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Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Jessica Perkins Wields a Ballpoint Pen for the Environment

Jessica Perkins. Credit: Patricia MarroquinWhat is the secret to second-year Ph.D. student Jessica Perkins’ success? At first, you might think it comes from her growing up in a large, extended family in Rhode Island and learning to appreciate the value of active involvement in a community. Later, you might think it’s her time management skills. She earned a combined B.S./M.S. in Environmental Engineering at Tufts University while playing field hockey. Finally, you might consider her secret is that she only needs six hours of sleep a night.

No matter what you think the secret is, after meeting Jess, you will come away amazed at how much she has accomplished in 26 years. She plans to accomplish much more once she graduates from UC Santa Barbara, after earning two degrees from two different departments: a Ph.D. in Environmental Science & Management from the Bren School and a Master's in Technology Management from the Technology Management Program.

Maybe you have heard of Jess or seen her perform at the 2015 Grad Slam? She was the one who wielded a ballpoint pen and wowed the audience and judges alike with a terrifying tale of life-cycle assessment. In fact, you may have seen her more than once (during Round 4, or Semifinal Round 1). She made it to the final round, where she was a runner-up.

I had a chance to interview Jess this summer but she was unavailable to meet in person. Why, you ask? She was doing a snazzy internship at Apple Inc., working on life-cycle assessments of some of their products to evaluate the environmental impact, specifically looking at the water footprint.

For someone who as a child used to tell her parents that some things were “too hard for a girl to do,” she has since made things look awfully easy. While we talked over the phone, she revealed some of her secrets to her success from her research to her approach to life to how to prepare for the Grad Slam.

You made it all the way to the Grad Slam 2015 finals where you were a runner-up. How did you prepare? Do you have any advice for people competing next year?

Just to practice, to bounce ideas off other people. I practiced a couple of times for my classmates, my roommates who weren't in grad school, and with my sister over FaceTime. The more you practice, the more feedback you get from a lot of people, the better your presentation will be. Presenting is nerve-wracking, but it only gets easier the more you do it.

Jess, center, on a summer trip to Yosemite with fellow UCSB graduate students. Photo courtesy of Jessica Perkins

You won a gift card and some cash. Did you have any special plans for your winnings?

Since it was my first year, I used my gift card to buy a UCSB sweatshirt. Now I can proudly wear the letters.

You famously stood up to the Grad Slam audience holding a single pen. How would you best describe your research?

It’s life-cycle assessment or LCA. I evaluate environmental and human health impacts on the entire life cycle of a product: raw material extraction, production, transportation, use, and end-of-life (disposal/recycling). My goal is to improve the usefulness of LCA as a decision-making tool by applying concepts from organizational science and communication.

What advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

One thing I learned when I got here was that as a grad student you could expand the boundaries of your research. Even going into Bren, an interdisciplinary school, I didn’t realize how far the interdisciplinary bounds could be pushed. I found I could include communication, psychology, and other subjects in my research. I wasn’t just limited to hard sciences.

As a grad student, you should explore other areas even if they are outside of your department.

What do you in your free time?

Jess finishing a half marathon in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Jessica PerkinsI love sports and anything where I get to be outside and active. I’m currently training to run the New York City Marathon. But really, I’m just a people person. I like spending time with good friends and sharing a bottle of wine in my downtime.

What’s in high rotation on your playlist these days?

I’m a big fan of country music. I like the Zac Brown Band. But one song that keeps showing up recently is “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon.

Speaking of accomplishments, what do you consider your biggest one so far?

I think my biggest accomplishment was making the choice not to let my comfort zone dictate my big life decisions.

I figured this out when I was deciding my first job, at Dow Chemical in Michigan. I was living in Boston at the time. I had many good friends and there were plenty of good jobs in Boston. I’m sure I would have had a good career and been happy there. But I decided to choose the best opportunity overall, not the most comfortable one. I was going to take the best opportunity even if it was scary. I made a conscious decision to be brave.

Who has had the biggest influence on you and your life?

Jess's first day in Santa Barbara after the road trip adventure that she and her sister made from their hometown in Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Jessica PerkinsMy family. My parents really instilled in me the idea that as someone who had a lot of opportunities in life that I should do something to have a positive impact on the world. They have had a big influence on many of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I really want to be working at the intersection between industry and environmental change. I want to be managing an environmental team in an organization where the company’s decisions are having a big impact on the direction of the industry and local economy in terms of environmental performance and climate change.



Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Sara Sutherland Discusses Madagascar, Motherhood, and Motivation

Sara Sutherland works on fisheries research in collaboration with the Bren School.

Sara Sutherland is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in UCSB's economics department. She is charismatic, driven, and lucky – she is about to graduate! Sara grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and completed a bachelor's degree in Psychology at Michigan State University. She completed her M.A. in economics here at UCSB and now teaches business and environmental accounting for UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Sara shares how studying in Madagascar fueled her fascination with conservation; why a boy named Jack motivates her; and how she avoided near disaster on a camping adventure in The Everglades.

Is there any particular event or events that had a big impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

While studying abroad in Madagascar, I witnessed environmental degradation and resource depletion on a massive scale. I am very grateful for this experience, which helped me to understand the urgency of the conservation effort in preventing resource depletion, but also the need for consideration of groups or individuals that depend on the resource for livelihoods. After I returned to Michigan, I began looking for graduate programs that address the issues I found both concerning and fascinating.

Sara and her two-year-old son, Jack.

I was initially inspired to attend graduate school by my experiences with travel, but I have really evolved as a researcher by continuing to expand my experience over time. I have really had to enhance my time management skills and efficiency since having my son, Jack, two years ago.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

There has been a good deal of research on the impacts of rights-based management (quota allocation) in fisheries and other natural resources, but there is a deficiency of economic research addressing the political process of fisheries reform and determinants of stakeholder’s positions on fishery regulation.

When reading about the Alaskan Halibut and Sablefish Individual fishing quota program, I was surprised to find that rights-based management was first proposed as a potential management regime in 1988, but was not implemented until seven years later. I came to find that this was due to disputes over allocation, concerns for small fishing communities, and other program characteristics.

I found this very interesting and decided to examine the issue further. The first two chapters of my dissertation examine determinants and outcomes of political participation in the formation of rights-based management in fisheries. Rights-based management of fisheries refers to the allocation of a year’s total allowable catch of a given species to individuals or groups of individuals.

In my papers, public participation in the management of fisheries takes the form of attending meetings or writing letters to the management body. I first address the determinants of meeting attendance and whether the meeting attendees are representative of the entire stakeholder population. My second chapter examines determinants of stakeholder position on rights-based management.

What has graduate student life been like for you?

A roller coaster. There have been many highs, such as advancing to candidacy, getting data to answer my research questions, and watching myself evolve as a teacher. This year, I have seen the results of my work in the form of several conference acceptances, which has been exciting. There have been slower periods too, when my research was not progressing as fast as I would like. I also had a really weak math and economics foundation coming into the program, making the first couple of years of graduate school very difficult (to say the least). I had to learn to push on and stay determined despite setbacks.

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?

I wish I were more familiar with the process of conducting academic research – some ideas don’t work out. That is part of the process. It's OK to quit and go back to the drawing board.

What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

I love developing new ideas and learning. I hate being broke. Santa Barbara is an expensive town to live in. It would be ideal if TA-funding and fellowships more closely matched graduate student budgets.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

For me, it is all about the small victories ... they can keep me going for months. I have been even more motivated since having my kid in my fourth year of grad school. As a parent, you want to make your kid proud and do what you can to provide them with the best future possible. Providing for him not only monetarily, but also working to secure the future of our natural resources, are very important to me.

Who are your mentors?

I would have to say my advisors, Chris Costello and Gary Libecap. Their work has paved the way for environmental and natural resource economists, and, in a way, changed the way we address problems in these areas. They are able to approach problems in a unique way and come up with practical solutions in a way that is relevant and that influences policy. In a way, I would say that Gary and Chris have both inspired me and taught me how to "think."

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am really just happy I have made it this far. Five years ago, I didn’t understand how to develop ideas into actual papers and research projects. I now have four papers in the works. I consider having a child an accomplishment, but finishing graduate school in a reasonable amount of time under these circumstances is certainly notable in itself.

What do you do to relax?

Sara enjoys a break from studying this winter in Utah.Relax? Don't have time for that in grad school! On the day to day, I like to hang out with my kid and garden. … I am also really into creating things – this year’s projects include building a garden from a palette, sewing a scarf and curtains, and building a bookshelf. I really enjoy hiking and camping. Being without cell phone service is very relaxing.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I hope to stay in academia so I can continue to do research and to teach. I have learned to love the process of coming up with ideas and constantly learning.

What advice would you give to current grad students?

If this is your passion, keep going. It is a long process ... but you can get through it. You are capable, and are here for a reason. 

I also think that having a nice balance between work and “real life” is important. For me, this requires being mentally present in what I am doing. When I first had Jack, I would find myself stressed about work when I was spending time with him, and missing him while I was at work. Life has become a lot more pleasant since I acknowledged this and made a conscious effort to live in the moment.

I do my best to strive for a work-life balance. I go to yoga weekly and make sure to take time to get outdoors. I have created a lot of great (non-academic) memories while in school. ... Although spending time with Jack is my favorite, just this year I have flown all over the country for weddings.

My most recent adventure was a camping trip to The Everglades and the Keys after a Florida wedding. We rented a skiff boat, drove through The Everglades to the coast, and found ourselves a Key to camp on for the night. When we woke up in the morning, our boat had washed up on the beach 50 feet from the water! We had two hours to get the boat back into the water so I could make the rehearsal dinner that evening (don’t worry, with the help of some logs and leverage, we did it). It was a new experience, and I love that.

Sara almost missed a wedding rehearsal dinner after a boating mishap in the Florida Keys. All went well, however.


A Milestone Moment at UCSB Bren School’s 2014 Commencement: 1,000th Degree Is Conferred

Rose petals were strewn as Louisa Smythe, the 1,000th graduate of the Bren School, took the stage. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Four of the five Ph.D. recipients were on hand Friday at Bren Hall to accept their degrees. They are, from left, Eric Edwards, Sheetal Gavankar, Rebecca Toseland, and Trevor Zink. Credit: Patricia MarroquinUC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management marked a milestone on Friday at its 2014 Commencement ceremony when it conferred a degree on its 1,000th student. This “green” grad school celebrated by showering that student, Louisa Smythe, not with paper confetti but with multicolored rose petals.

At the 10 a.m. ceremony in Michael J. Connell Memorial Courtyard, the 18-year-old Bren School graduated 79 students: 75 earning MESM (master of environmental science and management) degrees and four earning Ph.D.s. Chancellor Henry T. Yang pointed out that the Bren class represented 1.4 percent of this year’s total UCSB graduating class, calling the ceremony “small but very special.”

Assistant Dean Satie Airame and Bren Dean Steven Gaines sing "Joy to the World." Credit: Patricia MarroquinBoth the chancellor and Bren Dean Steven Gaines acknowledged the six students lost in the May 23 Isla Vista tragedy, with Chancellor Yang calling for a moment of silence. Yang announced that six scholarships have been established in the students’ memories and each will be awarded a bachelor’s degree posthumously.

Awards and recognition were given to both students and faculty. Taylor Debevec was honored with the MESM Service Award, and two students – Casey O’Hara and Maxwell Ludington – received MESM Academic Achievement Awards. Professor Roland Geyer was presented with the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award.

Ashley Conrad-Saydah, Deputy Secretary for Climate Policy at the California Environmental Protection Agency and a 2008 MESM graduate, delivered the keynote address, “Time to Leave the Choir.”  She called for students in the graduating class to “take a harder path,” and quoting Frost, urged them to “take the road less traveled, diverge, and cultivate alliances where you might otherwise be a lone ranger.” The student address was given by Emily DeMarco (MESM 2014).

Class Chairs Alison Amrhein and Elizabeth Ross applaud their class for 100% participation in the MESM 2014 Class Gift. Credit: Patricia MarroquinClass Chairs Elizabeth Ross and Alisan Amrhein presented the class gift, noting that this year they were able to get 100% participation from the graduating class. The gift, sun shades, will help shield students from the sun on the Deckers Outdoor Corporation Terrace, also known as the Deckers Deck.

Before, during, and after the ceremony, musical entertainment was provided by Bren School’s own student band, Brengrass. The music included a rousing rendition at the conclusion of the ceremony of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” Joining in the singing was Dean Gaines and Satie Airame, Assistant Dean for Academic Programs.

Appetizers, desserts, and mimosas were served at an outdoor reception afterward. One table featured foods from Salty Girl Seafood, which won two awards – the Elings Prize and the People’s Choice – in the recent New Venture Competition 2014, hosted by the Technology Management Program. Salty Girl Seafood is a sustainable seafood distribution company founded by two Bren MESM graduates: Norah Eddy and Laura Johnson.

Congratulations to all the Bren School graduates; and congrats on reaching the milestone of 1,000 graduates!

Bren School graduates celebrate their degree with the traditional tossing of the caps. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Brengrass performed such songs as "Happy," "This Land Is Your Land," "America the Beautiful" and "Joy to the World." Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Bren School graduates share a laugh at the ceremony. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


UCSB Bren Alum Kirsten Tilleman Is Named a Finalist for Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship 

At the Bren School's Commencement ceremony in June 2013, Kirsten Tilleman was recognized with the university Athletic Department's Golden Eagle Award, which honors a group of student-athletes who have the highest grade-point averages during the year in each UCSB men’s and women’s athletic program. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Scholar-athlete and UCSB alum Kirsten Tilleman (MESM, 2013, Bren School) has been named a finalist for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, “the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship award in the world.”

Annually, 32 Americans are selected to continue their academic studies at England’s Oxford University as Rhodes Scholars through a highly competitive process representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Selection is based not only on outstanding scholarly achievements, but also on the applicants’ character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for the potential to be leaders in their careers.

“I'm honored and grateful for everyone who ever supported me and pushed me towards applying for the scholarship,” the former UCSB Women’s Basketball player told the GradPost in a written interview from her home in Portland, Oregon.

Kirsten Tilleman was honored with the Golden Eagle Ring Award, which is given to the female and male UCSB scholar-athlete with the highest GPA. Credit: The Bren SchoolWhile at UCSB from 2012 to 2013, Tilleman twice received the Golden Eagle Ring Award, which is given to the female and male UCSB scholar-athlete with the highest GPA. Her GPA during that time was 3.96. In that period, Tilleman juggled a busy academic schedule (she dual-specialized in Conservation Planning and Water Resources Management) and activities as a starter for the Gaucho women’s basketball team, finishing her NCAA eligibility in March 2013.

Tilleman first found out about the Rhodes Scholarship while pursuing her undergraduate studies at Oregon State University. “I was immediately drawn to it because of the multifaceted criteria for which Rhodes Scholars are selected: academics, athletics, character, leadership, and the desire to serve others. Since then, applying for it has been on my radar and I was thrilled to be in a position to apply this past summer.”

Among the application requirements, she said, were six to eight letters of recommendation; completion of an online application; transcripts and other supporting documents; a resume tailored to the Rhodes criteria; and a personal essay. She learned last week that she is a finalist for District 14, which encompasses the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

“I applied with the intention of pursuing a DPhil [Doctor of Philosophy] in Environmental Law at Oxford,” Tilleman said. “If chosen, I would head to England next October and start working towards candidacy. The Rhodes Trust also encourages – even expects – its scholars to travel, stay active, and continue to be well-rounded. The idea that Rhodes Scholars are diverse, engaged leaders is one of the many reasons I'm so interested in the scholarship program. Scholars get to be surrounded by incredible people every day. Excellence is contagious.” 

Kirsten, second from right, and her UCSB Bren School master's group project teamSince returning to Oregon, Tilleman has worked to build her local network to get familiar with environmental work in the area and to meet local professionals. She has attended networking events such as Green Drinks, volunteering as a Stream Team Captain for SOLVE Oregon, helping to lead riparian restoration events in the area; participating in start-up workshops in support of a project that stems from a Bren new ventures course (GearedUP Outdoors); and assisting with fund-raising and awareness efforts for the preservation of a local Oak Savanna. Recently, she took a short-term contract position as Ecosystem Service Specialist with Willamette Partnership to help with its water quality trading program and various other projects.

“I've been keeping myself busy with a variety of projects and have met many kind, interesting people doing good things along the way,” she said.

Tilleman credits UCSB for helping to prepare her for what lies ahead. “This experience is an extension of my time as a UCSB graduate student, where I was continually challenged and inspired by some of the world's best and brightest. The Bren program trains not just environmental scientists and managers, but also well-rounded individuals set up to tackle the world's challenges with creative, resilient solutions. Life as a UCSB grad student at the Bren School has prepared me well for this process and, if chosen, equally well for becoming a Rhodes Scholar.”

Kirsten Tilleman dual-specialized in Conservation Planning and Water Resources Management while at Bren.She will undergo interviews during the weekend of Nov. 22-23 in Seattle. The selection committee will announce the male and female recipients at the end of the weekend.

Should she be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, Tilleman will join a diverse and distinguished group of past winners, including: Byron White and David Souter, Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court; CIA Director Stansfield Turner; U.S. Senators Richard Lugar, Paul Sarbanes, and Cory Booker; singer-songwriter-actor Kris Kristofferson; NBA star and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley; U.S. Army General Wesley Clark; U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich; U.S. President Bill Clinton; USC quarterback and athletic director and L.A. Rams player Pat Haden; “Good Morning America” host and Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos; National Security Advisor Susan Rice; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

For previous coverage on Tilleman, read our GradPost Graduate Student in the Spotlight feature; “A Day in the Life of Kirsten Tilleman” in the Daily Nexus; our GradPost article about Bren’s 2013 Commencement, at which Tilleman was recognized; a “Faces of the NCAA” article, “The active conservationist,” on the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s website; a Bren School article, “Tilleman Named Tournament MVP as Gauchos Win Big West Tourney”; and the UCSB Gaucho Athletics video, “A Great Example: Kirsten Tilleman.”

Congratulations and good luck to Kirsten Tilleman!

"The Bren program trains not just environmental scientists and managers, but also well-rounded individuals set up to tackle the world's challenges with creative, resilient solutions. Life as a UCSB grad student at the Bren School has prepared me well for this process and, if chosen, equally well for becoming a Rhodes Scholar." -Kirsten Tilleman


Video Highlights of UCSB Bren School’s 2013 Commencement 

112 students received their degrees at the Bren School's Commencement ceremony on June 14.

As we reported in a previous GradPost article, it was 112 degrees on June 14, 2013, at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management’s Commencement ceremony. That’s because in its 15-year history of conferring degrees, Bren School awarded the highest number of Ph.D. and Master of Environmental Science & Management degrees ever – 112.

Below are some photo and video highlights from the ceremony. Enjoy!




It Was a Record 112 Degrees at UCSB Bren School’s 2013 Commencement 

Bren School of Environmental Science & Management conferred the most degrees (112) in its history. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

With a little help from their friends, 112 Ph.D. and Master of Environmental Science & Management (MESM) students – “the largest class ever at the Bren School,” Dean Steven Gaines noted – were conferred their degrees on June 14 in the Bren courtyard.

The morning started out under overcast skies, but before the ceremony was over the cloud cover had lifted for a sunny conclusion to a joyous celebration that included the Brengrass band’s rendition of a popular Beatles tune.  

Dr. Jane Lubchenco addresses graduates at Bren School's Commencement ceremony. Credit: Patricia MarroquinUC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang expressed pride in the students’ accomplishments. “We are proud that our Bren School has become known around the world as the leader in interdisciplinary research and teaching. Our graduate students are educated in rigorous approaches to environmental problem solving.”

Bren’s guest speaker was Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (and sister-in-law of Dean Gaines).

Through a series of personal success stories about life in Washington, D.C., Lubchenco imparted some words of wisdom: Be willing to take risks; don’t be afraid to be analytical; find good mentors, listen to them, and take time to develop relationships; and hone your communication skills.

“Graduates, I am here to tell you that the environmental challenges we face are hugely daunting,” Lubchenco told them. “But together we can tackle them and we can solve them. And I’m looking to you to lead the charge.”

"Stay connected to each other," James Choe (MESM '13) urged graduates. Credit: Patricia MarroquinBefore James Choe (MESM ‘13) presented the Student Address, he was called to the stage to receive the MESM Academic Achievement Award.

In Choe’s address, he asked the graduates to forget for a moment about being so smart and to think about their convictions.

“They are what brought us here after all,” Choe said. “They explain why we chose this path, this school over so many other options.”

Money likely wasn’t the driving force for them, he noted. “I hate to break it to all the parents and family members out there, secretly harboring dreams that we’ll pick you up in private jets and take you to exotic locations,” Choe told the audience. “Maybe eventually we’ll be able to buy you a subcompact, economical car that gets above-average gas mileage. But more likely we’ll be giving you jars of homemade jam wrapped in maps showing all the bike routes to all the local farmers markets,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Although “what drives us today may change tomorrow,” Choe  encouraged the grads to pursue their passions and convictions. And he urged them to maintain their relationships. “Stay connected to each other,” he said. “After all, we’re the largest and, I’m willing to bet, the most social graduating class Bren has ever seen.”

Kirsten Tilleman (MESM '13) was recognized for her Golden Eagle Award. Credit: Patricia MarroquinOther recognition at the Bren ceremony included:

Matthew O'Carroll was acknowledged as the recipient of the University Service Award. Kirsten Tilleman was recognized with the university Athletic Department's Golden Eagle Award, which honors a group of student-athletes who have the highest grade-point averages during the year in each UCSB men’s and women’s athletic program. In addition to this honor, Kirsten received the Golden Eagle Ring, which acknowledged her 3.96 GPA as the highest of any scholar-athlete at UCSB in 2012-13.

Kristen Robinson, Bren’s assistant director for career development and alumni relations, received the UCSB Staff Citation of Excellence Award.  Arturo Keller was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award, presented by Rebecca Dorsey, MESM ‘13.

A happy moment for a Ph.D. student at Bren School's Commencement. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Before and during the ceremony, the audience enjoyed lively music from Bren School’s homegrown band Brengrass. The musical group, whose membership changes as new musicians join the group when others graduate, consisted of these students: Jon L. Montgomery (’13), mandolin; Philip Curtis (’13), bass; Yoel Kirschner (’13), trumpet and vocals; Whitney Wilkinson (’13), vocals; Adam Kreger (’14), guitar and vocals; Alisan Amrheim (’14), vocals; Drake Hebert (’14), trombone and vocals; Casey O’Hara (’14), guitar and vocals; Max Ludington (’14), banjo; and Jocelyn Christie (’14), vocals.

Brengrass entertained the audience before and during the Commencement ceremony. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Their songs ranged from Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place” to Tramples by Turtles’ “School Bus Driver”;  and “America the Beautiful” to a rousing, interactive version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Dean Gaines said he wanted to dispel the notion that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, inviting all graduates and their guests to a catered meal on the lawn adjacent to Bren School. Proud parents, friends, and family members as well as the beaming graduates dined on finger foods and sipped champagne and mimosas. And the climate change made it possible to enjoy all of this under the late-spring sun.

Congratulations to all 112 Bren graduates!

Ten students received Doctorates of Environmental Science & Management. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

(View more photos in our Bren Commencement album on Facebook, and if you haven’t already “liked” our page, we encourage you to do so. View highlights of the day in our Bren 2013 Commencement video.)


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Sarah Stark Shows Off Smarty Pants

Sarah StarkSarah Stark, a second-year Master's student in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, wowed the audience in a Grad Slam preliminary round as she introduced her idea for using new media in education to change the world ... one student at a time. As Sarah prepares to graduate this spring with a Master's of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) and a specialization in Coastal Marine Resources Management, she took some time to respond to a few questions for the GradPost.

Read on to learn about Sarah's Eco-Entrepreneurship project, Smarty Pants, and how she hopes to launch it as a business after graduating.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

At the Bren School, every student is part of a Master’s Group Project, rather than a traditional individual Master’s thesis. These Group Projects consist of students working together to solve a problem for a client. We also have the option of pursuing the Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) focus, where we can propose our own Master’s project, but we treat it as though we are creating a business.

All Eco-E projects must solve a significant customer problem while providing an environmental benefit. I chose to go down this path after taking a few classes about entrepreneurship. I didn’t have any sort of business background as an undergraduate student studying science, so I thought I would expand my horizons. As an undergraduate student, one of my best friends and I had talked about creating a television show that taught science to kids, so I began exploring this topic at Bren, and my Master’s project eventually evolved out of that idea.

I never thought that I would actually be able to take my idea of a science television show for kids and run with it, especially as a basis for my Master’s project. I feel extremely fortunate that the Bren School has allowed me to research a topic that is so near and dear to my heart.
-Sarah Stark

Tell us a little about your project “Smarty Pants.”

Smarty Pants website screenshotSmarty Pants creates educational media that teaches environmental science to students in grades K-8. It is presented in the form of webisodes, or web episodes. It is designed as a tool to save teachers time (e.g., preparing lesson plans) and to help them teach science in their classrooms. The webisodes are entertaining and informative for the students and they come with lesson plans and assessments for the teacher to use.

Our webisodes are episodic in order to feel more like a television show and less like a boring educational video. Each episode features our main characters going on an adventure to learn about an environmental issue in their community. Along the way, they learn the science behind the issue, so each webisode aligns with the required academic standards for each particular grade it is targeting.

We use live-action characters and local settings so students can relate to and look up to the characters. We want the students to feel empowered to solve environmental problems in their own backyards. We reach out to students that are often underrepresented in science by featuring students like them in our webisodes.

The ultimate goal of Smarty Pants is to increase environmental stewardship in youth by giving them the knowledge and self-efficacy to take care of the environment. Knowledge is power and we think that our media can inspire this next generation of students to save the planet.

Sarah Stark scuba divingWhat has graduate student life been like for you?

Busy. Extremely busy, but also extremely rewarding.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

I never thought that I would actually be able to take my idea of a science television show for kids and run with it, especially as a basis for my Master’s project. I feel extremely fortunate that the Bren School has allowed me to research a topic that is so near and dear to my heart. Also, the entire Bren community has been so supportive of our idea.

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and explain why.

Smarty Pants recently competed in the International Business Model Competition at Harvard. We were one of 28 semifinalists, out of about 1,400 applicants. We were extremely proud that we got into the competition! While we did not move forward to finals, it was a great experience overall, and it was great for Smarty Pants to make connections on the East Coast.

What do you do to relax? Any hobbies, collections, pastimes, favorite places to go, favorite things to do? 

I like to watch a lot of really bad TV shows because they help me zone out. I really enjoy baking treats and going out for good meals with my friends. I love going to shows, especially at smaller venues. I love relaxing at the beach as long as I have my SPF50 with me at all times!

Sarah Stark presentingWhat do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I would really love to see Smarty Pants get off the ground as a business and ideally we would already have our products in some schools by then. In one way or another, I hope to be educating people about science and the world around us, because I think science can solve so many important issues these days.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Learn a lot, and work hard, but don’t forget to have fun!


UCSB Student Team Wins ‘Innovative’ National Award in 2013 Better Building Case Competition at White House

The UCSB team gathers at the White House. From left: James Choe, Harry Bergmann, Alex Kovalick, Jacob McConnell, Melanie Jones, Justin Lichter, Assistant Secretary of Energy David Danielson, Martin Harrison, Jason Dale, Michael Georgescu, and Ben White. Credit: DOE courtesy image

An interdisciplinary UCSB team of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students were praised for their innovation, winning one of the top national prizes this month in the 2013 Better Building Case Competition at the White House.

Better Building Case is an annual U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) contest that aims to get college students searching for creative solutions for energy efficiency.

The 10-member UCSB team won the “Most Innovative” award in the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub portion of the competition. The students examined strategies for the Hub to assist Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in completing a renovation that produces significant energy savings in a publicly owned, multi-tenant office building.

The UCSB group was among 14 universities – including Yale, MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Tufts – vying in the competition.

In an Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release, Jordan Sager, LEED program manager for UCSB's Facilities Management department, said this was UC Santa Barbara’s first year participating in the program. "Our team was one of only two West Coast schools in the competition, and was very diverse in terms of fields of study, with members representing five departments on campus. Winning in the ‘Most Innovative’ category is an acknowledgment of both the analytical power and the creativity fostered by this type of interdisciplinary collaboration."

Sager and Katie Maynard, sustainability coordinator for the Department of Geography, assembled the winning UCSB team: Bren School graduate students Ben White, Harry Bergmann, Justin Lichter, and James Choe; mathematics doctoral candidate Martin Harrison; Michael Georgescu, doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering; art history undergraduate students Melanie Jones and Jacob McConnell; and environmental studies undergrads Alex Kovalick and Jason Dale.

The university teams had one month to prepare their proposals. On March 8, they convened at the White House and presented their plans to a panel of expert judges, which included Assistant Secretary of Energy David Danielson.

“This competition provides the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers with skills and experience to start careers in clean energy and generates creative solutions to real-world problems to be used as models by businesses and other organizations across the marketplace,” the DOE says on its Better Buildings Web page. “Through the Better Buildings Case Competition, the DOE seeks creative and innovative solutions for energy efficiency that could be implemented by the commercial industry, thereby serving as ‘models for success.’”

Bren grad student Justin Lichter, a member of the winning UCSB team, is a long-distance hiker and backpacker who has written the book, “Trail Tested: A Thru-Hiker’s Insights Into Hiking and Backpacking.” One of the team members, Bren School’s Justin Lichter (MESM, 2013), spoke with the GradPost about his participation in the competition, what the award means to him, his thoughts on sustainability, and more.

“As a group member for UCSB, we all had similar roles,” Justin explained. “Since the timeline was so short and we only had three to four weeks to prepare our solutions, we all initially tried to gather as much background information on the case and options. From there, we brainstormed and suggested solutions, which ended tying together into a multifaceted approach for our submission. Since we were all coming from different disciplines, one of my main roles was to research the financing aspect and possibilities for the project.”

For Justin, the contest wasn’t primarily about winning but about making a contribution. “We went into the project trying to create an innovative and practical solution for the stakeholders,” he said. “We all would have been happy having accomplished that, had we not won. For the judges to acknowledge our solutions, it just validates the amount of time and energy that we put into the project and that our multi-disciplinary approach has real world application. It has been great to be recognized by the DOE!”

He described what it was like to compete at the White House. “It was a tremendous experience to be able to present our solutions at the White House and go to Washington, D.C., in this role. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Justin shared his thoughts on sustainability. “I think there are a lot of improvements that we can make towards being more sustainable and there always will be,” he said. “We can accomplish many of these without affecting our daily lives and with positive economic returns.” 

For more information about the 2013 Better Building Case Competition, visit the DOE Web page; and read the UCSB news release and Bren School's news item.


Bren Students’ Water Action Plan Is the First of Its Kind Among UC Campuses

From left, Jewel Snavely, Rebecca Dorsey, Dane Johnson, Matthew O'Carroll, Briana Seapy, and Katie Cole, the Bren students behind the campus Water Action Plan. Credit: Mo Lovegreen

Until now, a master plan to reduce water consumption and waste had been a parched area on University of California campuses. But six graduate students from Bren School of Environmental Science and Management are making a splash with their recently approved Water Action Plan that is the first of its kind in the UC system and one of the most detailed plans for a university in the nation.

Two of the Bren students, Matthew O’Carroll and Katie Cole, proposed the project a year ago in an effort to address a mandate by the UC Office of the President that all 10 UC campuses create water conservation plans by 2014. They were joined in the master’s project shortly thereafter by fellow Bren students Rebecca Dorsey, Dane Johnson, Briana Seapy, and Jewel Snavely.

The team's "water tour" took the grad students inside UCSB's central water pumping station, one of its cooling towers, and its wastewater collection facility. Credit: Dane JohnsonThe Water Action Plan Team members first plunged into the project last summer when they went on a “water tour” throughout campus and collected data from numerous sites, including UCSB's central water pumping station, one of its cooling towers, and its wastewater collection facility.

Based on their findings, and taking into account estimated water rate increases and campus growth, the team made projections through 2028. The final document offers recommendations for immediate and future water savings; and includes outreach and education components.

"This is a living document," Katie said in an Office of Public Affairs and Communications press release. "We want it to be something the campus continues to come back to, and update, as technology advances and circumstances change. We see it as a roadmap. Some things here may not be feasible now, but we've laid out the conditions for which they would be feasible. We don't want this to collect dust. We want it to stay relevant."

“The Bren students have done a fantastic job developing this plan, which will serve as a template for other UC campuses to develop Water Action Plans of their own," Ron Cortez, associate vice chancellor for administrative services and co-chair of the Chancellor's Sustainability Committee, said in the press release. "This speaks to the progressive nature of UCSB, not only in its ability to surpass California's 20 percent water-use reduction mandate nine years in advance, but also in our ability to assist others as they strategize for future reductions, conservation, and education of their campus communities. UCSB has shown great leadership with this plan, and we are excited about the finished product."

For more information about the Bren grad students’ Water Action Plan, read the Office of Public Affairs and Communications press release.


UCSB’s Bren School Confers 87 Degrees in 2012 Commencement

Photos by Patricia Marroquin

There’s nothing like having your own fellow students serenade you on your big day.  On Friday morning, June 15, Brengrass provided the musical accompaniment to the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management’s Commencement ceremony. Among the Brengrass musicians were two 2012 MESM graduates themselves, Ariadne Reynolds and Marina Feraud.

The festive Commencement ceremony was held in the Bren School’s Michael J. Connell Memorial Courtyard, where 10 Ph.D. students were hooded; and 77 students received their master’s degrees in environmental science and management.

The keynote speaker was Mary D. Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. The Student Address, titled “Forging an Improved Future,” was given by Danni Storz, MESM 2012.

The Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award was presented by Fernando Accame (MESM 2012) to Professor Sarah Anderson. Bren School Professor Arturo Keller presented the MESM Academic Achievement Award to Marina Feraud.

Class Chairs Dana Jennings and Karly Kaufman presented the MESM 2012 Class Gift to David Parker, Director of Career Development and Alumni Relations: $2,200 for support of career services and alumni networking.

The Commencement program paid special tribute to Naomi Schwartz, who passed away June 4. Naomi – referred to as a Bren School champion, mentor, role model, and valued friend – was a former three-term Santa Barbara County supervisor who was a founding member of the Bren School Dean’s Council and had provided financial aid for student support every year since 2005.

To view more photos, go to our Facebook page, where you can “like” it, and see our 2012 Bren Graduation photo album.  A video of the event, featuring Brengrass performing “Home,” may be viewed below.


Congratulations, 2012 Bren School graduates!