Campus: CSU, Los Angeles -- January 25, 2001


Environmental Research Support for Minorities
Native Americans participate in first program of its kind funded by NSF on the West Coast

Native American students from Alaska to the Southwest are benefiting from their participation in an innovative, interdisciplinary environmental program at California State University, Los Angeles.

Cal State L.A. has recruited Native American men and women from universities including New Mexico State University, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and University of Alaska-Fairbanks, as graduate students in the University's National Science Foundation-funded Center for Environmental Analysis, the first program of its kind funded by NSF on the West Coast. The new students join a diverse group of 13 other environmental science graduate students.

One of the NSF's Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST), Cal State L.A.'s CEA-CREST conducts vital ecological and environmental research on human impact in natural ecosystems.

"Cal State L.A. is the perfect locale for this project, because of its proximity to various natural and urban habitats such as the Santa Monica mountains, the ocean and deserts," said Dr. Carlos Robles, Cal State L.A. professor of biology and director of the program.

The program, which incorporates multidisciplinary investigations into society's environmental problems, is among the most exciting scientific endeavors of our time. CEA-CREST places graduates and undergraduates in integrated research teams that tackle key environmental research questions, providing an unmatched educational experience. Each team is lead by outstanding environmental scientists in one of five emphasis areas:

  • natural and altered dynamics of intertidal marine communities
  • plant ecology and physiology
  • chemistry of air pollution and its impact on neighborhoods
  • application of molecular techniques to population studies
  • ecology of aquifers

A major goal of CREST is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.'s in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. CEA-CREST provides generous financial support for students: $9,725/year undergraduate research assistantships and $16,800/year fellowships for master's degree students, plus funds for travel to national scientific meetings. Additional support for graduate students is available through teaching assistantships and numerous financial aid options.

For more information, complete the on-line Intake Form at <http://cea-crest.calstatela.edu>, or contact: CEA-CREST, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032-8970. Telephone: (323) 343-5799, e-mail: <ceacrest@calstatela.edu>.


Cal State L.A. CEA-CREST: Native American Student Profiles

Channa Gilan
Channa Gilan is a Cal State L.A. biology graduate student in the CEA-CREST program who received her B.S. in Human Biology at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Her adviser is Dr. John Gamon (Department of Biology and Microbiology). Channa hails from Green Bay Wisconsin, and is Chippewa/Oneida.

Channa notes that she is not the first in her family to go to college-"All three of my sisters have also completed college degrees, although neither of our parents went to college. I am, however, the first in my family to pursue a post-graduate degree."

As an undergraduate, Channa says she had decided to go on to medical school after graduation. What changed her mind to enter the field of environmental science?

Says Channa: "I think what prepared me and inspired me to pursue this type of work was my postgraduate work with the Oneida tribe's cultural wellness center and Keune Community Supported Organic farm. In that work, health and wellness issues for people are viewed as beginning with the earth and water. Farming and land use were developed to provide sustenance to people through healthful soil and sustainable farming practices that would preserve the integrity of the soil and the watershed. What appealed to me most about this program was the experiential nature of the work. I was impressed with the faculty's encouragement of students to pursue and develop their own ideas and areas of interest, as opposed to just doing research for professors."

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez, of Yupik heritage, was born and raised in Alaska-primarily in the Eagle River area, near Anchorage. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. His adviser is Dr. Carlos Robles (Department of Biology and Microbiology).

"Growing up, I never had a definite plan for my future career, and even now, my career plans are still flexible. I have often considered a career in teaching and hope to give it a try while at Cal State L.A.," says Ricardo.

Ricardo's interest in the sciences has always been strong, and he notes that he's involved himself in any "opportunities to explore options within the field of biology." "Thankfully," he adds, "I was able to participate in a number of marine science internships while working on my undergraduate degree at the University of Alaska. Those experiences were invaluable in preparing me for working with the CEA-CREST group."

The CEA-CREST program at Cal State L.A. appealed to Ricardo because it offered "the opportunity to work on relatively fundamental ecological questions, andů to contribute to a growing field of biology." "I also like the 'step-wise' approach toward advanced degrees. It seems logical to take things one step at a time," he says.

It has helped that Ricardo's family places great emphasis on higher education: both parents attended college and his mother earned a nursing degree. Adds Ricardo: "My older sister has a master's degree in physical therapy, my younger brother has almost completed his B.S. in physics and my younger sister is well on her way to earn a degree in accounting and business." 

Gary A. Desselle
Gary Desselle, whose tribal affiliation is Tewa (Isleta Pueblo) and who hails from Albuquerque, N.M., is the first in his family to go to college. "I expected to go to college," says Desselle, who recalls that he originally thought about becoming an engineer. Desselle instead chose to major in environmental science at New Mexico State University. During his undergraduate classes and lab work, and during the fieldwork he conducted on summer internships, he began to think about continuing his education.

"My internship experiences helped me realize that my undergraduate degree gave me a wealth of information on a broad range of subjects. But I wanted to be able to specialize in one area-an opportunity that graduate school, and the CEA-CREST program in particular, afforded me," says Desselle, whose adviser is Dr. Barry Hibbs (Department of Geological Sciences).

"The opportunities to travel to different conferences, the freedom to choose my area of interest and thesis topic, and the location of the school in California, all appealed to me when I was considering the CEA-CREST program," says Desselle.


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