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Geography Student Receives Geosystems Award at Statewide Conference

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Cal State Fullerton geography graduate student Heather Roberts received the prestigious Geosystems Award for graduate students at the California Geographical Society’s annual conference.

Founded in 1946, CGS is the oldest statewide professional geographic organization. At the organization’s annual conference, CGS presents awards for outstanding research by undergraduate and graduate students. The society also present students with topic-specific awards such as the Geosystems Award, which recognizes excellent work in the area of physical geography and Earth systems science. An extremely competitive award, the Geosystems Award is one of the two highest awards that the California Geographical Society presents.

Roberts’ graduate research examines the ways that society and water shape and reshape each other over time in Southern California. Specifically, her research traces the history of the San Diego Creek and the San Joaquin Marsh in the 20th and 21st centuries. Engineering projects disrupted and later restored these water systems, eventually reshaping the marsh into an ecological habitat and natural runoff treatment system. More recently, restoration efforts by education, local government, and a water district have shaped and reshaped the marsh for environmental purposes. Today, the San Joaquin Marsh is a constructed wetland and natural treatment system that cleans nitrogen, bacteria and phosphorus from urban runoff.

Graduate student Heather Roberts’ research traces the history of the San Diego Creek and the San Joaquin Marsh.

“The fact that Heather, a CSUF master’s student, won a competitive award in a category that was open to both master’s and doctoral students, including those at research-intensive institutions like UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, is impressive and speaks to the high quality of her research and presentation,” said Zia Salim, chair and associate professor of geography and the environment.

“I believe that if our goal as a society is clean air, water and soil, then we should study what works and how we as a society can achieve these goals. Finding solutions and highlighting them is one way to do this,” said Roberts.

Sharing her research findings in a variety of professional venues across academic disciplines has become part of Roberts’ CSUF experience. These include the Humanities and Social Sciences Student Research Symposium, CSUF Geography and the Environment’s All Points of the Compass symposium, the Southwestern Anthropological Association annual conference, and the American Association of Geographers annual conference.

“I love presenting, whether it is in the classroom or in front of a group of observers,” said Roberts. “I also enjoy being around others who have the same passion for geography as I do.”

Originally a transfer student from Santiago Canyon College, Roberts earned her bachelor’s degree in geography from CSUF in 2023 before joining CSUF’s master’s program in geography. Unsurprisingly, her connections to CSUF started with a research conference.

“I attended CSUF’s All Points of the Compass conference in 2018 and 2019 while at SCC, met faculty members John Carroll and Jindong Wu, and learned about the different programs that were offered at CSUF, including the GIS courses and Remote Sensing course. I ended up getting my certificates for GIS and geospatial technologies,” said Roberts.

“John Carroll has a way of making geospatial education interesting. He brings an energy to his classes that is unmatched among his peers. Zia Salim is an amazing advocate for students. I would not have signed up to attend CGS or AAG if it were not for his influence. One of my favorite classes was Trevis Matheus’ Meteorology course. I looked forward to forecasting weather four days a week. Jindong Wu’s classes, Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing, were by far the most challenging classes in my undergraduate time. I could listen to Bob Voeks lecture for hours. Dydia DeLyser has become one of my favorite professors at CSUF. If you want to become a better writer, which I think we all should strive for, she is the professor to take,” said Roberts.

Roberts is also active within the Department of Geography and the Environment. She is the treasurer for the Geography Club and serves students as a graduate assistant.

“On top of her research, the quality of Heather’s service and contributions to the department and other students is stellar. She is a great role model to our students, and we’re very proud of all of her accomplishments,” said Salim.

Zia Salim