News @ the Beach

Campus, City Become Living Labs for CSULB Environmental Science and Policy Students

Three of California State University, Long Beach’s 1950s vintage liberal arts buildings are in the midst of much-needed upgrades to bring them up to seismic and technology standards by the end of this year. But like any major commercial building project, the construction generates dust, noise, vehicle emissions and other environmental impacts.

That’s why CSULB Environmental Science and Policy (ES&P) major Kenny Bender and four other students picked the renovation as their project in the program’s capstone class, ES&P 400, where students examine the physical, biological, social, economic and legal dimensions of a local environmental issue.

ES&P is a joint program between the College of Liberal Arts and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, combining classes from both leading to either a B.A. or B.S. degree or minor and opportunities for graduate school or breadth of career options in academia, government agencies, companies and nonprofit organizations.

For instance, Bender, a member of the course’s Green Campus group, explained, “We’re using electronic sensors to measure sound, nitrogen dioxide and general air pollutant levels surrounding the LA 2-4 renovation project. Our overall goal is to get some sense of the impact this project might be having having on the health of people who travel through, congregate around, or attend classes in this part of campus. More specifically, we are comparing our measurements to impacts estimated in the campus’ environmental impact report; to exposure limits established by OSHA; and to campus-wide averages, measured with the same sensors.”

Another Green Campus project held special interest for Nicol Manzanares, who along with Kelli Retzer, were among four students who studied plant species diversity and abundance within 35 square meters of the Puvungna Native American village site on the CSULB campus near Bellflower Boulevard. The area is sacred to the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe to which Manzanares has family connections.

At the 14-acre site, the students selected 35 one-meter squares called quadrats from which they took plant samples and identified and counted the number of species, Retzer said. “We found almost everything was nonnative invasive species,” she said. “It’s mostly grasses and a lot of herbs and low spreading plants,” along with some edible plants that apparently were remnants of a former community garden. I think there is a significance to that site, but what is there hasn’t been necessarily quantified. The Native American community uses it as a ceremonial site. Even though from the surface it’s managed on a small scale, in the future the question becomes what to do with it. It may have ecological and cultural value. Even as just an empty, fairly natural study site for the science community on campus, it could be very valuable as well.”

Meanwhile, graduate teaching assistant Mystyn Mills’ research also turned toward nature. Mills supervised undergraduates in the Fungus Among Us group that looked at how the symbiotic relationship of mycorrhizal root fungus and coastal sage scrub plants affects growth and restoration efforts for this once-abundant Southern California vegetation, which serves as habitat for several endangered species.

“This is a relatively large-scale project that took a great deal of planning and coordination,” Bender said. “Seeing such a project through from start to finish, and actually having quality work to show for it, is an accomplishment that will look good on a résumé or grad school application.” He, Manzanares and Retzer will graduated in May and are considering eventually enrolling in master’s programs that will benefit their career goals.