. . . And mountains and deserts as class studies environmental science up close


Mono Lake


Anyone signing up for Environmental Science, Technology and Policy 303 at CSU Monterey Bay had better like the outdoors.

The syllabus lists “required hiking and camping equipment,” a hint as to what’s in store.

Nineteen students made the tripDuring the spring semester, 19 hardy students signed up for the ENVS “California Transect” class and its accompanying two-week field course.

The classroom component prepared them for what was to follow by introducing them to topics in California’s scientific and cultural history with an emphasis on human impacts on the landscape. They also learned about the political history of water use.

Then, on June 1, the students – accompanied by three former students serving as volunteer teaching assistants, a trio of instructors (Fred Watson, Susan Alexander and Thor Anderson) and two kids – set off to apply what they’d learned in a real-world setting of “interdisciplinary science and social science interactions,” according to the syllabus.

Students were required to make presentations along the wayWhat they got was an up-close-and-personal view – here’s where that hiking and camping equipment came in – of a “transect” across California, including a 1,500-mile lap of the Sierra Nevada with side trips through some of California’s most spectacular landscapes.

Their route took them through the Central Valley, Sequoia National Forest, the Kern Canyon, the Mojave Desert, Owens Valley, Whitney Portal, Death Valley National Park, Mono Lake, Inyo National Forest, Calaveras Big Trees, and several federally designated wilderness areas.

They spent 14 nights in tents at campgrounds, a county educational facility and at primitive sites on federal land.

They were looking at both the obvious and subtle connections among water, land and living things.

“They studied plants, birds, mammals, invertebrates, weather, history, Native Americans, geography, geology, water, cultural diversity, art . . . you name it,” Dr. Watson said. "A lot of the learning originated with the students themselves, with each student giving a field presentation to their peers on a topic of their choice."

Connecting all of this was a fabric provided by the instructors on the form and function of landscapes, how they came to be, how they are currently managed and how past and present decisions impact them.

Professor Fred Watson“And, they learned how to remain studious in challenging physical situations, and how to be a member of a large team at very close quarters,” Dr. Watson said.

To see a photo gallery from the trip, click here.

To learn about CSUMB’s Science and Environmental Policy program, click here.

Photos by Fred Watson and Susan Alexander

Top: Mono Lake
Middle: Nineteen students made the field trip and have the "Transect Rocks" sign to prove it
Lower: Students were required to make presentations along the way; this one concerns snow ecology
Left: Professor Fred Watson