Yearly archives "2015"

228 Articles

The data…the data…

Entering Data into our master data file in the old GIS lab at CSU Channel Islands.

Entering Data into our master data file in the old GIS lab at CSU Channel Islands.

Key to our efforts to restore the bottomland hardwood forests in coastal Louisiana is rigorous science.  And that mean rigorous data.  And that means rigorous quality control.

Typing in band transect data in the old GIS lab in Bell Tower at CSU Channel Islands.

Typing in band transect data in the old GIS lab in Bell Tower at CSU Channel Islands.

The challenge with bringing large groups of folks into the forest and divvying them up into distinct data collection teams has always been (and always will be) the integration of the data products at the end of the effort.

While our trip is over, our data QA/QC (Quality Assurance and Quality Control) and data formatting journey has not yet ended.  This year we have run into several struggles with Google Sheets.  Apparently as we thought we were nearing the finish line, we discovered that our large data files were getting trimmed/truncated do to a quirk in the spreadsheet layout.  This seems to have resulted in us effectively losing several band transects-worth of data.  As everyone was burned out (and also a few mysteriously suffering due to the pizza I bought for dinner), we called it a night.

We will reconvene next week to then hopefully finish up our data.  Somehow I suspect that it might take longer than I hope…

Final Thoughts

My name is Stephanie Jamal. I am a student in the Communication Program at California State University Channel Islands. Recently, I was given an opportunity to participate in a Service Learning course offered by the Environmental Science and Resource Management Program at my University. The course offers undergraduate students a chance to gain field experience for roughly two weeks in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ll be honest; I did not know what I was in for before I applied for the course. Additionally, I don’t think any of my previous experience in my academic or personal life could have truly prepared me for what we endured. The craziest part of all this, each of us could have been lounging pool side back in California. Soaking up the sun, enjoying our Spring Break.

Instead, we shuffled through the murky waters of the Delacroix swamp hoping not encounter a venomous snake. For days on end we bathed ourselves in DEET, aiming to avoid satisfying an ever-hungry and persistent beast (commonly known as the mosquito). Amidst long hours of fieldwork, we recreated our childhood Star Wars fantasies of pretending our machetes were actually lightsabers. We slashed and crawled through the unforgiving thorns of overgrown blackberry bushes that tore at our clothes and skin.

We didn’t do this because someone forced us to. No one paid us to do the labor intensive activities we performed. We went of our own free will. We went because we wanted to. We wanted to learn. We wanted to help. We wanted to experience. It is one thing to be told what you are learning is important. It is completely different to actually experience and understand it first hand. Programs like this don’t just provide an opportunity for students to gain experience. They also contribute much needed time to communities. This, I believe to be the reason why Service Learning is so vital to the survival of society.

We went to New Orleans because we wanted to learn. We wanted to help and experience something completely different from what we knew. In reality, what we experienced in Louisiana was far greater than what any of us could have anticipated. What we took back with us was much more than simple memories or a gold star on a resume. What we took back was a connection.

A Trip to Remember

Before leaving for the trip, our class explored some of the history of New Orleans, culture of Louisiana, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But actually being in New Orleans, experiencing that culture, and actually seeing the lingering devastation spurred by Hurricane Katrina was nothing I expected to experience so intensely. Several things touched me most deeply; speaking with locals who experienced Katrina and reliving their stories, speaking with professors who care so much about their community, hearing about the lawsuits pushing big oil companies to clean up and restore the wetlands, and reporters who wrote about the storm/environmental issues/political milieu of New Orleans.

In addition to all these individual learning experiences, we were able to do hands on work to directly help the cause. I learned so much trudging through the swamp, identifying native and invasive plants, collecting data, learning to work with different teams, and overcoming many types of discomforts.

I left New Orleans with my eyes opened to the issues our friends there face…and the politics that go along hand in hand with those issues. I am now aware of the problems. Hopefully, I will be able to make others aware too by fostering education, engaging in more research, and taking political actions. I thank CSUCI and Dr. Anderson for the amazing opportunity to help, be involved, and to learn about this fragile area and its amazing culture and history.


I learned how to cook a creole tomato sauce over shrimp and rice.


Learning from the great Dr. Steve Nelson from Tulane University about the levee system in New Orleans.


Enjoying a wonderful evening at Woodlands Plantation.


And I got to meet the amazing trumpeter Irvin Mayfield!

Looking back

New Orleans is easily the most amazing place I have ever been. I will never forget my experience with our ESRM 492 class and inspired by the kind nature of the city’s residents, the phenomenal musicians, and the diverse culture that blessed New Orleans.

Exploring the French Quarter during our first days in town gave me an impression of the people native to the area. Absolutely everyone I encountered had a smile and kind words for the work our class was doing for the city and region.  Paul Sanchez strengthened this impression with his pronounced “thank you” to our class with free CDs and a public mentioning of our hard work during his fanatic set at Chickie Wah Wahs. I was also inspired by the love that the city’s residents had for New Orleans and how that in turn fed their history, culture, and family.

Everywhere we went it seemed that there were street musicians, artists, and other performers livening up the scene. Every club, social establishment, or venue we visited had some of the most talented musicians I ever had the pleasure of hearing. These musicians were well versed in the musical history and culture of the city and assisted in making my New Orleans trip even more unforgettable.

The liveliness of New Orleans was most evident in the parades the city seemed to have most nights we were there. There were parades for St. Patrick’s Day,  St. Joseph’s Day, and a small parade for every wedding that took place in the quarter.  I was amazed by New Orleans’ friendliness with artists and street performers. Unlike Los Angeles, I can actually believe that a performing musician can make it comfortably in New Orleans.

The work our group did in the wetlands was grueling and labor intensive but impossibly rewarding for all of us when we thought about what the city now means to us (and I suspect anybody else who has ever experienced the Crescent City).  We were reminded of this sentiment whenever a loud soul would shout “CORNBREAD!” at the top of their lungs to raise moral in the swamp. That food will forever be a rallying cry for the group that took this trip to the beautiful New Orleans.


Been working are this piece all day. It’s coming along great. Listening to Irvin Mayfield and working on my project is a great combination!!! 


A time to reflect


     My experience in New Orleans went above and beyond the expectations I had before our trip. As I sit here in the CSUCI library on a Thursday night frantically working on unfinished work mini flashbacks  pop into my head as if I were back in New Orleans. These flashback are of course with friends. Friends that share the exact memories, friends that helped me rally when energy levels were low, and more importantly friends with which I have stronger connections now than ever before. I relish in the random memories that uncover throughout the day. These memories will surely aid me in the next couple weeks of my school work. Although the memories I gained over the course of this trip will fade in time, the people I met and interviewed are burned into my soul and have forever changed my view on New Orleans.

     The most memorable part of our trip was hacking my way through blackberry bush with two of my colleagues. Equipped with a machete, 100 meter transect tape, clipboard, and datasheets, we successfully gathered important vegetation data that could one day aid in our response to wetland loss. I am proud to be a part of our 2015 ESRM 492: NOLA Service Learning trip and would highly recommend it to future students no matter their discipline of study.

Thank you for the enlightening trip.


Alex Greene

Reflections on our trip to New Orleans

This trip was everything I expected it to be…and much more than I could put into words. At first I was a little skeptical about both how it would go generally and how the specific mix of activities we had planned would immerse us into it the city and landscapes. But the activities and content Dr. Anderson provided us was unbelievable. The culture, art, history, social and ecological aspects of Louisiana; we got to experience it all. Everyday was non-stop and best that way. There were so many things to experience that it seemed we would finish one lecture or tour and immediately begin one just as interesting and relivant to the city and Hurricane Katrina every day for two non-stop weeks.

The city, suburbs and swamp were all amazing. Running swamp transects for the Woodlands Conservancy was challenging and what seemed like a never ending process. But at the end of the day it truly felt as though we had collected some good, essential data. The materials and stories we explored were moving. While the Cajun cuisine was some of the best in my life (I’ll miss having it every night), it was the human element and the interactions with the people who were affected by this tragedy in our own nation that made the biggest impact on me. Between learning about wetland loss and the human element that led to defects in the levee system that was to protect the town from floodwaters, it was amazing to understand just how multi-causal the disaster of a decade ago actually was. I also can’t help but wonder just how much climate change will effect Louisiana’ s Gulf Coast. Much of that landscape will be underwater in my lifetime unless something drastic and incredible is done very quickly. It felt great to be a Service Learning student shown the appreciation we were given for just our small contributions to understanding and improving this region. I would recommend this trip to anyone who has the chance to go. Being a part of this experience has made me a more aware person and someone more willing to actively help others. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

-Robert Whitfield

A New Perspective 

It’s hard to properly reflect on the last week spent down in New Orleans. This trip opened my eyes to such a variety of cultural and environmental concerns that it’ll take some time before I can truly understand the meaning of what I’ve experienced. What I can say is this: my time spent in Louisiana was unlike anything that I’ve experienced before and the lessons I derive from it are sure to stay with me for a long time to come.

Perhaps most noticeable from our travels was how immediately our Southern Californian culture became apparent. From the expectation of good coffee to our surprise at existing in truly flat landscape, it became evident that we all came from an amazingly similar background and were about to experience something entirely different from what our upbringing provided us. The culture of New Orleans is an interesting mix of varying traditions that somehow weaves itself into a tapestry of uniqueness and tradition. This culture is something Americans should take pride in and make a conscious effort to preserve.

Also interesting was the relationship the people of Louisiana have with their natural environment. It’s often easy for we Californians to judge others for their treatment of the land. We rarely take into consideration the circumstances and associations that we experience in the comparatively mild California landscape. I quite honestly can’t blame the people in New Orleans for dismissing the subtle beauties of their local wetlands. Even the “hardiest” of our crew were overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, and discomfort associated with the swamp in a comparatively mild Spring season. How then to instill a sense of affection for an environment commonly described as “smelly” and “gross?” Sadly, I don’t have the answer. Fortunately, these wetlands also provide an opportunity for environmental protection based solely of humanitarian reasoning by protecting the city and its people from nature’s most ferocious storms. I stand as a deep ecologist, and ideally I wish the people of New Orleans would learn to appreciate the intrinsic value of their swampy neighbors through agencies such as the Woodlands Conservancy and their outreach programs. Until that day comes, let’s promote and educate the public about how these regions directly benefit them and through the restoration of these wetlands provide a natural buffer that preserves the integrity, history, and jazz-filled flair that makes the city of New Orleans such a delightful and unique experience.

-Kevin Gaston