Campus: CSU Long Beach -- July 30, 2003

CSULB Geosciences Grant Project Gives Students Hands-On Experience in Field, Lab Research

Charmlee Wilderness Park is one of the most beautiful sites in the Santa Monica Mountains, but much remains to be learned about its nearly 600 acres. Until now, the City of Malibu Parks and Recreation Department lacked a detailed understanding of the park’s total physical and environmental picture, but that will soon change.

This summer, 12 high school and community college students and faculty participating in California State University, Long Beach’s Geosciences Diversity Enhancement Program (G-DEP) are helping to map Charmlee Park or are participating in one of nine other research projects to give them a greater understanding of geosciences.

The word geosciences often draws a blank look, but some students start to pay attention once they understand that it can mean an interesting career involving such areas as geological sciences, geography or archaeology.

Now in its second year, G-DEP is a three-year project funded by an $852,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to increase the number of underrepresented students in geosciences. G-DEP focuses on cross-disciplinary collaboration, for example, archaeologists and geographers working with geologists.

“I think the federal government has been investing more in science, math and engineering because it’s seen as strategic to the nation’s security,” said Elizabeth Ambos, CSULB’s associate vice president for research and external support and a professor of geological sciences who is principal investigator for the grant.

"Students get paid a stipend of $2,400 for eight weeks, and that’s quite enough to sit up and take notice,” said Ambos. Furthermore, students can participate in presentations about their research at professional scientific meetings, which not only exposes them to the real-world experiences of a scientist, but also gives them a worthwhile entry for their résumés.

The Charmlee project is under the direction of Professor Christine M. Rodrigue, chair of the CSULB Geography Department. “There is very little information on this attractive and important regional park, such as detailed and accurate maps of the vegetation associations, fire scars, trails, underlying geology or the history of the parcel,” she explained.

Students are learning to use global positioning system equipment to map vegetation and fire scars. They are also mapping trails and park facilities and examining the park’s geology. “The result will be paper maps, GIS layers and an interactive Web map presented to the City of Malibu,” said Rodrigue.

The Charmlee team also includes CSULB Professors Christopher T. Lee, director of the university’s Wildfire Hazard Center; María Teresa Ramírez-Herrera of Geological Sciences; Professors Stephen Koletty of El Camino College and Chris Carter of Long Beach City College; Lakewood High School science teachers Elizabeth Fessler and Linda Sanders; along with students from those campuses and Cerritos College.

Another group, led by CSULB Geological Sciences Professor Rick Behl, is working with Professor Jim Repka of Saddleback College, Wilson High School teacher Martin Mathews and a group of students to look at the coastal geology of Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, including Crystal Cove State Park and the San Joaquin Hills. Mathews is also participating in two other projects.

CSULB Geological Sciences Professor Dan Francis is leading a team researching faults in the White Pine range of north-central Nevada and the offshore Palos Verdes Fault. This team includes Professor Dan Halliner of Cerritos College, Mathews, and students from Orange Coast College and Lakewood High School.

Ambos and CSULB Anthropology Professor Dan Larson are conducting a geoarchaeological investigation using ground-penetrating radar to locate Chumash sites on the Channel Islands. Their team includes Lakewood High School teacher Keith Miller and Sachiko Sakai, a graduate assistant in anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, as well as students from Long Beach City College and Wilson High School.

Ramírez-Herrera heads a team that includes teacher Woody Wilson of Millikan High School, along with a Millikan student and Mathews. They are participating in the geological work out at Charmlee Park and in a study of seismic uplift of the southern Mexican coastline.

Lee is also supervising another project with the Charmlee team of high school and community college faculty and students on using remote sensing imagery to interpret wildfire hazard in the Santa Monica Mountains.

"It benefits everybody. It’s one of these great programs in which you can see the effects on everyone’s level interest, engagement and professionalism in their fields,” said Ambos, who hopes to obtain additional funding to continue the program beyond next summer.

For more information about the G-DEP program, see

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