GES Students’ Co-curricular Experiences

Here you can read about current students’ co-curricular experiences such as assisting in research in a faculty lab, participating in cruises, working at internships, and conducting undergraduate thesis research. Click on the tabs below to read each student’s story.

Growing up on the water in Kāneʻohe Bay, I was always interested in the ocean that surrounded me. In eighth grade, I witnessed the impact of the 2014-2015 massive coral bleaching events on the reefs in our bay, and I chose to do my science fair project tracking coral recovery after bleaching. As a result of this project, I was fortunate that my teacher, Mrs. Tina Chan at King Intermediate, connected me with the education department at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) located at Moku o Loʻe, otherwise known as Coconut Island.


As a freshman in high school, I was able to participate in two marine science programs at HIMB that helped solidify my interest in marine science and connected me with several important mentors. The Kulia Marine Science Club met after school once a week during the school year. Mike Henley, a graduate student at the time working in the Smithsonian Institution’s Hagedorn Lab, provided club members with hands-on opportunities to learn about marine science research methods and guided students as they presented research projects at the annual Imi Wai Ola Student Science Conference. The Research Experiences in Marine Science, or REMS program, was an intensive summer program that introduced high school students to different fields in marine science. Directed by Dr. Malia Rivera, a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) faculty member and the director of the HIMB Science Inquiry Education Program, REMS allowed students to focus on a hypothesis-driven research project while also earning college credit.


These exciting experiences inspired me to conduct my own independent marine science projects and compete in science fair my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years of high school. All three years, I was able to explore different aspects of coral ecology and restoration. My participation in the marine science club and science fair lead to Mike offering me an internship to work with him on his doctoral dissertation work.

Photo courtesy of Mariko Quinn. Preparing coral sperm samples for analysis after a spawning night. Photo credit: Jess Bouwmeester.

I began working with Mike the summer of 2018, after my sophomore year, and continued working for the lab in 2019 where I helped Mike investigate the reproductive differences and patterns between two corals found in the bay, Montipora capitata and Montipora flabellata. Following the bleaching events that I witnessed first-hand just a few years prior, we sought to understand why some corals can survive bleaching events more effectively. For two consecutive summers we spent long hours documenting the spawning patterns of the two species and examining their reproductive behavior, gamete quality, and fertilization capability. From May through August of 2018 and 2019, we worked most nights, starting at about 7 pm to catch the corals spawning starting at about 8 or 9 pm. If the corals did spawn, we would then work several more hours into the night to process the specimens. These hours were quite long and, at first quite difficult to adjust to, but the research was exciting and fun and worth the hard work.

Photo courtesy of Mariko Quinn. Returning a coral to the reef after a spawning event. We collect fragments of corals and bring them to the lab to watch them before spawning events, and return them to the reef after we are done. Photo credit: Jess Bouwmeester. 

During both summers while I was working with Mike, I also participated in different REMS programs at HIMB. In 2018, I was a REMS mentor for new students. Later I participated as a student in the inaugural REMS XL cohort, which challenged students to explore more in-depth independent research projects. Immersing myself in these different experiences of working with Mike and participating in REMS largely shaped my goals for college. I gained a deep understanding and appreciation about the importance of collaboration and communication in research from working with fellow students in REMS and gained valuable lab and field skills as a researcher working with Mike and the Hagedorn lab.


These experiences, and the mentorship I received from Mike and Dr. Rivera, led me to apply to the UHM Global Environmental Science (GES) program. The GES program allows me to build strong relationships with my peers and professors and makes it possible to for me to continue working at HIMB. I am currently working with Dr. Jess Bouwmeester from the Hagedorn to explore the cryopreservation of coral symbionts, as well as with Dr. Rivera to investigate the use to sea urchins as a biological indicator of water quality.

Read the article on Montipora corals that Mariko co-wrote here.

Published September 10, 2021

Before entering the Global Environmental Science (GES) program, most of my experience with oceanography centered around coral reefs, specifically studying coral and fish biodiversity and abundance. Growing up in Hawai‘i nurtured my love for the ocean, both recreationally and scientifically, and the GES program provided a broad set of courses that would allow me to engage in many different areas of oceanography while developing a diverse STEM background.

Within the GES program, I became particularly excited to explore opportunities at the intersection of oceanography and computer science. During a GES seminar, I was fascinated by a presentation on environmental modelling given by Dr. Brian Powell, a physical oceanographer in the Department of Oceanography, which focused on using machine learning to understand and forecast ocean ecosystems. This exciting opportunity to use technical computer science skills to solve real oceanographic problems encouraged me to reach out about the work, leading to a position as a research assistant in the Powell lab.

Throughout last semester and this summer I have been assisting on a project through the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS) program to produce water quality forecasts for the Ala Wai canal area. The goal of this project is to create a robust model that can predict future streamflow into the Waikīkī area using streamflow and rainfall data from the surrounding Mānoa valley area. Streamflow predictions can then be used as a measure of turbidity, an important indicator of water quality. Going forward, this model will ideally be implemented on the PacIOOS website and be readily available for beachgoers to observe forecasts and avoid turbid days, when bacteria and debris will be highest.

Producing this model involves machine learning, which is a fundamental aspect of the work done in the Powell lab to observe and understand ocean ecosystems. Machine learning is a broad field that involves constraining models using observed behavior described in large amounts of data. Machine learning has various applications within many fields such as predicting scientific processes, analyzing medical scans, or performing image recognition.

The specific approach used in solving the streamflow modelling problem is the construction of a neural network. Neural networks are a subset of machine learning that are structured similarly to the brain, containing layers of neurons that transmit signals. Layers of neurons receive information, process and transform the information, and then send the updated information to the next layer. These layers can be highly complex or relatively simple depending on the nature of the problem. Neural networks are trained over time by comparing the true results to those the network predicts, and then adjusting the network’s internal weights and transformations at each neuron based on those errors.

My work involves constructing and optimizing a neural network or model to predict streamflow into the Ala Wai based on past streamflow, past rainfall, and future rainfall. This model was constructed using the programming language Python, which provides various deep learning libraries for creating neural networks. Currently, I am conducting experiments to determine the best configuration for the model to extend streamflow predictions multiple days into the future. This includes determining the optimal number of rain and streamflow inputs for a specific number of streamflow predictions, as well as optimizing the number of neurons and layers of neurons in the network. While this work is still in progress, Dr. Powell and I have gotten some significant results and hope to continue optimizing the model for eventual forecasting use, possibly leading to a focus for my GES thesis project.

This work continues to expand my knowledge of both computer science and ocean processes, and is a real world application of skills gained through the GES program. I am very excited to see where else this work takes me, and am grateful for the opportunity to continue to improve my skills within the field of environmental modelling.

Published September 13, 2021

This summer, I am fortunate enough to have been accepted into a position as an intern with Mālama Learning Center’s (MLC) Ola Nā Kini program. Founded in 2004, MLC is a non-profit organization that seeks to bring together conservation, culture, and environmental education for the ecosystems and communities of West O’ahu. Through programs that are grounded in place-based, hands-on learning, the organization seeks to promote sustainability statewide and inspire communities to create healthy environments. My job as an Ola Nā Kini intern is to work with the MLC field crew, which takes care of the many conservation and reforestation areas managed by the organization. These sites range from the Nānākuli coastline to the mountains above Kapolei and they double as outdoor classrooms for the student groups that MLC works with. 

An average day with the field crew starts at MLC’s Pālehua or Kapolei nursery, where we open with a team meeting and discuss plans for the day. The nurseries are where all the native plants used in reforestation projects are grown and we generally spend a few hours a week doing the weeding, watering, and repotting necessary to care for them. The rest of our time is generally spent at one of the sites managed by the organization. Field crew duties vary based on the site, but we largely focus on invasive species removal, erosion control, seed and cutting collection, and fire prevention. Wildfires are notoriously common in some of the areas where we work, so removing dry brush and grass is always high on our list of priorities. The work we do can be hot and physically challenging, but it is always tremendously rewarding to clear out a patch of potential tinder or uncover a native plant that was being choked out by invasives. 

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Yos. A group of school kids at a restoration site on the Nānākuli coast.

Another important responsibility of the field crew is to teach and work with the volunteers who come to visit MLC’s various sites. These vary widely, from school kids in summer programs to groups of coworkers from local businesses. Some have careers in conservation while others have never picked up a shovel in their lives. No matter the group, having additional pairs of hands is always welcome and it allows us to accomplish far more than we could normally. 

My time with Mālama Learning Center has been incredibly meaningful and enjoyable, and from it I have learned a great deal about the significance of conservation. Conservation is important for both the sake of local ecosystems and because it is deeply intertwined with other environmental issues. Deforestation in Hawai’i can often lead to severe soil erosion, which can be seriously detrimental to downstream habitats such as coral reefs. The dry, invasive-dominated forests of West O’ahu make places like Nānākuli and Wai’anae some of the most fire prone regions in the country, causing air pollution, further erosion, and risk to human populations. Globally, the world’s forests are the largest carbon sink that humans exert any meaningful degree of control over and deforestation is responsible for a significant percentage of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It is my hope that more people can learn about the ecosystems that surround them and what they can do to care for them. Millions of years of evolution have gone into shaping our natural world, but its fate is in our hands.

Published July 22, 2021.

My name is Keanu Rochette-Yu Tsuen and I am from Tahiti, French Polynesia. I am a junior student in the Global Environment Science (GES) program. I transferred to UH Mānoa from Kapiʻolani Community College where I had the opportunity to do multiple research projects in botany/ethnobotany, ecology, and microbiology. These opportunities got me more interested in research, hence my decision to major in GES.

Photo courtesy of Keanu Rochette-Yu Tsuen.

Due to COVID-19, I got caught in a lockdown in French Polynesia during summer 2021, and I took this opportunity to apply for an internship at home. I contacted faculty members at the Centre de Recherche Insulaire et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE), a French research center located on the island of Mo’orea, in hopes to work on a reef conservation project. My research topic was on surveying reefs and assessing the changes in coral cover on Mo’orea and throughout the different archipelagoes of the country over the years. During the month of July, I was trained on coral taxonomy, i.e., how to recognize different coral genera and species, as well as different survey techniques which include quadrat/transect surveys, image processing and photo analysis.

Photo courtesy of Keanu Rochette-Yu Tsuen.

Throughout my internship, I learned about the great diversity of corals that could be found in French Polynesia and characteristic traits that can make coral taxonomy challenging. Certain corals can be difficult to differentiate on site and must be observed through binoculars to determine their exact species (e.g., Porites species). I also learned about the current ecological changes that threaten our coral reefs, related to climate change, local pollution, predation, and natural disasters. This internship experience was invaluable, personally, because I was able to do tangible marine research in my country as an undergraduate, which is not commonplace.

Photo courtesy of Keanu Rochette-Yu Tsuen. Grand opening of Te Fare Natura, a natural museum in Mo’orea.

Interning in Mo’orea reinforced my determination to work in preserving those coastal ecosystems and marine resources to better protect the communities that rely on them. Other than research, I was also able to partake in two major events this summer. We celebrated the grand opening of a natural science museum, Te Fare Natura. The CRIOBE founded this museum in order to translate their research and make the information accessible to the community. In addition to this event, French president Emmanuel Macron visited the research center during his presidential journey in the French overseas collectivities.

Published September 15, 2021

As I enter my senior year at UH Mānoa, it is a time of reflection and excitement as I embark on all that comes with being a final year Global Environmental Science (GES) major at SOEST. I started my college career in Manhattan at The New School, where I studied film production. While in New York, my interests shifted towards policy as the politics of this country were becoming more dividing. 

I have always loved earth science and environmental injustice studies. I was never attracted to spending my time in a lab, which is what I originally thought defined a science degree. That of course is not true, and through my education at UHM I have been able to find how I fit into the world of science with my various interests. 

The industrial human superiority mindset that involves controlling every aspect of life on this planet is what draws me to environmental policy and law. There is no greater area of importance than understanding the complexity of regulating life in a dramatically changing climate. 

My curiosity of how humans interact with each other and the environment is ultimately what brought me to this area of study, and more specifically my senior thesis project. I connected with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) social scientists Kirsten Leong and Danika Kleiber. They are currently working to emphasize and document the importance of social science within fisheries, and more specifically within NOAA fisheries. Leong and Kleiber are my mentors, with the help of Dr. Jeff Drazen, who is both my academic advisor and faculty mentor for this project. 

This project aims to identify the documentation of social science within federal, regional and local policy that are not emphasizing the importance of this science at NOAA fisheries. Social science is an essential part to fisheries management, but it has been consistently viewed as secondary. This project is answering the question of both why is social science on a backburner, and what important roles it can play as a properly funded area of research? I am specifically interested in evaluating the cultural, economic, and environmental impacts of fisheries. 

The project will involve reading and analyzing literature that discuss the current role of social science both on a general scale and within NOAA fisheries. The Magnuson-Stevens Act which regulates fisheries management in the United States is one example that I will be reviewing. A statistical analysis using MaxQDA software will highlight where there are opportunities for social science.

To complete the work for my project, I will work for the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research through UHM. This will allow me to have access to necessary software such as MaxQDA that I will need to use throughout my project. Reading and understanding the statistical analysis that the project creates will be done from my home and coffee shops all over Honolulu.  

Not only does this project perfectly combine all of my interests of the human experience with the environment and policy, but it also allows me to learn as much as I possibly can about fisheries management.

Published July 27, 2021.

Rather than watching animations or playing video games, reading geography books and the atlas were two things I was enchanted with in my childhood. In high school,  I found I have a huge passion for exploring and taking care of our planet. Therefore, I had been thinking for years how I could take care of our planet. The first thing that came to mind was that I must use the latest technology to protect the environment. Since we are in the era of big data, the Geographic Information System (GIS) is the latest and most effective tool to protect the environment. When I was thinking about my major in UHM, there were many options for me: Geology, Geography, Natural Resources and Environmental Management, etc. However, I found the GES program is the best fit for me because the courses in GES will prepare me to have a solid background in Earth system science. Therefore, I decided to major in GES. Unlike many Chinese families who push their children to study in business, engineering, medicine, or law, my family supports my choice and dream (many thanks to my family!)

Environmental science is a very broad field, once I got into the program, I started to think of  which track I should go. I found environmental planning is an important topic because the worldwide rapid urbanization process has to respond to the changing climate. Today, over half of the population lives in cities, but many cities are not eco-friendly. The non eco-friendly cities are neither healthy for the Earth nor livable for humans. GIS is a strong tool in planning, it helps us digitize and visualize what’s going on in the real world and make predictions of the future, and help us to build eco-friendly cities. GES and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning have a Bachelor’s and Master’s (BAM) pathway which allows students to graduate with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in 5 years. In addition, the Department of Geography has a Certificate in GIS, which helps students set up a fundamental understanding of GIS. Therefore, I have decided to pursue the GES & MURP BAM program and the Certificate GIS.

As an international student, I am excluded from many opportunities. Therefore, I cherish every opportunity I am qualified for. After talking with some professors, I found there are two programs I should go for: Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and Honors Program. UROP offers funding for undergraduate students engaged in faculty-mentored research work, and the Honors Program is a great platform with various resources, and it encourages students to conduct independent research in professional quality. I greatly appreciate my faculty mentor Dr. Suwan Shen. With her guidance, I received funding from UROP for three consecutive semesters (Spring 2021, Summer 2021, and Fall 2021) and my application to the Honors Program was accepted as well. 

Map depicting the impact of sea level rise on housing in various regions of Oahu.
Impact of sea level rise on housing in various regions of Oahu. Courtesy of Dingyi Liu.

In Spring 2021, I conducted my first research project. I applied geospatial data of Oahu to figure out how sea level rise in Oahu will affect the existing house system. At the beginning, I had no idea what I should do, but Dr. Shen always encourages me with a lot of patience. Finally, I had all the results and presented my results in the Undergraduate Showcase. I was astonished by the result of my research: a 0.5 feet sea level rise will influence about 3,000 housing units in Oahu and the total value of those properties is up to sixty billions. After the research in the spring semester, I have a better sense of the importance of environmental planning. This summer and fall, I will focus on how housing for vulnerable populations (e.g. nursing homes and senior residences) respond to sea level rise.

Image courtesy of Dingyi Liu. Economic loss in each community.

My senior year is coming up, the UROP project for summer and fall will also be my GES thesis topic. I also accepted the admissions offer of the GES & MURP BAM pathway a week ago. I can’t wait to see what I can help to contribute to society in the future!

Published June 29, 2021.

I chose this topic because I have an interest in learning more about city sustainability. Exploring the potential for incorporating urban agriculture can be one way to support sustainability within a city. For instance, it could reduce the reliance on imports which could in turn decrease carbon emissions from transporting food into the city. My thesis mentor for this project is Dr. Priyam Das from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. My project looks into the different steps required to implement urban agriculture and how viable it is in Honolulu specifically. I am interviewing experts from different sectors (private, public and non-profit) to ensure a well-rounded view on what needs to be done for urban agriculture to be implemented in Honolulu. This project will also be looking at other cities as case studies to see how they have issues such as zoning and land-use regulations.

So far, I have found that looking at urban agriculture as the only solution to ensuring a more secure food system in Honolulu may not be the way to think about this. By substituting one means of getting food to Honolulu with another, the level of risk is not being lowered but simply transferred. In order to build a stable food system, there has to be several components at play. I will continue to gather data through the interviews with experts as well as information from published research and peer-reviewed papers. I will then analyze the interview transcripts by conducting a thematic analysis. I received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program for the Spring and Summer 2021 sessions which helped to motivate me to continue this research and also allowed me to present in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience symposium at the end of Summer 2021.

Photo courtesy of Seraphina King. Word cloud of keywords that emerged from initial interviews on urban agriculture.

This word cloud was made using keywords that emerged from my initial interview transcripts. I thought that this would show some of the main topics that these experts thought were most important in relation to urban agriculture. Land is the word with the highest frequency which makes sense as it is one of the first issues that has to be addressed and one of the hardest to allocate to urban agriculture due to zoning regulations.

I am half-American and half-Luxembourgish, but I grew up in London, UK. I decided to study GES because I always had a love for the environment and sustainability and could never understand how people could treat it so carelessly. I chose this major in order to find ways that we can help the environment and put them into action.

Published September 14, 2021

While I knew I wanted to study environmental science long before I began my undergraduate career in SOEST, it wasn’t until I wrote my first paper on micropollutants that I found myself completely encapsulated by a research area. In my third year, I was reaching out to anyone I could think of to find opportunities with marine contaminant research. Dr. Roger Babcock of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering referred me to my current mentor, and suggested that I look into a manufactured chemical I hadn’t heard of, called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. When I began to dive into the literature, I was absolutely appalled. PFOA, it seemed, was in everything; from products like non-stick pans, textiles, and the linings on pizza boxes to military-grade fire fighting foams and much more. The family of chemicals it belongs to completely lack the ability to degrade in the environment, and have been linked to a huge array of negative impacts to human and animal health, such as decreased fertility, enlargement of the liver, and decreased kidney function (just to name a few). Studies had been performed on a limited number of species, but no research had yet looked into how the compound affected coral reefs. Therefore, under supervision of Dr. Robert Richmond at Kewalo Marine Laboratory, my thesis project aims to determine how exposure to different concentrations of PFOA would affect coral reproduction and viability on Oʻahu. With the help of PhD candidate, Alexandria Barkman, and other graduate students in the Richmond lab, I have since performed multiple exposures of PFOA on various phases of the coral life cycle. After collecting egg samples in Kaneʻohe Bay during a coral spawn in June 2020, I observed the fertilization success of rice corals (M.Capitata), and quantified the rates of their larval survival with exposure to real-world concentrations of PFOA.

Photo courtesy of Lauryn Hansen. Observing one mounted coral “nubbin” for indicators of physical stress. Photo credit: Alexandria Barkman.

I also wanted to determine the effects on adult coral species, and organized a three-and seven-day exposure experiment on lobe corals (P.lobata). Over the experimental period, I looked for signs of bleaching and other indicators of stress, but you cannot always visually observe the sublethal effects on any organism. So after the exposure periods, I extracted the proteins from each coral sample and performed molecular analyses to see if there were any sublethal indicators of stress after exposure. This allows us to see the potential impacts to coral function that I couldn’t see with a naked eye (such as detoxification or resistance to marine viruses).

While the analytical portion of my research has yet to be completed, PFOA has been observed to directly interfere with fertility and reproductive success of other organisms. Therefore, I am anticipating that the most noticeable impact on coral reefs will be in their fertilization success and protein expression. The reason for this being that prior studies on exposure in other species have resulted in interference in reproductive capacity, which occurs at a sublethal, hormonal level that could be detected through the molecular techniques we used in the lab. Ultimately, PFOA is an extremely widespread pollutant around the globe, and determining its effects on coral reefs is a vital step towards promoting its management in marine systems in the future.

Published July 23, 2021.

This past year has undoubtedly been difficult, and much of everyday life has drastically changed. Through all of the distancing and lack of social interaction, working on my GES thesis has given me something to focus on and has provided an amazing distraction. 

Photo courtesy of Samantha Darin. Benthic composition survey at QUEST on the Big Island. Photo credit: Jeff Kuwabarra.

I came to Oʻahu knowing that I was interested in marine science, but lacked understanding of the actual field and what specific interests I had. From the first orientation, the GES program exposed me to many different possibilities of research and projects, and provided information on many outlets, from internships to lab jobs to volunteer work, to discover what I was passionate about. I volunteered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and got a job at the UH Dive Safety office, both of which helped me discover my love for scientific diving and field work. 

My GES thesis, under the mentorship of Dr. Chris Sabine, examines microplastic concentrations on the surface of the inner, middle, and outer sections of Kāneʻohe Bay, Oʻahu. This data is gathered using surface plankton tows. The organic matter is then digested out of the samples, with plastic fragments remaining. They are mounted on slides and counted, and then confirmed using Raman Spectroscopy.

Coral health surveys are taken in the areas that the plankton tows have been conducted in using Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology’s Koʻa cards, and coral health will then be compared to microplastic concentrations, looking for a possible correlation. There is an outreach aspect of my project in which I am distributing Koʻa cards to the community as they are designed for use by everyone, from citizen scientists to recreational beachgoers. 

My thesis work has been funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), as well as the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). The UROP funding has enabled me to print 100 Koʻa cards, and the SURF fellowship is currently providing me with a stipend and a network of people to begin distributing the cards. 

I expect to conclude the field work portion of my project by the end of the summer, and will begin writing up the thesis at that point. I will be presenting my work in August 2021 at the SURF symposium. 

My GES thesis has been an amazing outlet to be able to conduct research and work towards something in a time when not much is going on and motivation can be difficult to achieve. The GES program has provided me a way to keep busy and do something that I love in these troubling times, and I am continually grateful for that. 

Published June 29, 2021.

The GES program has given me many opportunities to broaden my personal and academic horizons. Born and raised in Hawaii, I entered college knowing that I wanted to study abroad to expand my worldview. Other than the exchange program, I didn’t know what else UH Mānoa and GES had to offer. I then heard of all the different paths that other students had during the GES orientation—from going abroad or on cruises for research to getting internships during the summers—and it all seemed overwhelming. But I soon learned that taking small steps forward as doors opened was the key to an enriched college experience, and I want to share some highlights from my journey.

In my first year, upon hearing about a lab position open from one of Dr. Michael Guidry’s emails, I was able to apply and land a student research assistant position at the Strategic Monitoring And Resilience Training in the Ala Wai Watershed – SMART Ala Wai team where I learned the basics of working in a chemistry and biology lab and doing research and scientific outreach. After listening to GES alumna Natalie Kwa speak in my OEST 100 class, I followed up with her about a possible internship, which eventually led to my hiring as an environmental monitor shadow full time during the summer.

In the spring semester of my second year, I studied abroad through the Mānoa International Exchange program. I filled out the application about a year in advance with now-retired SOEST advisor Leona Anthony’s letter of recommendation, as I didn’t have any professors who knew me well at the time. I had trouble finding courses that would transfer over into GES so I only took classes that fulfilled my secondary degree, economics. I had applied for economics after taking an economics class that piqued my interest in the first semester and realizing many concepts that applied to sustainability and environmental impact. During my time in Australia, I was able to connect with people from different backgrounds and grow a bit more independent. I was intrigued by Canberra’s advances in protecting the environment so I wrote a paper about it and later refined and published it in the campus undergraduate journal Horizons. I highly recommend studying abroad if you can plan to take your basic courses overseas, as some higher-level GES courses are quite niche and difficult to find equivalents elsewhere. In this sense, the phrase “the earlier, the better” applies to going abroad for a semester of study; additionally, you never know when the entire world is about to shut down.

It is impossible to conclude my college experience highlights without mentioning the pandemic. When my life was transformed entirely due to social distancing and remote learning, it was my GES classmates who kept me sane. The online Discord community we created became a great source of mutual support as we went through struggles together. Under these unusual circumstances, the GES program continued to bring pivotal opportunities to me. Dr. Guidry had connected me with Dr. Michael Roberts from the Department of Economics during my third year in 2019. And in my fourth year, during the pandemic, I started my thesis on agriculture and climate change and received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program with Dr. Roberts as my mentor. I also contributed to his paper on temperature-sensitive shiftable energy which I am very excited about. In a short period of time, I’ve learned a lot about economics research technicalities and culture from my mentor and elevated my data visualization skills in R, which is an experience I couldn’t have gained otherwise.

I’m thankful that GES has been part of my college journey not only as a program of quality courses but a program that opens the door to many interesting career pathways, rewarding opportunities for growth, and strong friendships that will last.

Published August 5, 2021.

Photo courtesy of Mickey Johnson. Adult Siphonaria normalis sitting on rocks.

The degree in Global Environmental Science (GES) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa allows the opportunity for students to conduct their own undergraduate thesis project. For my project, I wanted to focus on the impact of climate change on the earliest life form of an intertidal species. 

My interest in invertebrates originated from a biology of invertebrates class offered at UH Mānoa by Dr. Amy Moran, who worked with me as my thesis project mentor. After I took her course, I found I was fascinated by marine invertebrates and wanted to know more about Hawaii’s species. Carrying out my thesis with this species of false limpet has fostered my passion for the often unnoticed creatures that live in or around our oceans.

My subject species is Siphonaria normalis, a small, abundant false limpet that litters the rocky intertidal regions of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. These tiny snails inhabit the upper intertidal where they endure high wave action and hot temperatures while grazing on algae. As grazers, they hold an important role of algal control on Hawai‘i’s rocky shores. They stubbornly suction themselves to rocks and use their cap-like shells to protect themselves from overheating as well as the tides. However, there is an aspect of this species’ life cycle that is not as easy to observe: the egg masses in which they grow up. 

Photo courtesy of Mickey Johnson. Healthy Siphonaria normalis embryos within an egg mass prior to hatching.

Siphonaria normalis deposits egg masses in the high regions of the rocky intertidal, allowing embryos to develop in the same hectic habitat as adults. Embryos develop in capsules within the egg mass before metamorphosing into juveniles and emerging from their capsules. During this process, they form their shells, eyes, and foot, which is eventually used to crawl and suction onto the rocky surfaces. Unable to protect themselves from heat in the same ways as the adults, I raised my question: How would experiencing a hot temperature event within their early development affect the ability of Siphonaria normalis embryos to survive and develop? To better predict the future distributions of these abundant grazers in the face of a warming climate, I wanted to understand where their current thermal tolerances lie.

To accomplish this, I studied the survivorship of Siphonaria normalis embryos in response to high temperatures. I predicted that, at high enough temperatures, embryos would not be able to complete their development into the shelled life form (shown above) before dying. At elevated temperatures, embryos began to show developmental issues. Many showed bulging cells, discoloration, and the inability to develop important features such as shells and eyes. My results indicate that the surface temperatures of intertidal zones in Hawai‘i, where Siphonaria normalis live and reproduce, are already reaching these dangerous temperatures.

If we want to see the big picture of climate change and its effects on many species, we must include the smallest organisms. From thermal tolerance studies, we can start to predict how a warmer climate will impact living things. Studying the vulnerable life stages of ecologically important species, such as Siphonaria normalis, is critical to future environmental science research.

While pursuing my degree in GES, I also worked to obtain a certificate in the Marine Option Program (MOP). MOP is a certificate that adds an ocean emphasis on an education pathway by requiring marine-related coursework as well as a special skills project. It was through MOP that I was able to complete a research project through the OPIHI (Our Project in Hawaii’s Intertidal) internship. I was also introduced to other opportunities, such as the Shark Lab Internship at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology that I currently still maintain. My pursuit of a GES degree paired with a MOP certificate has been a valuable combination as I seek out future opportunities in research and preserving Hawaii’s biodiversity.

Published July 23, 2021.

As a 2021 GES undergraduate of University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, my mentor Mark Glick, of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and I focused on the socioeconomic impacts associated with climate induced migration from Central America. With average global temperatures increasing, environments are physically changing in various ways such as drought, desertification, and extreme weather events. These issues are accompanied by social complications of the past and present leading to disparities such as famine, unequal land distribution, and unemployment. Combining the physical and socioeconomic conflicts can lead individuals seeking for methods of sustenance, which can ultimately lead to migration as a form of adaptation. 

Informative meetings between myself and my mentor lead me to lengthy sessions of research analyses of expert authors from around the world. Alternating between the bright beam of a bedroom lamp and the light breeze of the California autumn, my eyes were fixated on extensive sources of emigration data, agricultural knowledge, and the socioeconomic history of multiple Central American countries. For instance, Sadanista control of Honduras during the Cold War transported me to a time period full of hardship and turmoil at the threat of American intervention. 

Sandinista rebels taking control of Nicaragua in 1979 [Bodenheimer, 2019].
Bodenheimer, Rebecca. “History of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.” ThoughtCo, 20 Dec. 2019, 
www.thoughtco.com/sandinistas-in-nicaragua-4777781.

Moreover, the emergence of the Green Revolution shifted my focus to Mexico where the agricultural economy began to decline in exchange for industrialization. As recent timelines began to materialize, Guatemala and El Salvador became an important subject of study with the greatest percentage of migrants. Ultimately, the journey concluded in the United States, which not only served as a refuge for prospective emigrants, but also as an entity that can affect future migration patterns. Each paper transported me to various regions across the world while case studies allowed me to empathize with the struggles imposed by the development of the first world. 

As with any extensive project, issues were encountered along the way; especially amidst a global pandemic. The resources available at my disposal were greatly reduced since I was forced to relocate back to my childhood home for the duration of my college experience. Although, this move allowed me to focus on work without significant social distractions, which could have served as a potential benefit to the process. Furthermore, this move also put me back in Southern California where a large deal of Central American migrants reside.

In terms of content, some of the most difficult aspects of my research was connecting scientific data with political and economic theory. In addition, disparities of Central America’s past added another factor that changed the general landscape of my results and future recommendations. However, through conversation, guidance, and support from my mentor, we were able to synthesize a historical timeline of agricultural development/degradation in Central America. Creating a timeline of economics, politics, and climate enabled a logical development of events that ultimately lead to the decision for citizens to migrate. Furthermore, this timeline continues into the future since migration mitigation requires constantly evolving initiatives. The research process itself was never perfect, but undergoing challenges and creating effective solutions were essential to my personal and academic growth.

Published July 27, 2021.