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Summer Studies in Environmental Biology and Ecology

New Scholars Join Southern California Ecosystems Research Program

July 17, 2014

Prarthana Shankar

New SCERP scholar Prarthana Shankar gets an up-close look at a desert iguana during summer studies in the Mojave Desert.

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New scholars in Cal State Fullerton's Southern California Ecosystems Research Program conducted field research in the desert, canyon shrub lands and the ocean this summer to learn more about issues affecting the local environment and ecosystems.

Students investigated Western fence lizard populations in the Mojave Desert with Christopher Tracy, assistant professor of biological science, and the health of fish in Newport Bay with Kristy Forsgren, assistant professor of biological science. At the Audubon Society's Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Trabuco Canyon, they compared native and non-native plant characteristics led by Darren R. Sandquist, professor of biological science, and former SCERP scholar Loralee Larios '05 (B.S. biological science).

Larios, who completed her doctorate in environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley in December, returned to campus to teach the summer course. As an undergrad, the former CSUF President's Scholar investigated the effect of an invasive plant on insect communities in Southern California grasslands, under the mentorship of Paul Stapp, professor of biological science.

"SCERP laid the foundation for my future in ecological research," said Larios, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Montana in Missoula. "I came back to CSUF because I was excited to be able to help in this process to provide the new SCERP students with research experiences in environmental biology and ecology."

The 2014-15 scholars are:

  • Arthur Barraza of Fullerton
  • Angela Castanon of La Habra
  • Brian Rivas of Placentia
  • Evelyn Ruelas of Corona
  • Prarthana Shankar of Santa Ana

The students — joining seven current scholars — are working in the lab to evaluate research data from their summer course. This fall, they will begin their own independent research projects with biological science faculty mentors.

SCERP, co-directed by William J. Hoese, professor of biological science, and Sandquist, is supported by a five-year, $1 million National Science Foundation grant. Its focus is to prepare underrepresented biological science majors for graduate studies and careers in ecology and environmental biology. Students receive stipends for their research projects and to attend conferences.

Scholars attend an intensive summer course, conduct two years of independent research with a faculty mentor involving problems related to the sustainability of native ecosystems and complete an undergraduate research thesis.

"SCERP helps students develop research skills that apply critical thinking beyond what is typically achieved in an undergraduate classroom," said Hoese. "By the end of their tenure in the program, students are well-positioned for admission into highly competitive graduate programs and well-prepared for the workforce."

Since SCERP started in 2002, of the 62 students who completed the program, 58 are working in biology- and ecology-related careers — as field biologists, high school and college teachers, researchers and Peace Corps workers. More than 20 students are pursuing, or have earned, master's degrees, and eight others are studying for, or have earned, doctorates, Hoese said.

"It's been a rewarding program to help students develop high-quality research skills that contribute to a greater understanding of the environmental sciences," Hoese said.

Media Contacts:
William J. Hoese, Biological Science
Darren R. Sandquist, Biological Science
Debra Cano Ramos

Tags:  Academics & Research