn how to improve the conditions that I grew up in.

My ambition is to focus my studies in environmental sociology, policy and economics. With my degree, I hope to environmentally improve the living space, lifestyle, and health of people who have grown up in vulnerable conditions. My current initiative is to Styrofoam in Earlimart, California.  The purpose of the campaign is to phase out the use of Styrofoam in a town that I know is in a vulnerable state. My vision is to make Earlimart a green community. Although Styrofoam is just one of the reoccurring problems in the town, I hope this initiative can create a chain reaction throughout the whole community. Maybe one day, it can also inspire other impoverished towns to strive for a greener and healthier environment.

Hammett Fellowship Winners

The Hammett fellowship is made possible by a generous donation from Benjamin and Ruth Hammett, for students who conduct interdisciplinary research on climate change or climate change and water issues. The Environmental Studies department is pleased to announce the Winter 2017 recipients, Ana Martinez Fernandez, Grace Barcheck, and Danielle Crawford.

Martinez FernandezAna Martinez Fernandez, Ph.D. student, Department of Earth and Planetary Science

I was born and raised in Madrid, Spain, surrounded by buildings that made me long for the sea and mountains constantly. I spent my childhood summers on my grandparents’ farm, where I realized how completely we depend on nature for basic things like oxygen and food.  This inspired me to study Environmental Science at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid where I specialized in limnology and water quality. For the senior year of my bachelor’s degree I studied and researched abroad at Umea Universitet and at the Climate Impact Research Centre of Abisko, Sweden where I learned about microbial ecology, pollution and climate change.

After I graduated, I worked at a sustainable rural development company creating tools to assess the environmental risks of olive and seed oil extraction and refinement. Wanting to refocus on water quality I applied for a grant from the Ministry of Education of Spain to work as a research scholar in Paytan Biogeochemistry lab here at UCSC. I was awarded the grant, and enjoyed the research so much, I decided to continue pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science. I am currently using RNA sequencing and physiologic analyses to investigate the effects of ocean acidification and climate change on corals and benthic foraminifera to identify species and populations resistant to a changing environment.

BarcheckGrace Barcheck, Ph.D. student, Earth and Planetary Sciences

Grace is a senior Ph.D. student in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. Her love of landscapes and the geologic processes that form them began during childhood family vacations to Colorado, where she was equally enamored of hiking the high peaks of the Rockies and hunting for fossils in the limestone beds of the Great Plains. As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Grace majored in Earth Science because she loved going on field trips and expanding her knowledge to explain the landscapes around her. Grace became interested in seismology and geophysics at WashU. While working on several seismology research projects at WashU, she was privileged to also be involved in many field expeditions, one of which brought her to Antarctica and ultimately her current research path. Over the years, Grace participated in seismometer deployments in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Marianas Trench, various parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in Iceland. Grace’s current research path was inspired by the stunning beauty and captivating science she encountered on her first trip to Antarctica in 2010 to service seismometer equipment deep in The Middle of Nowhere, Antarctica. At UC Santa Cruz, she is studying the movement of the Whillans Ice Stream, which is a fast-flowing outlet of the smaller but more unstable “Western” half of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. She uses seismometers to listen to the sounds the bottom of the ice makes as it scrapes over the sediment, rock, and water underneath, and she relates what she learns to GPS measurements of ice speed. The goal is to better understand how ice slides for better predictions of sea-level rise. Her research also aims to explain what is causing the Whillans Ice Stream to slow down (say what??), and why it seems to be skittering and stick-slipping to a halt. 

Danielle Crawford

Danielle Crawford, Ph.D. student, Literature

I was born and raised in the Santa Cruz area and received my B.A. in Literature/Writing at UC San Diego. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I entered a graduate program at San José State University, where I received my M.A. in English and Comparative Literature and gained valuable teaching experience. Upon joining the Ph.D. program in the Literature Department at UC Santa Cruz, I became especially attracted to interdisciplinary research, and particularly work situated at the intersection between literary and environmental studies. While I had always been interested in the environment, taking classes in the Literature and Environmental Studies Departments at UC Santa Cruz made me realize that my work could actually address both fields. With the help of my committee, which includes my advisor Rob Wilson, Christine Hong, Kirsten Silva Gruesz, and S. Ravi Rajan from the Environmental Studies Department, my work broadly explores the complex relationship between U.S. militarization and destructive storm systems in the Pacific during the 20th and 21st centuries. My prospective dissertation draws from historical case studies, literary narratives, films, archival documents, and scientific literature on tropical cyclones and utilizes a wide geographic focus that encompasses sites such as the Philippines, Hawai‘i, California, and the Marshall Islands. By examining the intimacies between extreme storms, U.S. warfare, and weapons testing, my project analyzes how the U.S. military has historically responded to and interacted with the climate in the Pacific, and the implications this holds for disaster aid under global climate change.



Winter 2016 Hammett Fellowship Winners:

Kate Ross, Environmental Studies graduate student: Forests under climate change: climate sensitivity and management of Eastern Sierra Nevada conifers

I’m originally from Hanford, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. I spent my summers at my family’s pack station in the central Sierra Nevada, hiking and enjoying the outdoors. I received my B.A. in Linguistics and German from the University of California, Santa Barbara, but by the end of undergrad, I realized my interests and passion were in environmental studies and plant ecology. I studied Environmental Sciences at the University of Cologne, where my masters’ thesis considered the effect of specific soil microbes on plant growth and root morphology. As a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, I work with Michael Loik in the Environmental Studies Department. I am broadly interested in understanding the relationship between physiological and distributional responses of plants to climate change. In my research I work with eastern Sierra Nevada conifers in the area around Mammoth Lakes, CA, examining current physiological processes and distributional patterns across an elevation gradient, as well as historical growth trends embedded in tree rings.

Galen Gorski, Earth and Planetary Sciences graduate student: Linking hydrogeology, biogeochemistry, and microbiology during stormwater

I was born in Washington State and grew up hiking in the North Cascades near Mt. Baker, trying to keep up with my older brothers. I went to Carleton College in Minnesota and majored in chemistry, but my interests shifted to environmental chemistry and geology. After I graduated, I worked as a technician in a stable isotope lab at the University of Utah, then moved back to Minnesota and worked in a biometeorology group at the University of Minnesota. I am broadly interested in using stable isotopes and other chemical tracers to investigate human impacts on the hydrological cycle and other biogeochemical processes. Now at UCSC, I am a PhD student working with Andy Fisher and Adina Paytan in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. In my primary research I am investigating ways to improve water quality through the removal of nitrate and other contaminants through the use of naturally occurring microbial populations. Our research is focused in the Pajaro Valley Groundwater Basin, a chronically overdrafted basin south of Santa Cruz that faces significant water quality challenges. We hope our research can lead to low cost technologies and management practices that provide dual improvement to water quantity and quality on the central coast of California and beyond.