Meet the Grad Students

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“My goal is to  protect the quality of water on the central coast, more specifically, the waters flowing in to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary... This is where I live, surf, garden, hike, etc. It is where I choose to concert my effort, to make a difference.”

— Mike Powers, Graduate Student


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For more information about the Master of Science degree in Environmental Studies, please contact the Graduate Program Coordinator at

Nicholas Ajluni

ImageI was born in San Jose and have lived in Morgan Hill my entire life.  While growing up, my fondest memories are of going fishing with my dad in South County lakes and in the Sierra Nevada around Lake Tahoe.  When I was young, my parents would frequently take me fishing, hiking, and camping, which led me to my current academic and professional career.  I completed my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Impact Assessment from San Jose State University in 2012.  During my coursework in the department, I focused heavily on environmental policy and law, with a special interest in water policy.  I have worked with the South Bay Water Recycling program with the City of San Jose since 2011, where I started as an intern, planning and implementing capital project grants for two years, and now an analyst managing the program's budget.  This experience, along with my coursework in water policy and environmental law, have given me a career direction that I wish to pursue, where I hope to one day manage a recycled water utility or work on California's water policy issues to help build a healthy water supply for our region.  My research plans at SJSU will involve recycled water policy.

When I am not working or at school, I am usually outdoors fishing, hunting, hiking, or taking care of either my dogs, horses, cats, or saltwater aquariums.  My favorite place to spend time outdoors is in the Markleevile area of the Sierra Nevada where I have a handful of lakes and streams that I frequent where I usually fly fish, kayak, or hike.


Rosemary Alvarez

Rosemary AlvarezI was born in San Francisco, raised in San Mateo, and reside in San Jose.  I am a first generation Mexican American and fluent in Spanish.  I completed my undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley where I received a B.A. in Political Science.  I also have an A.A. in Environmental Studies from De Anza College.  I am quite passionate about nature and my hobbies include anything related to the environment, specifically bird watching, hiking, and traveling.  I love to hike all over the Bay Area, getting to know the beautiful places in my own backyard.  I once backpacked from Foothill College to Waddell Beach - this was quite the experience!  Alum Rock Park is a favorite place to visit, as I love the hiking trails where I routinely exercise.  Places I have traveled include Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Mono Lake!  Admiring the majestic beauty of these places inspires me to protect our natural world.  Conservation, preservation, and restoration of the natural world are important to me.  I want to help protect endangered species and prevent more of our beloved creatures from becoming endangered.  For my thesis, I would like to focus on avian research.  I currently work for the City of San Jose in the Environmental Department where I participate in creek clean ups, public outreach, and all things related to trash.  Maintaining our streets, drains, and watersheds litter-free is one of my important tasks.  For my future career, I would like to continue working with riparian areas, watersheds, and wildlife.  An interesting fact is that I went to Belize for an internship to study the rare Solitary Eagle.  While in Belize, I learned about their natural world, remarkable animals, striking plants, and their culture.  I met many interesting and amazing people.  They are advocates for nature and they know much about their flora and fauna.  Many of the people are studying in the field of ecotourism.  This is great because the beauty of Belize can continued to be preserved through awareness.  I would love to return to Belize one day!


Jeondra Arrington

Jeondra ArringtonI am a San Francisco Bay native from Alameda, California.  I graduated from Sacramento State with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biological Sciences in the spring semester of 2012.  I focused my undergraduate studies on the ecology and management of hydrological systems including wetlands ecology, riparian restoration, oceanography, and natural resource conservation.  I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the effects of invasive plants on the water supply in semiarid areas and locations such as the Sacramento Valley and South Africa.  I am currently interested in watershed ecology and water resource management with respect to water supply and quality.

I have, in the past, done an internship with a community group called Alchemist Community Development Corporation in Sacramento, running an urban farm stand throughout the summer and fall.  Most recently I worked in the Stanislaus National Forest with the U.S. Forest Service as a biological science technician during the summer.  I spent most of my time conducting sensitive plant, Spotted Owl, and Northern Goshawk surveys throughout the forest in Calaveras County and working out of the Calaveras Ranger Station.  I have also participated in a variety of volunteer work including helping out at the East Bay SPCA and being a part of a number of American River Clean Ups with the American River Parkway Foundation.

I enjoy watching hockey, soccer, and movies, hiking with or without my Wirehaired Fox Terrier Yuna, biking, cooking, maintaining my vegetable garden, and writing.


Cassie Bednar

Cassie BednarI am a Bay Area native originally from Gilroy, CA.  I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2010 with a B.S. in Marine Biology.  I am currently working for PRBO Conservation Science on Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands as a seasonal field tech doing seabird surveys and nest monitoring.  I am looking forward to continuing my education in environmental studies so that I can continue to research and impact our coast in positive ways.  When I’m not working, I enjoy traveling, hiking, photography, going to the movies, baking, and BBQing with friends.


Swarali Bhat

Swarali BhatI earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Pune, India.  I had a summer internship where I studied restoration of the one of the lakes in Pune and continued research on bioremediation for my thesis project.  After graduation, I began working for an environmental consultancy where I gained extensive experience in preparation of catchment area treatment (CAT) plans, river restoration and beautification projects, and lake rejuvenation proposals.  I was part of a team that prepared a comprehensive catchment area treatment plan for the entire Satlujriver basin in Himachal Pradesh, India.  Satlujriver is known to be the longest of the five rivers that flow through northern India.  It is first of its kind CAT plan in India which had a basin wide approach.  I was lucky to visit the picturesque Himalayas as part of this project.

At San Jose State University, I am looking forward to specialize in sustainability, water resource management, environmental management, and energy conservation.  I am a complete foodie with passion for cooking and trying out different cuisines!  I love spending my free time in art and crafts like quilling, origami, hand embroidery, and fabric painting.  I also like to explore new places and beaches are my favorite!  I adore all types of furry pets.  I have special interests in adventure sports like rafting, bungee jumping, and skydiving.  I enjoy watching different species of birds come to feed on my patio bird perch that I made from recycled material!


Sutapa Biswas

Sutapa BiswasI am a science graduate with some exposure in the field of Environmental Science and also some field experience in Integrated Pest Management.  I was born and brought up in West Bengal, an eastern state in India.  I obtained my bachelor's degree in biological sciences with a major in Zoology.  I did my master's degree in Environmental Science, which helped me gain in-depth understanding of the integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.  My master’s dissertation focused on the extent and level of adoption of Integrated Pest Management practices in crop and vegetables.  I gained some experiences in characterization of biological soil crust while I was working as a volunteer research assistant at Arizona State University.

I love spending time with my family, reading novels, listening to music, biking, and a bit of hiking and camping too.  I am looking forward to start my master's program in the coming fall semester in Environmental Studies and spend some quality time with my new friends and colleagues.


AnaLisa Campos

ImageI am an Urban Studies & Planning graduate from California State University of Northridge.  With a minor in Sustainability, my passion is protecting our environment.  I do not believe the Earth belongs to us, I believe we belong to the Earth and it is our responsibility to respect and nurture the resources we are granted.  I was employed by CSUN's Institute For Sustainability to tend the on-campus garden by planting, composting, and providing overall maintenance.  For me, there is not a better job than working outside with your hands and getting a little earthy.  I also like long bike rides on the beach, sleeping in hammocks, and discussing the inevitable zombie apocalypse.  I am excited to begin the Environmental Studies program at San Jose State!  I hope to learn more about the incredible world we all share and gain the knowledge and experience that will further my environment-saving regime!


Nora Cata

Nora CataI received my undergraduate degree from UC Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies and Global Peace and Security.  After college, I spent two years working in marketing for a software company.  While this gave me valuable insight into the corporate world as a young professional, my passion remained in Environmentalism.  Now I'm excited to come back to school and pursue that dream!

I've always had an affinity for the natural world, but it wasn't until I read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" that I decided to declare Environmental Studies as my major.  It was the tipping point for what would soon become my future and my interest in environmental topics flourished.  When it came time for graduate school, I wanted to research something that was close to my heart.  I belong to the Seneca-Cayuga, Comanche and Ohkay Owingeh tribes, and given my background, I desired to explore energy and policy on American Indian reservations.  I'd also spent my formative years on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico which has a long history of environmental disputes (often as a result of outside corporations).  Now, the Navajo Nation's most recent dilemma emerges from their dependence on coal for economic livelihood despite its environmental degradation. Because of its governmental sovereignty, the reservation faces unique policy-making decisions when facing EPA standards, alternative energy and corporate responsibility.  I'm excited to dive into how alternative energy plays a role in American Indian reservations and what sort of solutions lie ahead.

On a more personal level, my hobbies include traveling to new places and soaking up the local culture;  I love a spontaneous adventure!  The past few years I've enjoyed checking off a list of my favorite artists by going to live concerts or camping at music festivals.  While I have fun being active, I also appreciate the calmer side of life.  My idea of paradise is sitting under the sun reading a good book and enjoying a cool glass of Chardonnay.  Modest Mouse might be playing in the background and in the distance my (future) dog would be bounding through the ocean waves.  All-in-all I'd say that my tribal names are aptly descriptive... in English they can be translated to Laughter, Prairie Flower, and One Who Loves Animals.  Interesting/Funny Fact: I spent Sundays my sophomore year cleaning up Gorilla poop.


Nicole Catalano

Nicole CatalanoOriginally an East Coast transplant, Nicole has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000.  She originally graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1998 with degrees in English and Journalism.  She developed her passion for conservation and sustainable natural resource management after spending a year traveling and volunteering in Central America.  Her professional experience includes working with the for-profit and non-profit sectors, including environmental NGOs.  This includes campaign, media, and public policy work on the following topics: global warming, climate change, arctic drilling, fossil fuels, endangered species, water pollution, ocean conservation, and public land conservation.   Her research interests include marine conservation and public policy.  Nicole speaks both German and Spanish and hopes to have an opportunity to do international work one day.  In her free time, she likes travel, learning languages, exercise and sports, and spending time in the outdoors.


Billy Christian

Billy ChristianI’m the younger of 2 siblings and was blessed to have grown up in one of the most beautiful parts of California.  I call Arnold/Murphys, CA home, which is located right smack dab in the middle of the Stanislaus National forest.  Growing up here provided a plethora of beautiful places to explore.

I graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach in 2007 with a degree in Environmental and Physical Geography.  During my time at SJSU I intend to focus my research on Sustainable Forestry, Agriculture, or Environmental Policy.  As you can see, I am sort of on the fence right now regarding my thesis but I do know that I would love to spend the rest of my life doing conservation work.  I love the outdoors and many activities that involve being outside.

I enjoy telemark skiing, cycling, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and surfing to name a few.  I love reading, watching Seinfeld, spending time with close friends and family, and I love the San Francisco Giants.  An interesting fact about me would be: Last summer, a friend and I did a cycling tour from Portland, Oregon to Grover Beach, California.  It took 21 days to travel 1,200+ miles.  I consider this trip one of the most epic things I’ve ever done and would recommend doing a cycle tour to anyone seeking a great adventure!


Nicholas Davis

ImageI grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and received my Bachelor of Science from SJSU in 2013.  I was part of the Environmental Studies department and focused on renewable energy, for the most part solar energy.  During my last year of course work, I became more interested in policy related to renewable energy and sustainability, both on the city level and also on the state and federal level.  Having been free from the academic community for about a year, I realized that I had a real interest in returning to SJSU to pursue a Master of Science also in Environmental Studies.  This time around, I plan on focusing on climate and sustainability policy or drivers of corporate sustainability.

Recently I started working with the City of Palo Alto Open Space, a part of their community services department.  It has provided some insight into how a city runs and operates which is something that could benefit my future studies with the Environmental Studies department.  While not directly related to my intended studies, the ability to become more involved in resource management and ways to help develop more environmentally-friendly techniques may present itself.

I enjoy a wide range of hobbies and activities including hiking, cooking, motorsports, and just hanging with friends.  I am also an avid sports fan and at some point you will most likely hear me talking about fantasy football during the fall semester and I might not always be happy about it.


Nidhi Jain

Nidhi JainOriginally from Kenya, I have lived in the U.S. for the past six years.  I went to community college in the bay area and then transferred to Drake University in Iowa.  I majored in Environmental Science and minored in Business.  After graduating with my B.S., I worked in Portland for a start-up company and decided to return back to school.

My research interests include water and resource conservation, species management, watershed management, entomology, and habitat management amongst others.  My love for the environment and animals encouraged me to pursue a degree in Environmental Science.  My hobbies include traveling, hiking, camping, dancing, skiing, and surfing.  I dislike nothing, I mostly like everything! I speak five languages fluently and can read and write three of them.


Jen Jelincic

Jen JelincicI grew up in the East Bay Area in Pleasanton, California and I attended SSU, where I double-majored in Biology (Ecology, Evolution & Conservation) and Environmental Studies (Conservation & Restoration).  As an undergraduate, I assisted in field studies including a captive head-starting program for western pond turtles, behavioral and physiological studies on northern elephant seals, and impact studies in the rocky intertidal.  Upon graduating, I traveled to Central and South America where I worked with sea turtles, manatees, and local communities to educate residents and promote environmental programs and ecotourism.

For the past 5 years, I have worked as a wildlife educator and keeper, and have volunteered with various conservation organizations.  I have a wide range of interests in wildlife and conservation biology (including the captive counterparts of various taxa), but my main interests are to study human/wildlife conflict, and finding solutions to these problems.  I enjoy reading, writing, being outside, hiking, yoga, music, and dancing.  One time while tap dancing on stage, my shoe flew off and hit my duet partner in the head.  (Don’t worry, she survived.)


Susan Kazemi

ImageI was born and raised in Iran.  I have a B.S. in midwifery and worked for several years as a midwife in rural areas in Iran.  Although I was majoring in health care, secretly I always wanted to work on nature documentaries instead.  I moved to the bay area in 1997.  Here in the bay area, I attended community college and earned an A.A. degree with a concentration in science from West Valley College.  Due to my passion for Social Science and nature, I would like to pursue my degree and my future job in the Environmental Studies field.  I am interested in most subjects in Environmental Studies; however, my possible thesis may be related to preservation and restoration of redwood forests.

Besides enjoying coffee and reading history books at Starbucks, I also like biking, hiking, and kayaking whenever I get a chance.  I think we are very lucky to live in the bay area and be able to enjoy such a short distance from the Pacific Ocean and its delightful environment.  On the other hand, we can enjoy the majestic redwoods that are also nearby.  I sometimes take a day trip to a coastal city and have lunch at an ocean view restaurant with my family.


Colin Kortman

Colin KortmanI grew up in San Diego and moved to the Bay Area for undergraduate study at UC Santa Cruz.  After some time studying biology, I switched majors and graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy.  My interest in California’s natural history began with an engagement with photography, and has grown into a broader curiosity of the spatial patterns present in landscapes. I’m currently investigating fire ecology and sudden oak death.  When not disguised as a mild-mannered graduate student, I still enjoy photography, riding things with two wheels, and trying to learn (and remember) the Latin names of things.


Kevin Lee

ImageI graduated in 2011 from San Jose State University with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and I am glad to be returning to my former department for graduate school.  My area of interest is in forest conservation.  My appreciation for forests developed at a young age due to numerous trips to state and national parks that I went on with my family, but it was not until college that my appreciation fully developed into a passion.  I currently work at Our City Forest, an urban forestry non-profit that plants and takes care of trees throughout San Jose.  I enjoy spending time outdoors and my current hobbies are nature photography, archery, and kayaking.


Sandra Menzel

Sandra MenzelI received my undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz in Environmental Studies with a focus on ecology in 2006.  Since then, I have worked as a field biologist on various projects, including observing peregrine falcons and searching for their nests up and down the California coast, conducting searches for avian fatalities in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, and participating in research for the Point Reyes National Seashore Cooperative Tule Elk Project.  Recently, I have been conducting avian point-count surveys at airports to monitor the numbers and species of birds that may represent aircraft strike hazards, as well as surveying for and banding burrowing owls.

Now that I have worked in the field for several years, I am ready and eager to return to the academic world to pursue graduate level work.  My intent is to delve into statistics and GIS and focus my thesis on the behavior and conservation of burrowing owls.

A native of the north-German flatlands, I moved to the Golden State in 2000.  I love living in the Santa Cruz Mountains amongst the redwoods and oaks, surrounded by thousands of acres of public land, and having access to miles and miles of trails all the way from Skyline to the Pacific Ocean.  No doubt -- I am happiest when I am in the great outdoors.


Emily Moffitt

Emily MoffittOriginally from Pennsylvania, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago in hopes of fulfilling my dream to continue my education and work in the environmental field with a wildlife focus.  I received my B.S. from the University of Vermont in Animal Sciences, and after spending several years working in the veterinary field, I have switched gears and found that my true passion resides in environmental sciences and conservation.  Since living in the Bay Area, I have become involved with several projects with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO).  I spend several days a month volunteering at the non-profit’s bird banding station, where we band passerine birds and take measurements and make observations in hopes of understanding more about migration patterns, climate impact, and breeding abilities.  Other projects I am involved with include colonial water bird monitoring, vegetation surveys, and point-count surveys.  I am interested in continuing to research birds for my thesis, and I hope to be able to focus on trends of migratory birds that use the pacific flyway and the Bay Area as a stopover point.  I am hoping to analyze some of the data that has been collected at the SFBBO field station over the past 30 years, and relate that to current issues in avian migration.  I love the outdoors, and would prefer to sleep outside in a tent rather than in my own bed. Some of my hobbies and interests include backpacking, hiking, camping, running, rock-climbing, bird watching, skiing, animals, and music.  I am hoping to one day be able to hike the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney.  An interesting thing about me is when I moved to California, I drove the entire way from Pennsylvania, and stopped at as many National Parks along the way as possible.  The trip took 19 days and I saw 9 National Parks and Monuments!


Minako Nishiyama

Minako NishiyamaI graduated from Soka University in Japan in 2012, with a major in Environmental Engineering for Symbiosis.  My research field during undergraduate studies was microbiology, but now I’m more interested in Forest Ecology, Ecological Conservation and Management, and Environmental Education.  I would like to integrate natural and social sciences for a better management of forest ecology.

I studied in Singapore for a year as an exchange student, and traveled all around South-East Asia.  I love traveling, eating, and talking with people from different cultural backgrounds.  I can speak Japanese, English, Chinese, and a little bit of Spanish.  I hope to improve my Spanish in San Jose!

My dream is to be a truly international environmental specialist who can contribute to a symbiotic and sustainable society.


Ben Pearl

Ben PearlI grew up in San Luis Obispo exploring my rural surroundings by hiking foothills, canyons, and valleys, and exploring tide pools, mud flats, and marshes.  I received a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz in 2008.  My studies focused on community structure, specifically the role that various members of a community play in creating a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.

Since graduation, I have been working as an analytical chemist for a nutritional supplements company in Scotts Valley.  I am an avid fan of Bay Area sports, especially the San Francisco Giants, and I enjoy hiking, camping, and relaxing at the beach.  I am also very interested in cooking and enjoy learning new techniques and flavor combinations to add to my repertoire.  For my graduate studies, I plan to focus on Urban Habit Restoration, and I would like to work with the Western Burrowing Owl and other local threatened avian species.

One interesting fact about me is that I am an avid wild mushroom forager and enthusiast.  Some people are weary of eating wild mushrooms, but if done carefully and properly, there is nothing to fear.  The most important thing to know is that I don't just grab random wild mushrooms and eat them.  I look for specific good edibles, and use a well-defined dichotomous key to positively identify anything I would consider eating.  It's a great way to nurture two of my favorite hobbies, hiking and cooking!


Jennifer Per Lee

Jennifer Per LeeI grew up in the East Bay and graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with a degree in Earth Sciences in 2012.  Originally a bigger fan of the hard (rock) sciences, I've decided on a path towards learning about water quality through the Environmental Studies program.  This is largely attributed to my current job at a small tax and assessment firm, generating income for districts focusing on stormwater, fire prevention, and schools.  It has opened my eyes to how much work is put into improving water quality in California, and I hope to play a larger role in it some day.  Hiking, walking, and watching shows on Netflix are some of my favorite things to do in my spare time.  I also enjoy hanging out with my senior cat, Sammy.  I've always had a great love of the outdoors, which makes me extremely anxious to start my graduate career in Environmental Studies.  It really does have it all - the outdoors, science, law - all things I can honestly say I will enjoy spending my future career doing.


Tina Peterson

Tina PetersonI grew up in San Francisco, studied biology at SFSU, and graduated Humboldt State with a B.S. in Natural Resources.  I also have a M.S. in Library & Information Science and I am currently a science/health librarian here at SJSU.  My original career goal after Humboldt was to hike in the woods for a living and it’s a story in itself how that migrated to becoming an academic librarian.

Now I am interested in studying public participation in science and environmental research, specifically in ecological subjects such as habitat fragmentation, phenology, and species fluctuations.  (Check out and I have collected data for these kinds of projects myself, including nestbox monitoring and migratory bird banding, and now I look forward to further learning and fieldwork in my first love, environmental studies.


Brittney Relerford

Brittney RelerfordI graduated from UC Riverside in 2010 with my B.A. in Global Studies.  For my senior thesis, I looked at globalization and the adaption of environmental policies, using the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a case study.  In undergrad I studied Mandarin and my Chinese name is 任宝尼 (Rèn Bǎonī = treasured girl).  For the past two years I have sat on the Board of Directors for the non-profit organization, Child Leader Project, Inc.  When it comes to the environment I am interested in a whole slew of things.  Ever since reading the book "Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley" by John Gaventa, I have been interested in the exercise of power over different groups of people and ways in which this has been addressed and counteracted.  I am learning that there is a lot of power within food and food systems.  For my thesis I will be focusing on alternative local food systems.  I am allergic to all types of seafood and nuts.  I enjoy reading Oscar Wilde quotes, and surfing YouTube.  I am currently reading the "Autobiography of Malcolm X."  I love listening to Mumford & Sons, and I secretly wish I knew how to play the banjo.


Rachel Solvason

Rachel SolvasonI received a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Environmental Studies with a Minor in Urban and Regional Planning in 2008 from San Jose State University.  During the program and for some time after I worked as an intern at the Santa Clara Valley Water District where I did research for the South Bay Salt Pond Project and San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study.  Recently, I started a new internship with the Water District doing data collection in the lakes and reservoirs of the South Bay.  I will be starting the Environmental Studies Graduate Program this coming 2010 semester.  My focus will be on policy analysis related to Climate Change, which is an interest of mine. My interests outside of school include playing music and spending time with friends.


Logan Thompson

ImageI grew up in Santa Cruz, CA and have always been fascinated with the natural world around me.  I went on to receive my Bachelor's degree in Animal Science from Chico State.  As an undergraduate, I discovered my passion for wildlife and started working in the field.  I worked at a wildlife sanctuary and helped care for numerous species at the sanctuary.  I also studied abroad in Bocas Del Toro, Panama where I helped conduct a research project analyzing the activity patterns of wild howling monkeys.

After I graduated from Chico, I worked on a predator prey research project in Michigan.  I was able to work with black bears, wolves, bobcats, and coyotes to determine specific activity and predation patterns.  Most recently, I worked on the Santa Cruz Puma Project helping with operations in the field.  Some of my time at the Puma Project included investigating cluster sites, assisting to trap mountain lions, and helping to maintain and check remote camera traps.  During the summer of 2014, I am helping research black bears in Lake Tahoe.  For my thesis, I hope to continue to learn as much as I can about the ecology and conservation of carnivore species.

During my free time, I enjoy being outdoors, playing basketball, and spending time with my family, friends and my two crazy dogs, Woody and Dave.  I am also a big fan of adventure sports and events such as whitewater rafting, skiing, and my new favorite, Tough Mudder.  In the future, I hope to become a wildlife biologist and continue to enjoy life.


Karine Tokatlian

ImageI received my B.S. in Field and Wildlife Biology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where I fostered my lifelong passion for nature.  While I am fascinated by all aspects of wildlife ecology, I am particularly interested in avian studies and I have spent the past six years working in the field of avian research and conservation.  I held a university internship and a position with California State Parks and Recreation during my time on the central coast, both of which involved protected bird species.  As my first experiences in the field, I learned a great deal about environmental work, politics, and my personal ethic and I was inspired to continue along this path. 

I currently work for a non-profit organization in the South San Francisco Bay and I focus my time on the protection of the federally threatened Western Snowy Plover.  I hope to build my thesis around the recovery of this species, particularly in relation to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.  I am very excited to be a part of the Environmental Studies program and to develop my knowledge of all facets of resource conservation and management; something that I feel is essential in today’s political and cultural climate. 

When I am not kayaking through salt ponds and wiping mud off of my pants, I enjoy the usual outdoorsy activities: hiking, camping, bird watching, and stream fishing.  I grew up snorkeling and diving off the San Diego coast and exploring nameless dirt roads with my adventurous family.  I have worked as a cake decorator and as a truffle producer in an organic, family-owned chocolate factory which fulfilled my lasting culinary interests.  I enjoy wine tasting, eating, stand-up comedy, and photography and I recently checked a life-list dive location off of my list – the Blue Hole in Belize.


Billy Tu

Billy TuI was born in San Jose, but grew up in nearby Oakland.  My background and interest have always been focused on aquatic biology, which led me to major in Environmental and Resource Science and minor in Aquaculture at University of California, Davis.  During my years as a student, I interned at a fish ecology lab and aquaculture research facility in Davis.  I graduated in March 2011 with a Bachelor of Science.  After graduation, I began working at a biotech company as a full-time assistant field researcher helping to develop a biomolluscicide for controlling invasive Dreissenid mussels.  As I begin this program, I hope to study the biology and/or ecology of endangered freshwater turtles as my thesis project with the purpose of improving our understanding and management of Chelonians.  Outside of academia, I enjoy exploring the great outdoors with my girlfriend, Yen.  I snowboard in the winter and raft in the summer.  I recently picked up mountain biking and off-road riding.  When I am at home, I like to relax and spend time with my amazing cat and two turtles.


Kelley Valentine

ImageI was born and raised in San Diego, California.  I received my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from UCSC in 2013 and fell in love with Santa Cruz and the bay area so I’m very happy for this opportunity to return.  Having grown up in and around the ocean, I originally wanted to focus on marine conservation.  However, after taking a course at a community college that was centered around sustainable food systems, I surprised myself by developing a deep passion for the subject and all it encompasses, and this became my primary focus.  I developed this passion somewhat late in my undergraduate career so when I graduated I found myself wanting to continue learning more about it, which is why I chose to attend graduate school.

As an undergraduate student, I performed research on the use of genetically modified organisms and their effects on the environment.  I also worked with the Life Lab Science Program teaching elementary school students the importance of a connection with the natural world and the foods we eat through garden education.

As I pursue my Master’s degree at San Jose State University, I aim to conduct research that reflects a median between the physical science aspect of sustainable agriculture and the social science aspect.  I am interested in doing research on the various sustainable and conventional agricultural practices of Latin America.

In my free time, I am usually surfing but I also enjoy gardening, reading, and just about any outdoor activity.  I also love searching for and collecting sea glass.  I am fluent in Spanish.  Although I will be busy during graduate school, I would like to squeeze in a few opportunities to travel whenever I can; Latin America, Australia, and Spain are the first few on my list.


Justin Weiss

Justin WeissMy full name is Justin Ian Weiss and I was born at 10:11 a.m. in Evanston, Illinois.  I spent most of my youth living in the scorching oasis better known as Phoenix, Arizona.  One final move westward took me to my current homestead of beautiful San Diego, CA.  Family camping trips at a young age can be credited with instilling the environmental passion that drives my academic/professional aspirations today.

I graduated from the University of Arizona in the fall of 2010, earning a degree in Environmental Studies with a focus in policy and law.  Some of my favorite classes throughout my college years included organic chemistry, medical ethics, any political science class, and psychology 101.  Along with my unwavering passion for test taking and writing papers, I love becoming involved in campus clubs and activities; meeting new people and trying new things is what I live for.

Areas of interest and intrigue for my graduate studies lie within the following fields: sustainable development in urban/corporate settings, renewable energy, and agriculture.  I would love to pursue a thesis that somehow intertwines all three fields along with their impacts on society.

I am a huge college sports fan and will forever be a U of A Wildcat, but I look forward to jumping on the Spartan bandwagon.  Besides my somewhat unhealthy obsession with all things sports, I also enjoy reading a good book, any outdoor activity, listening to good music/getting down on the dance floor, and cooking.  On the flip side, some of my biggest dislikes include styrofoam, olives, electricity wasters, and naps.

FUN FACT: I went skydiving on my 18th birthday and bungee jumping on my 20th birthday.  I laugh in the face of danger!


Sharon Yee

ImageI was born in San Francisco, CA, and graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2014.  I graduated with B.A. degrees in Environmental Studies and Sociology.  As an environmentalist and sociologist, I love to analyze relationships between humans and the environment.  I am particularly interested in waste management because physical waste is one of the most tangible outcomes of human interactions with nature.  Waste, especially of single-use or limited-use products, reflects the values that we place upon nature.  We see nature as a disconnected entity that can be used to our advantage, instead of a larger system to which we belong.  We also have a habit of deferring problems such as waste to other places and people.  We believe that we can continue to produce waste at a rate beyond nature’s capacity to regenerate and that it will somehow be taken care of.  In my research, I hope to show how much we disassociate ourselves from nature.

Outside of academics, I worked as a Student Sustainability Adviser for Affiliated Community Residential Housing at UC Santa Cruz during my fourth year.  I monitored waste stations during move-in and move-out, conducted audits on waste receptacles, and worked with residential life staff to promote sustainable events.  I also volunteered for three consecutive years as a “Trash Talker” at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco.  I stood next to recycling, compost, and trash receptacles and educated attendees about proper waste disposal.  I monitored and sorted the waste in the receptacles as well.  A passion of mine aside from the environment is dance.  I have dabbled in various dance styles since I was five and jazz dance has become my favorite. Other interests of mine include music, fashion, and theater.


Kristina Zeynalova

ImageOriginally a native of Ukraine, my family and I immigrated to the U.S. in the early 90's and settled in the Los Angeles area.  I received my B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in Sociology.  As an undergrad, I developed a strong interest in the field of environmental sociology, particularly focusing on green and sustainable consumption practices and patterns.

Upon graduating, I explored non-profit work with positions at the ACLU, as well as a public education organization.  However, my continued interest in the politics of climate change inevitably prompted me to relocate to the bay area, where I found work as a research intern for an Oakland-based environmental organization.  For a year, I worked on compiling a comprehensive report on the current state of U.S. e-waste recovery rates, examining corporate responsibility, e-waste legislation, and consumer behavior.

As a graduate student, I plan to continue working on the e-waste issue, developing research that focuses on understanding the complex socio-political and environmental factors which impact current e-waste production and recovery.

In my free time, I am likely to be listening to music, trying to recreate some amazing recipe I saw on a cooking/travel show, finding new ingredients to play with at Berkeley Bowl, traveling, spending time outdoors, frequenting the local dog parks, going on long walks with my Italian Greyhound, and petting any and all dogs willing along the way.