Graduate Students’ Summer of 2016

Geography Graduate students fill their summers with unique experiences and educational opportunities. Read of some of the adventures the students shared during the Summer of 2016.

David Miller

During the summer of 2016 I was a research mentor for the NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP), with Professor Dar Roberts of UCSB Geography as the faculty advisor for my group. SARP is an eight-week summer program that allows rising seniors in STEM fields from many universities around the US to develop research projects related to NASA Airborne Science and fly on the NASA DC-8 aircraft, with research groups in tropospheric chemistry, whole air sampling, oceanographic processes, and changes in the land surface. Professor Roberts and I headed the land group, and our eight students researched changes in vegetation drought response in California, with topics including soil moisture, evapotranspiration, primary production, fire, erosion, smoke, bark beetles, El Nino, agriculture, and much more. Our students used data from a variety of remote sensing and ground-based sources, and we did fieldwork at Sedgwick Reserve during some very hot days in June. I spent two weeks at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California with the students learning about NASA’s goals in airborne science and ongoing studies from many different scientists, and I spent the majority of the program at UC Irvine helping students to reach their project goals. I learned an incredible amount in the process, having to put all of my knowledge of remote sensing to work in order to keep everyone moving ahead with vanishingly short time we had. It was extremely busy, but we also took some awesome beach trips and a had a lot of fun. The students presented their research at the end of the program, and some will be attending the AGU Fall Meeting to present posters. SARP was a very rewarding experience all around, and was a fantastic way to have young scientists become enthused about earth system science and physical geography.


Maximilian Stiefel

Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellowship
New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services
The most important factor influencing building electricity demand is the weather. Understanding how building attributes influence this relationship is extremely important, especially in New York City. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) manages over 4000 buildings across New York City, and these buildings contribute a significant portion to the city’s share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. High temperatures and humidity put pressure on building air conditioning systems in the summer months, raising utility costs and worsening air quality.  However, not all buildings respond to weather variability in the same way. Some buildings maintain a consistent electricity demand response rate, while others ramp up quickly at high temperatures. Our work this summer guided DCAS energy management efforts towards the most vulnerable buildings to reduce electricity demand and GHG emissions. Results from this study showed how electricity demand peaks and varies conditional on building attributes. We observed how attributes, such as size, age, and construction material, impacted the overall effect and rate of change for electricity demand. Small, old, and less insulating constructions should receive greater attention to avoid peak demand surcharges and excess GHG emissions.


Cascade Tuholske

Cascade Tuholske

Through the generous support of the The Broom Center for Demography, this summer I had the exceptional opportunity to intern with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome. At FAO, I primarily drafted text for FAO’s flagship annual publication, the 2017 State of Food and Agriculture Report, and collaborated on background report, titled Urbanization Rural Transformation and Food Security, for the UN Committee on Food Security’s annual forum Cascade's Locationto be held this October. Additionally, I was advised by several of the world’s leading experts on food security on my dissertation proposal, participated in technical workshops, and attended CFS-led international negotiations on global food security policy recommendations. As my dissertation focuses on understanding urban food security in West Africa, working at FAO helped me understand how scientific research on food security can eventually be integrated into influential public policy. This summer proved to be a formative experience that will greatly influence my dissertation as I move forward.



Kevin Mwenda

“During the first half of Summer 2016, I  was the instructor of record for Geog 12: Maps and Spatial reasoning. My class was an enthusiastic lot of students who seemed to appreciate the pragmatism behind the navigation, map reading and spatial reasoning ‘life-skills’ that they learnt. During the second half of the summer, I traveled to Kenya to collect comprehensive survey results of case-based malaria incidence for my dissertation. In the future, I hope to combine my teaching and research experience to not only to establish my role as a global scholar, but to also inform various policies by demonstrating how the world-renown UCSB Department of Geography can prepare students to tackle real-world problems”


Katelyn Zigner

This past summer, I was able to go on a couple adventures as well as work in multiple fields. To begin summer, I went on a 10-day convective field study (a.k.a. “storm chase”) with my undergraduate university, traveling through the Plains and forecasting storms along the way. I also visited my boyfriend in Wichita, Kansas early in the summer. We explored the area and went on another storm chase for one day, where we saw a tornado in the middle of a field in southern Kansas. The rest of summer, I worked as a GIS Forestry intern for my hometown during the week. For this job, I walked around the city mapping both trees and road signs to get an inventory for the city’s database. On the weekends, I bartended at a Renaissance fair and met a lot of great people. All of these experiences led to a fantastic summer!


Bo Yan


Bo Yan, a PhD student in the STKO lab spent his summer working on three projects at ESRI during the summer. The first project he worked on is a 3D visualization of the Living Atlas portal of By retrieving the geometry information as well as some of the attribute information from the Living Atlas portal via ArcGIS REST API, he aggregated them using small hexagon grids on the globe and visualized the spatial distribution of the maps in the portal. The interactive 3D map also provides some statistics in terms of the themes and types information in the portal. It helps users to better explore available map data and facilitates data providers to better organize the portal. Here is a link to the demo:
Click on the X to see the animation in top right corner, best viewed in Firefox and/or Chrome

The second project is a team work for the 2nd annual ESRI intern hackathon. The team won the 1st place in the hackathon. The hackathon is an annual event for interns at ESRI to spark some of the cool ideas within less than 48 hours. Each team has the opportunity to propose their own projects and implement them using ESRI technologies and other state-of-the-art GIS tools. This year our team worked on the National Park Explorer in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. we created National Park Explorer. This 3D web mapping application allows people to find and explore their perfectnational park based on personal interests, live opinions, and seasonal popularity. The third project is more related with his own research, Geospatial Linked Data. In order to help people understand a place, this project integrates ArcGIS World Geocoding Service with Linked Open Data. By powering the geocoding service with external knowledge bases, it has the potential to reveal the story behind a place. The demo focuses on matching the entities in the World Geocoding Service with the entities from the Linked Data Cloud on the fly. It demonstrates the power of Linked Data by retrieving all the direct out-going links of a place. It also retrieves actors information (if available) corresponding to the place. It also integrates with Amazon Web Services to built a server less architecture so that it can scale up easily according to the number of requests by users.


Emily Williams

This summer, I drove with several students from multiple UC campuses to Standing Rock, North Dakota to join and document the pipeline protests. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is being constructed to join the North Dakota oil fields to existing pipeline infrastructure in Illinois, and along its route, crosses both through ancient burial sites of the Sioux (lands that were promised to them via treaties) and under the Missouri river. We were there for 7 days, camping at the Sacred Stone Camp, helping sort through clothing donations, cook, and do other chores around camp, as well as informally interviewing various members of the more than 180 tribes represented at the camps. We also raised over $2000 to buy an army-grade medic tent for one of the camps to last through the winter.


Britta Schumacher

This summer, having been abroad for 4 months in the El Yunque National Forest of Puerto Rico, and knowing I would be moving across the country come September, I decided I wanted to stick close to home. As I was searching for opportunities around me for fulfilling, life-giving experiences, I stumbled upon an internship with The Rodale Institute. Rodale is touted as the birth place of organic agriculture and organic agriculture research in this country and runs an operation that not only provides fresh organic produce to low and no-income people living in the urban areas that surround it, but also conducts cutting edge research on organic ag as a regenerative, sustainable and economically viable option for agriculturalists everywhere. As a research intern I worked in the lab and in the field sampling soil, harvesting, biomass sampling and cultivating, getting a taste of what it means to be an organic farmer and to do agricultural research. As interns we were given access to fresh organic produce and meats–I have never felt better, more fully satisfied and satiated, or more happy. Having my hands in the soil, understanding the regenerative and restorative nature of organic agriculture to the soil that feeds it, thinking about our contribution to fresh water, the rearing of native species and heritage breeds and our mission to provide organic, healthful produce to those who typically don’t have access to it, absolutely changed my world. I now have all these ideas swimming in my head about where I want my PhD research to go, partnerships I would like to make, and long term ag studies I would eventually like to establish in the Kilombero Valley of south-central Tanzania where I hope to do my field work. I met incredible humans this summer, who absolutely filled me up and rocked the foundations of what I thought I wanted to do and be–so thankful for this summer and all the adventures to come!


Emanuel Storey

This summer was a fruitful occasion to focus on academic research, personal projects, and traveling. At San Diego State University, I worked on a project using remote sensing to assess post-hazard damages to critical infrastructure, which was supported by National Science Foundation and the Department of Transportation. This work presented an efficient approach to removing shadows in aerial photographs, and has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Over the summer I also received a scholarship award based on this work, from the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

I also did cartographic work for University of New Mexico, where I am a summer-time staff member at the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute. This involved geographic reconstruction of historical land parcels based on 19th-century surveys, and was instrumental in political discourses at the state and federal level. This work was also submitted and recently accepted to the journal of Surveying and Land Information Science. More importantly, this ongoing project supports disenfranchised, rural Hispanic communities in attaining greater equity and economic sustainability.

I had the opportunity to road trip through several parts of northern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado; tremendous cloud arrays and almost daily rain showers in southern Colorado were splendid. I put work into the finishing stages of a sustainable energy home which I own in the Four-Corners area. Most importantly: I enjoyed my summer by appreciating the physical and human landscapes from a new perspective.


Mike Johnson

I spent my summer working at the National Water Center (NWC) Summer Institute in Tuscaloosa, AL. This institute brought together 28 students from around the country to work on projects relating to flood mapping and flood response with a focus on the NOAA National Water Model. Throughout our time on the University of Alabama we had the opportunity to meet with EMA, government, NGO and other agencies as well as work alongside faculty from around the country and the staff at the NWC.

I was part of a group that worked on two projects. The first was an emergency response suite called the Operational Platform for Emergency Response Awareness (OPERA). This portal, found at, offers a platform for increasing disaster awareness via social media and providing real time actionable intelligence through the marriage of predictive models and GIS. In the case of a flood, our application would send hyperlink enabled alerts, based on GPS locations, to help users navigate around forecasted flood extents in a similar fashion to Google Maps. This research was presented at the National Water Center’s Capstone event, at the CUSAHI Biennial Science Symposium in WV, to the WRF-Hydro group at NCAR in Boulder CO, and by Ed Clarke, the NWC Director of Geo-Intelligence, in DC. Joined by Dr. Jordan Hastings, this project is seeking publication and implementation.

The second project we worked on was looking to relate radar stream measurements to flow modeling under different resolutions of bathymetry collected along the Cahaba River in Centerville AL. This project allowed us to use an ADCP with the North Carolina based company WaterCube LLC and the USGS, along with LIDAR, Fish Sonar and total stations to develop a methodology for local agency’s to best, and most inexpensively, model small reaches for proactive extreme event detection. This project will also be part of a larger effort to increase gaged stations throughout the country to assimilate with the National Water Model. This research will hopefully be presented at this year’s AGU.

Throughout this institute we were able to travel to 25 states seeing Nashville, New York, DC, Atlanta and Pensacola as well as baseball games in Kansas City and St. Louis.


Jasmine Arpagian

Since I heard doctoral students recount their summers in my sophomore year of undergraduate studies, I’ve daydreamed about my very own season of “field work”, somewhere strange and exotic. Despite my rapidly growing aversion to jargon that uses the word “field” while unrelated to pastures, harvests or baseball, I enjoyed a summer realizing (…sort of…) these daytime fantasies. I traveled to Romania, my ancestral motherland. It felt like home (minus the 16-hour flight back). Unfortunately, nothing that seemed strange or exotic. I volunteered for a summer school program in one of Bucharest’s peripheral and poor neighborhoods with a significantly large Roma community. To my relief, some kids were impressed by my goaltending. I was humbled by families who spent hours telling their stories of displacement. I was invited into homes, fed by some who hardly had enough for themselves, refused entry by others and even assaulted with a delicate hand fan by an octogenarian. I can hardly wait for next summer. Perhaps I will inch closer to fulfilling my fantasy and finally play an accordion at the annual golden trumpet festival.


Karly Marie Miller

Over the summer I was working in 8 remote coastal communities on the Pacific Coast of Colombia, collecting over 200 household surveys, marking the culmination of over a year of field work.  Now that I am back in Santa Barbara I will be using this data to analyze how tourism development affects marine resource use in small scale fishing communities.  Using household and community data I am examining how tourism changes livelihoods, diets, and community wellbeing, and in turns alters the human-environment relations of coastal ecosystems. Field work was full of highs and lows.  I got to talk to hundreds of families and explore an area seldom seen by foreigners or Colombians alike; there were gorgeous sunsets, breaching humpback whales, and a much warmer pacific ocean.  But dealing with all 8 community governments was trying, and the realities of life in the remote, rural tropics could be tough.  I was the only foreigner or english speaker in all of the communities, was always at least an hour boat ride away from…just about everything (grocery stores, banks, doctors, roads, buses…) and during the year I contracted dengue, zika, and chikungunya.  Needless to say I am glad to be home, but I wouldn’t trade the year for anything – not only did I get the survey data that I need for my dissertation, but living in the communities offered the greatest opportunity for learning, and provided a depth and breadth to my understanding that can never be represented in a spreadsheet full of data.

The Department would like to extend a huge “Thank you” to all who have contributed their experiences. By sharing, you may have inspired more individuals to gain a new interest in Geography.