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Connecting STEM to Student Roots: USC Sea Grant Intern Aids in Beach Cleanup Efforts

Connecting STEM to Student Roots: USC Sea Grant Intern Aids in Beach Cleanup Efforts

Hallee Meltzer

By: Maria Madrigal, USC Sea Grant

 

The USC Sea Grant Education Program is excited to highlight recent student intern, Daniela Loera, and her path in pursuing an environmental science career. Ms. Loera was USC Sea Grant’s 2021 Community Engaged Intern and recently completed the summer internship with an emphasis on informing policy and engaging communities about their influence on beaches through beach cleanups. Further, we honor Ms. Loera's achievements in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

 

Currently, Daniela Loera is a student at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) where she is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a double minor in Business and Spanish.  As a first-generation college student, her encouragement to pursue higher education stems from her parents. Immigrating from Mexico when Daniela was only one year old, Ms. Loera describes that her parents provided for her family through working labor-intensive, low-wage jobs. She explains that “seeing them struggle every day to make a living so that my siblings and I can get an education allowed me to become dedicated and goal-orientated so I can achieve my own desires.”

 

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Daniela Loera

Daniela’s passion for the environment is rooted in her family’s culture and love for the land. After immigrating from Aguascalientes, Mexico her family found a safe haven in the outskirts of Fallbrook, CA where she and her family continued to practice their strong bond to nature. Living on a ranch allowed Daniela to garden, care for livestock, and strengthen her connection with nature. Her favorite memories involve going to the beach, camping, being outside, and raising animals. Ms. Loera’s strong interest in protecting the land led her to join CSUSM Environmental Stewards Association where she now serves as  Co-President of the association. The Environmental Stewards Association “aims to inspire students to be more connected with the Earth and establishes a connection with the community by volunteering, performing community outreach, and providing networking opportunities within the environmental field.” Recognizing her expanding passion, Environmental Studies professor and mentor, Christina Simokat, recommended that Daniela apply to USC Sea Grant’s Community Engagement Internship(CEI) opportunity this summer. Professor Simokat shared that Daniela “is a motivated self-starter who always makes an extra effort to make connections with the community and professionals in her chosen field to build her skills and strengthen her understanding of important issues.” 

 

The CEI’s overarching goal is to broaden participation in marine and coastal professions by providing training and mentorship to the next generation of scientists, decision makers, and citizens. A concerted effort has been made to provide training and mentorship to early-stage university and community college students from under-resourced, underrepresented, and/or indigenous and tribal populations. The paid internship experience focuses on supporting the student’s interest through the completion of a community project. The CEI internship program is in its second year of including professional development and working closely with a Knauss Fellow as a peer mentor, further supporting the next generation of STEM professionals. This year's class of 52 interns, including Ms. Loera, represented 17 state and institutional programs across the country.

 

Selected by USC Sea Grant as their 2021 Community Engaged Intern, Daniela participated in a 10-week summer program consisting of professional development courses, mentoring, engagement with a national cohort of students, and the completion of a project that extends the knowledge of community stakeholders to address a coastal or marine issue of environmental, economic and/or social importance.

 

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A map of the beach cleanup sites studied, located in Oceanside and Carlsbad, CA.

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An image of Carlsbad City Beach, one of the beaches Daniela visited.

For Daniela, past beach-clean-up efforts and an Oceana internship where she participated in the process of pushing a city-wide ordinance banning single-use plastic inspired her initial community project idea of creating a beach clean-up data tracking app. Realizing through her experiences that decision makers need data to support policies, Daniela sought guidance from Mitch Silverstein, the San Diego County Chapter Manager of Surfrider. He happily served as her community mentor and describes that  Ms. Loera “has definitely proven herself a great asset to our local efforts to raise awareness about, and advance legislation to reduce plastic pollution that ends up in our ocean, waves, and beaches.”

 

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A chart revealing the most common items Daniela found at Carlsbad City Beach.

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Examples of the foam fragments found at Carlsbad City Beach.

Daniela’s efforts began by doing research on existing beach-data-tracking apps while conducting beach clean-ups at local Southern California beaches including Oceanside and Carlsbad, as well as participating in cleanups organized by the Surfrider Foundation. In addition to the information collected during the summer, she also analyzed data from previous clean-ups with the help of her mentor, Mr. Silverstein. Daniela looked for patterns in the trash characterization to see if she could draw any correlations between the results and any existing city regulations on plastic. After realizing there were no plastic reduction regulations in place, she created an ArcGIS Story Map to inform community members of the amount of plastic that is polluting local beaches. In addition to raising awareness of the harms of plastic marine debris, she hopes that the story map can motivate community members to get involved in their cities and help support plastic reduction ordinances.

 

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Daniela participating in a Surfrider organized beach cleanup.

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Buckets with debris picked up during a Surfrider organized beach cleanup.

Daniela gained an invaluable amount of knowledge and experience through this internship and plans to continue her work on promoting plastic reduction regulations as part of her senior capstone project at CSUSM. After graduating in 2022, Ms. Loera will pursue a master's degree in Sustainable Urban Planning. She aspires to be a role model for Latinx youth interested in science by diversifying the face of the professionals that represent the environmental field and by staying engaged in her local community.   

 

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