ALUMNI

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ALUMNI 2020-07-14T13:04:30-07:00

ALUMNI

The Graduate Program in Coastal Science and Policy prepares future leaders to solve current and emerging challenges to coastal sustainability.

The program offers two programs of study, a masters of science and a Ph.D. designated emphasis for UCSC Ph.D. students. Coursework emphasizes interdisciplinary scholarship, project-based study, and developing practical solutions to real-world problems.

Below get to know our fantastic and innovative alums.

2018 MS COHORT

UC Santa Cruz welcomed its first cohort in Coastal Science and Policy in Fall 2018. This interdisciplinary master’s degree program prepares exceptional students in each cohort to design and implement solutions to the complex social, ecological, and technological problems facing the world’s coastal ecosystems and communities. Meet the members of the first cohort below:

Shakera Arnold

Belize City, Belize

Shakera has worked as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Belize teaching Environmental Conservation and Development, and as an Assistant Coral Watch Coordinator at Ecomar Belize for the Coral Watch Project. Shakera is currently a Marine Reserve Manager in the ecosystem-based management unit under the Belize Fisheries Department. Her passion for conservation compels her to protect and conserve her country’s natural resources, as well as educating others about the importance of sustainable development and conservation. With a degree in CS&P, her goals are to implement effective policies and practices for conservation and sustainable development, to help diverse audiences understand and appreciate the value of conservation, and to ensure that our rich biodiversity is protected for future generations to enjoy. Shakera is committed to strengthening the sustainability of the Belizean conch fishery by enhancing the fisheries management system and integration of successful management strategies.

Read about Shakera's Year 2 Capstone


For her capstone, Shakera evaluated standardized sampling programs to help inform creation of a protocol that will provide managers with accurate and timely conch data in Belize. Armed with accurate data, managers can make informed fisheries management decisions that ensure the sustainability of the conch fishery. Shakera is working with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Belizean government to facilitate the update of a proposed Adaptive Management Framework (AMF) program for conch in Belize that emulates FISHE (Framework for Integrated Stock and Habitat Evaluation). FISHE is a management approach developed for data-poor fisheries. Shakera’s capstone work resulted in development of recommendations for a conch monitoring program that will align the fishery management vision of the the Belize Fisheries Department and local monitoring partners of the status and trends of the conch populations throughout Belize. Shakera drew from FISHE and the proposed conch AMF to identify critical biological, social, economic and fishery-specific data for the Belizean conch management. Standardizing the sampling design and protocols will support more efficient data collection, comparability across sites, and trend analysis for predictive management. Improved analysis will help fishery managers assess whether management measures are having desired results in sustaining populations of the commercially exploited conch species and if not, whether there new adaptive management strategies should be adopted accordingly.

In July 2020, Shakera will return to work with the Belize Fisheries Department’s Ecosystems-based Management Unit where she will continue to support implementation of effective monitoring and promotion of sustainable fisheries in Belize.

Watch Shakera’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Ross Davison

Mountain View, California

Ross is a remote sensing specialist innovating tools to protect our natural capital and the communities that rely on them. He has a particular expertise in 3D reality capture technology methods and applications and has spent nearly a decade working with private, public, and multinational stakeholders to enact high tech, innovative conservation methods across 21 countries.

For his capstone, Ross focused on quantifying and assessing anthropogenic activity and environmental hazard effects on the natural world to better mitigate negative outcomes and improve the resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities. To accomplish this, Ross feasibility tested tools he helped develop prior to joining the program to monitor and assess natural capital with a variety of partners and in a diverse set of ecosystems. These partners included The Nature Conservancy, The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and Researchers at UC berkeley. Each partner provided Ross with a unique issue: With The Nature Conservancy, Ross informed invasive species removal strategy for The Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve; at Elkhorn Slough Ross worked with site managers to quantify temporal distribution of harmful algae blooms and eutrophication in protected nursery habitats; and in at the Angelo Coast Range Reserve Ross quantified algae conversion rates in the Eel River watershed to inform research on algae’s impact on the surrounding habitats.

Since the culmination of the program, Ross has formalized these efforts into Comon Solutions, a company focused on remote monitoring and evaluation of conservation interventions and natural capital. Ross and his team were also recently accepted into the Tech Futures Group (read more here). By working with Comon, natural resource managers and conservation specialists can accurately monitor and assess their targeted interventions, understand the factors driving their success or failure, and allow them to make rapid adjustments to adapt to the needs of their specific ecosystem. Since completing the CSP Program, Ross was also accepted into the Wild Gift Fellowship as part of the 2020 fellow class. 

Dingxi Safari Fang

China

Safari is an interdisciplinary scientist and ocean conservationist. Growing up next to a polluted Yangtze River, she aspired from an early age to work in environmental conservation. Safari has proven experience and passion for connecting people from diverse backgrounds to facilitate deep, meaningful collaborations to solve global environmental challenges. She is particularly interested in aquaculture and fisheries, environmental behavior, and community-based conservation. Her CSP capstone research identified strategies, high impact interventions, and a working Theory of Change for China’s sustainable marine aquaculture in partnership with local practitioners and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s China Marine Strategy. She used interdisciplinary methods to conduct field research in China, perform literature and policy analyses, and develop a working theory of change. Her fieldwork involved semi-structured interviews to determine social and market factors that obstruct a transition to sustainable aquaculture practices. After CSP, Safari will be pursuing a Ph.D. in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) at Stanford University. She is an alumna of the Blue Pioneers Program and sits on the board of directors of Demos Education Hub, an environmental education and community development NGO in Hainan, China.

Watch Safari’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Celeshia Guy

Belmopan, Belize

Celeshia is passionate about advocating for the protection of the environment for both humans and wildlife. She has been working in the conservation field for over eight years, with positions at the Belize Zoo, Belize Bird Rescue, and, most recently, Oceana Belize. Celeshia is a Climate Reality Leader and was awarded the Belize Youth in Conservation prize. Celeshia’s conservation platform is Endangered Species Protection, and her focal species is the endangered Antillean manatees.

Celeshia completed a summer internship with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory, through the Coastal Science and Policy Program. During the internship, she participated in live stranding response of manatees and pilot whales. She also assisted with necropsies of dead manatees to determine the cause of mortality and better understand the threats to the population. For her one-year capstone project, Celeshia worked alongside her faculty advisors: Dr. Donald Croll and Dr. A. Marm Kilpatrick, and practitioner partners: Mrs. Nicole Auil-Gomez (Wildlife Conservation Society Belize) and Mr. Jamal Galves (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute Belize) to create the first model to assess the risk of watercraft collision to the Belize Antillean manatee population. The project aimed to analyze twenty-five years of aerial survey, stranding, and boat registration data to determine if there is a relationship between the number of boats and watercraft strandings, to identify spatial and temporal variations of watercraft strandings, and to estimate the density of manatees in Belize. The results of this capstone project were used to form the basis of a conservation strategy for the endangered Antillean manatees focused on reducing the threat of watercraft collision to its population. Celeshia is finalizing three project deliverables, including; a manuscript, a summary manuscript, and a Conservation Action Plan. Celeshia is now employed by her practitioner partner, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute Belize. She will partner with other stakeholders to implement the actions outlined in her Conservation Action Plan to help save the endangered Antillean manatees in Belize.

Watch Celeshia’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Andre Joseph-Witzig

St. Georges, Grenada

Andre Joseph-Witzig is from the Caribbean spice island of Grenada. He has been closely involved with climate change and coastal zone management on the island, working with international agencies and local government. He has supported the development of policy and legislation, data collection in the coastal zone, and work with schools and technical staff on community co-management, beach profiling, and ecosystem-based adaptation, including both coral reef and mangrove restoration projects. 

Read about Andre's Year 2 Capstone

As part of the CSP program, Andre completed a summer internship with the Central Coast Wetlands Group supporting their work on coastal adaptation for the City of Santa Cruz. For this work he reviewed adaptation strategies, policies, and triggers for pathways to adapt to storms and sea level rise. The work will inform the City’s Resilient Coast Santa Cruz effort. Andre also attended the DroneCamp program hosted by the Informatics and GIS Program of the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources division and developed skills in drone monitoring and the use of photogrammetry as a tool to monitor coastal ecosystems. 

For his capstone project Andre worked closely with the Natural Capital Project (NATCAP) to complete research on coastal vulnerability and ecosystem services on the island of Grenada. With the guidance of the team, led by Dr. Katie Arkema and supported by his advisors Dr. Gary Griggs and Dr. Borja Reguero, Andre used NATCAP’s InVEST coastal vulnerability model to conduct an island-wide assessment of the protective services provided by coastal ecosystems in Grenada. Andre integrated high-resolution aerial imagery and bathymetry provided by local partners, including the Land Use and Environment Divisions of the Government of Grenada, and new data gathered using drones and photogrammetry as a new method to monitor coastal change and erosion on Grenadian beaches. At present, Andre is finalizing outputs in the form of a set of drone beach monitoring guidelines for Grenada and a report sharing the coastal vulnerability model findings. The products of the capstone will directly to coastal zone management planning and implementation in Grenada. 

Over the course of the capstone year Andre was able to collaborate with many partners working on coastal adaptation in Grenada. This included working closely with consultants developing a marine spatial plan for Grenada and attending workshops and capacity building sessions under an ongoing National Ecosystem Assessment for Grenada. Andre was also able to contribute to a socio-economic coastal vulnerability assessment developed by the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in the UK and is working to finalize a publication as a co-author.  Andre is aiming for these products and his future work to assist decision-makers and community groups with sustainable management of the coastal zone in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean region.

Watch Andre’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Mali’o Kodis

Volcano, Hawaii

Growing up in the rainforests of Hawaii laid the foundation of Mali’o’s passion for conservation science. Throughout high school and college, Mali’o conducted research in a wide variety of environments, from coral reefs to mountain forests. After graduating from Brown University, Mali’o was a Helen Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History for 2 years, where she conducted research on ecological niche modeling and coastal community resilience. During her time at U.C. Santa Cruz, Mali’o explored climate adaptation strategies including regenerative agriculture (with Pie Ranch) and floodplain restoration in urban and rural environments (with The Nature Conservancy). She won “Best Overall” at the U.C. Santa Cruz Graduate Research Symposium for her presentation on the role for conservation organizations in strategic retreat from at-risk areas. Mali’o is seeking employment opportunities to implement scientifically-rooted conservation solutions that are centered around local community needs.

Read about Mali’o’s summer placement in this blog post.

Watch Mali’o’s Graduate Research Symposium presentation here.

Watch Mali’o’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Samruddhi Kothari

Mumbai, India

In 2013, after gaining eight years of experience in the corporate sector of banking and business, Samruddhi started her entrepreneurial journey in fashion jewelry manufacturing and retailing, incorporating sustainable practices and the work of local artisans. She began SCUBA diving, and witnessed two different worlds under the sea: from awe inspiring scenes to truly heart breaking moments. She decided to pursue a full time career in marine conservation and sustainability. The CS&P program will help her address the needs of coastal communities in developing nations in a sustainable and balanced manner.

Watch Samruddhi’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Read about Samruddhi's Year 2 Capstone

Harnessing the knowledge of business and finance Samruddhi is keen to understand 1) how climate risk impacts businesses and cities and 2) how insurance can support and inform business decisions ahead of these risky events. The insurance industry’s current climate risk strategies focus on short-term time horizons. However, given the unpredictability of climate and weather events the insurance industry is distinctively positioned to foster risk mitigations efforts. The industry is already using its current risk knowledge and level of awareness to make risk-based decisions but is also stimulating the energy and utility industries to adopt long-term decision-making approaches.

Samruddhi wants to understand the long-term risk management strategies that could be adopted by businesses in the energy and utility sectors based on the level of protection and affordability of insurance and regulations. Working with a private consulting firm, Samruddhi’s capstone explores actuarial implications of climate events on business decisions and policy regulations, with a special focus on the need for premium readjustments. Her capstone year is divided into 3 phases:

  1. Review current risk-industry analysis methods
  2. Identify forward-looking scenarios that can reflect future risk from hazards such as cyber-attacks, weather-related natural disasters and climate hazards such as sea level rise; and
  3. Review how premiums are set, based on baseline risk, and infer potential premium adjustments in the forward-looking scenarios, (e.g., premium with sea level rise adjusted risk)

Biraj Shrestha

Hetauda, Nepal

Biraj is an ardent amphibian lover from Nepal. Since gaining a Master’s degree in Environmental Science (2013), he has actively been involved in the study and conservation of amphibians and reptiles across the country. He has been awarded a number of research grants and funding from different institutions for conservation of freshwater species. In June 2017, he was awarded the Future Leader of Amphibian Conservation Award at the Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium at University of Kent, UK. Biraj strongly believes that freshwater species are at high risks of extinction and highlights the destruction of freshwater ecosystems around the planet as the most pressing problem of the 21st century. With the knowledge and practical experience obtained from the CSP program, Biraj hopes to broaden his career horizons by working toward identifying solutions-oriented approaches of effective freshwater biodiversity conservation, characterized by improved ecosystem services of those freshwater systems.

Watch Biraj’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Read about Biraj's Year 2 Capstone

Biraj is interning with the City of Santa Cruz Water Department as a Watershed Management Intern. Within Santa Cruz County, Birajs is working in the Loch Lomond Reservoir, adjacent watersheds and north coast watersheds. Biraj will support the department by:

  • Preparing a draft plan for invasive species management (American Bull frog, Canada geese) in collaboration with the City’s team
  • Supporting stream monitoring (gauging, flow measurement, water quality) at multiple sites including Loch Lomond Reservoir, Lower Newell and Upper Newell stream, San Lorenzo Lagoon, and North Coast Flow
  • Assisting ongoing fisheries population research in designated county streams.

For his second year capstone, Biraj is pursuing a partnership that will help him hone his skills in addressing and strengthening freshwater biodiversity conservation. 

David Torres

Cuzco, Peru

David is a Peruvian Forest Engineer. In 2012 he moved to Cuzco and joined Peru’s National Park Service to support the management of Machupicchu Historical Sanctuary by researching the park’s ecosystems alongside park rangers. He began working at Nature Services Peru in 2014, designing and implementing “Payments for Ecosystem Services” strategies that connect indigenous communities from the Peruvian Amazon with companies in the main cities of Peru. Together these partnerships form Regenera, a nature stewards network working to reduce deforestation in key landscapes of the country.

To better prepare him for his capstone work, David pursued two trainings in Summer 2019 that centered on technology implementation to tackle complex XXI century challenges. These trainings included the Wolfram Summer School (Wolfram Research) and to the Global Sustainability Summer School (Santa Fe Institute). Through these programs and engagement with teammates, David completed two projects:

David’s capstone project focused on a climate action analysis for the city of Santa Cruz’ Sustainability Program using Analytica (a quantitative decision-support software). As a result, David decided to further explore the applications of technology to environmental issues and is now working with Lumina Decision Systems, Analytica’s developer, on the production of a climate action planning tool that can help organizations’ sustainable practices in California, Peru, and beyond.

Watch David’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Casey Zweig

Malibu, California

Casey Zweig is a graduate of the Duke University Environmental Science and Policy program and prior to joining the CSP program led environmental programs for the City of Malibu with a strong focus in coastal issues including water quality, waste management, and coastal adaptation. She is adept at building partnerships across sectors, which has proved successful in the award-winning “Keep it Clean, Malibu” storm water campaign, single-use plastic bans, and expansion of the Clean Bay Certified restaurant program. In 2020, Casey was accepted into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation From Linear to Circular Program. After the CSP program, Casey plans to bring together diverse stakeholders in strategic partnerships to tackle expansive ocean issues like coastal adaptation.

Watch Casey’s Final Capstone Presentation here. 

Read about Casey's Year 2 Capstone


Plastic pollution and climate change are two of the most pressing environmental crises of our time. Current consumption trends and ineffective waste systems pose major threats to our climate, environment, and human health. Concern over plastic pollution is receiving unprecedented attention and support in public spheres as well as more focused effort by public and private sectors to address organic waste and recyclables, particularly in light of China’s decision to minimize importing waste. This comes at a time when waste companies are already struggling to keep their business models profitable and governments and communities are championing climate action planning to mitigate their impact and develop adaptive capacity for a changing future. This project aims to change the status quo of waste systems by bringing to market a new technology that sequesters carbon from organic waste, creates a more valuable product from organic waste than only compost, and creates an easily compostable and marine degradable bioplastic that can serve as an alternative to plastic. Full Cycle Bioplastics’ circular economy technology will be proven at a pilot scale followed by the early planning stages for a commercial scale facility.

DESIGNATED EMPHASIS COHORT

UC Santa Cruz began the Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science and Policy in Fall 2019 for PhD students from departments across UC Santa Cruz’s campus. Meet graduates of the Designated Emphasis:

Karen Tanner

Bay Area, California

Karen Tanner is a student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science & Policy. For her research, Karen partnered with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve to develop and test strategies to improve salt marsh restoration outcomes. During this time she also investigated the impacts of solar energy development on desert annual plants for the California Energy Commission.

Karen will graduate in June 2020 and will start a California Sea Grant fellowship at the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission. While there she will work on the Regional Shoreline Adaptation Plan and the Adaptation to Rising Tides Program, supporting regional planning efforts intended to protect natural systems and infrastructure from sea level rise.

WELLS FARGO COASTAL SUSTAINABILITY FELLOWS

Senior Ph.D. students were awarded Wells Fargo Coastal Sustainability Fellowships for 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-2018, paving the way for the kind of work graduate students in the Coastal Science and Policy Program produce.

Abe Borker

PhD Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Website: neverstopnerding.com

Sarah Beganskas

Ph.D Candidate, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department
Website: http://sarahbeganskas.wix.com/home

Zachary Caple

PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology

Cynthia Carrion

PhD Candidate, Ocean Sciences

Hamutahl Cohen

Ph.D Candidate, Environmental Studies
Website: hamutahlc.sites.ucsc.edu/

Melissa Cronin

PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Ana Martínez Fernández

Ph.D Candidate, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department

Christie Hegermiller, PhD

Ocean Sciences
Website: coastalchristie.weebly.com/

Karla Knudson, PhD

Earth & Planetary Sciences

Kate Melanson

Ph.D Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Website: katemelansonresearch.wordpress.com/

Angela Quiros

Ph.D, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

James Shope, PhD

Earth & Planetary Sciences

Sarah Skikne

PhD Candidate, Environmental Studies

Dena Spatz

Ph.D, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Conservation Biologist, Island Conservation

Bronwen Stanford

PhD Candidate, Environmental Studies

Rachel Zuercher

Ph.D Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Website: rachelzuercher.com

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