Monthly Archives: December 2015

Becoming a Science Storyteller

USC Wrigley Institute

By: Nicole Hamasaki

Double-majoring in English and Environmental Studies does not represent a typical convergence of disciplines. Justifying one’s choice in getting those seemingly unrelated degrees can be challenging: 1) every stranger you meet, or once-a-year relative you see, feels compelled to ask “So, what are you going to do with that?” and 2) an occasional sense of self-doubt can evoke the very same question. But these are the subjects I love, and I would not trade the last four years of my education for anything.

This past semester, I had the wonderful opportunity of bringing the two subjects together as a grant-writing intern for the Wrigley Institute, under the guidance of Dr. Jessica Dutton who was an incredible source of knowledge and advice.


The first and primary project that we worked on this semester was a proposal to install two water bottle fill-stations at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Wrigley Institute and Environmental Studies program had been looking to build upon the success of an earlier fundraising campaign, which successfully dotted the main campus with numerous water bottle stations.

Over the course of several weeks, Jessica helped me to unfold the process of grant-writing, which I have come to think of as a formulaic style of storytelling. I then used those skills to build a compelling proposal for adding fill stations to the Coliseum to help promote reusable bottles at events and cut down on waste. We chose to apply to the USC Green Engagement Fund, a program aimed at increasing sustainability at USC. Although there were multiple components of the application (e.g. implementation plan, budget, etc.), I most enjoyed the sections in which I could exercise my love for writing through the lens of an Environmental Studies student. Best of all, our proposal was approved (!), and I am finishing the internship knowing that my work will have a lasting impact on ongoing sustainability initiatives at USC’s beloved Coliseum.

This internship has validated my belief in the power of the written word, and how important it can be to bridge science and the humanities. I appreciate the skills that I have learned this semester and feel comfortable enough to consider grant writing as a possible next-step in the development of my career. I will be the first to admit that the idea of graduation is terrifying. But although I don’t know what the future holds, I do know that I have a very good foundation thanks to all of the professors and mentors that have invested in my training as both a writer and an environmentalist.

Nicole is majoring in Environmental Studies and English in the USC Class of 2016, and recently completed an internship with the Wrigley Institute in Fall 2015. 

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Diving into Marine Research

USC Wrigley Institute

By: Audrey Looby

Hello! My name is Audrey and I’m an undergraduate at USC, where I am majoring in Environmental Studies. I am also an active AAUS-USC Research Diver, and in addition to a regular course load, I have spent the last several months working with Prof. David Ginsburg from the Environmental Studies Program studying the marine ecology of Catalina Island.

This past summer, I participated in the USC Wrigley Institute’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program on Catalina Island, where I lived for 2 months  at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC) with 9 other REU Fellows. The  REU program provides research opportunities for undergraduates, as well as advice for applying to graduate school and career options for the future.


Audrey conducting benthic surveys in Big Fisherman’s Cove. Image: D. Ginsburg

Over the course of the summer, I worked on several different research projects using my scientific diving skills to conduct underwater surveys and collections in the field. Each project focused on the ecology of marine organisms living within Big Fisherman’s Cove, part of a protected coastal zone known as Blue Cavern State Marine Conservation Area adjacent to the WMSC labs.

For one of the projects, I examined the impacts of seawater discharge from WMSC’s flow-through seawater system on subtidal marine organisms in Big Fisherman’s Cove. As a marine protected area, discharge of any kind requires a special permit. To maintain this permit, a number of conditions must be met, ranging from rigorous water quality standards to surveys of marine life (my project!). A large amount of my time this summer was spent underwater where I surveyed fish, macroalgae, and invertebrates around the seawater discharge and reference sites.

discharge pipes

Pipe which discharges seawater from the Wrigley Marine Science Center into BFC. Image: A. Looby

In a second project, I helped update a catalogue of subtidal marine organisms found in the cove. By looking at the numbers and types of species found within Big Fisherman’s Cove in the present day (my study!) and comparing them to past data from the last 50 years, much can be learned about the changing natural history of the marine protected area. For example, the presence of eelgrass meadows – a critical component of what is known as ‘Essential Fish Habitat’ – and their associated fauna were not documented until only about 20 years ago. Creating an up-to-date catalogue of organisms found in the cove is a benefit to both researchers working in this area, and the numerous educational programs run by the USC Wrigley Institute.


Eelgrass (Zostera Marina), a critical habitat we survey, was not reported in BFC until 1996. Image: D. Ginsburg

Other projects looked at the impacts of size-selective fishing on fishes that are sequential hermaphrodites (i.e., can change sex from male to female or vice versa); and the effects of macroalgal architecture (i.e. kelp forests) on kelp bass recruitment. Spending the summer contributing to these many projects on Catalina is not an experience I will forget anytime soon.

Now that the summer is over, I continue to work with Prof. David Ginsburg doing Directed Research to finalize an updated catalogue of subtidal marine organisms found in Big Fisherman’s Cove. We plan to submit these data as part of a scholarly manuscript to be published in the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences. As I make plans to graduate next year, I hope to use all of the wonderful things I’ve learned to work in research on ecology and marine protected area management in the future!


Audrey Looby will graduate in December 2016 with a BS in Environmental Studies. 

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