Category Archives: Students

An Aztec Adventure


I took a trip to a place I had never been, with people I had never met, and did an activity I had never tried.

One of 208874_10151596587354750_139447072_nthe best decisions I have ever made.

This past month, I went on an “Aztec Adventure” and if you’re not familiar with what that is, simply:  it’s an experience of a lifetime.

Organized by SDSU’s Aztec Recreation Center, an Aztec Adventure is an outdoor trip that allows its participants to break away and engulf themselves with nature.

I found myself in Arizona. Canoeing upstream in the Colorado River.

For me the trip was a way to take a break. A way to feel the stresses that had built up from my work and school routine, slowly drift away with every stroke into Arizona’s Black Canyon.

And although I didn’t anticipate it, I met some amazing people in the process.544151_10151596589039750_1684071593_n

There were 14 of us.  We battled currents upstream, relaxed in natural hot springs, hiked in pitch black caves, gave each other mud facials and slept under the stars. We  did all of it, together.

These complete strangers became my friends, and now we’re all tied together with these lasting memories of this amazing trip.

I must say to be out in the wild and turn off your phone saying goodbye to email and twitter  for four days was a little nerve racking. But hey, what’s life without a little risk… a little adventure.

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Students Collect Data and Culture


Two San Diego State University students, Sarah Wandersee, a doctoral candidate in geography and Steven Allison, a master’s student in geography, reflect on their 2012 research trip to China. As part of a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the students worked at the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve to study one of China’s national treasures and endangered species: The Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, often called the golden monkey.

For more on the research see: Scientists Partner to Protect Environment

Account by Sarah Wandersee: This year, I registered to vote by mail for the first time because I was in China doing fieldwork from Oct. 17 until late on Nov. 6, Election Day.

This was my third trip to our field site – Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve in Guizhou Province, China. It is a national reserve established in 1978 in the southwestern mountains of China to protect the Guizhou golden monkey. It also protects the more than 3,000 other plant, animal and insect species there.

The reserve is a good example of an interesting difference between Chinese national reserves and the U.S. park system because people live within the reserve, sometimes in villages that are more than a 100 years old.

This fall, I went to collect land cover data with Steve Allison, a fellow geography graduate student, to contribute toward a research grant. My other two trips to the reserve in China were in 2009 and 2010 as part of my dissertation research.

Last time, I did a household survey, so I spent most of my time hiking to visit homes and interview people living in the reserve. This time, the work itself was very different and the area had drastically changed since the last time I was there! A lot of new roads had been built in the two years I was gone. This made it much easier logistically, but also meant we needed to update our files on the road network and use newer satellite imagery for certain analysis. Another difference was that some areas had been built up quite a bit, such as the growing tourist area around Heiwanhe, which had a lot of new hotels and houses.

One other difference was personal; I had taken a few Chinese language courses since my last visit. This was incredibly helpful and I felt much less isolated and more confident in my abilities to figure out travel issues. It was fantastic to talk with our colleagues and hosts, even with my limited vocabulary and the challenges of the local dialect. It also improved our connections with the people we met. People appreciated my efforts to learn their language, particularly those people who remembered me from my last visit.

Fieldwork is exciting because you get to be part of primary data collection and make your own dataset instead of using someone else’s nicely prepared data. This can be a blessing and a bane, experiencing excitement and frustration.

The data collection this time included measuring 30-by-30 meter plots within various land cover types and recording the species present, slope, and aspect of the plot, as well as taking photos of the canopy cover with a fish-eye lens (see Photo 1, Wandersee). One of my favorite aspects of the trip was getting familiar with the equipment and the data collection protocol.

The other part I really enjoyed was working outside. For our work this time, we spent several hours most days hiking around the breathtaking mountains in southwestern China. Fanjing Mountain is known for its unique beauty, like the many types of fog you can experience (Photo 2, Wandersee). Of course, we did not collect plots every day. We spent some time planning and processing data or traveling between sites. We also ran into problems with the weather.

My trip to the field site took two days – flying from San Diego, to Los Angeles, to Guangzhou (China), to Guiyang (capital of Guizhou Province). From there, it was a six-hour drive to Jiangkou, the county seat and headquarters of the reserve. You can fly to a closer airport in Tongren, but the flights get cancelled a lot because of fog, especially in the fall.

Sheilei, our reserve teammate, picked me up at the airport along with Mr. Yang, a reserve driver. Shilei is a biologist and worked with us on this trip to plan our fieldwork, collect plots, and organize data. Without his help, we would not have known which plants were growing where, or even which type of land cover we were in. Sometimes the age of the vegetation can make plots of the same cover type look pretty different. Shilei also made sure we stayed safe and healthy.

When I first arrived at the reserve, I had dinner with Director Yang, formerly the head director of the reserve and currently the director of research. I also ate with his wife and Mr. Qiu, the head of Shilei’s department. They were all part of the original vegetation survey in the reserve, so it was great to hear about their experiences. In addition, Mr. Qiu came with us to our first site and helped with the plots there.

Our first location was Lengjiaba. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of rain and fog while we were there, so our plans got delayed a bit. In that season, there’s often rain and fog, but we wanted to time our trip so that we came after the threat of poisonous snakes and before the leaves fell. Shilei, Mr. Qiu, Mr. Yang, and I worked on the plots in Lengjiaba until it was time to return to Jiangkou so my fellow SDSU colleague, Steve could join us.

While in Lengjiaba, we got one plot high up in the core of the reserve and actually heard the golden monkeys nearby. Of course, we couldn’t see them because of the fog, but it was an inspiring experience!

Photo 1, Wandersee

(Photo 1, Wandersee)

Photo 2, Wandersee

(Photo 2, Wandersee)

Account by Steven Allison: Just a few weeks of geography fieldwork at the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve really showed me a different side of China. The holy Buddhist mountain at the center of the reserve seemed distant from the sprawling, bustling cities I’d lived in while I was studying Chinese.

Accessing data on vegetation types, color, and health, to map land cover change over 40 years in the sensitive ecosystem, meant fellow Geographer, Sarah Wandersee, and I hiked deep into the hills themselves. We stayed with some of the park residents whose home we were studying. Many of them belong to the Miao and Tujia minorities, and our mutual enthusiasm for getting to know each other through our work meant that my first fieldwork experience was full of new foods, ideas and discoveries.

Guizhou food is famously sour and spicy, accompanied by green tea during the day and sometimes local baijiu wine at night. Our hosts cooked dinner when we came down the mountain and we sometimes descended through farm plots to see the cook picking the night’s vegetables: the agrarian fare of northwest Guizhou is farm fresh, local, and organic (photo 1, Allison). When dinner included meat, it was from the farm next door.

Although over-gathering of wild plants threatens monkey habitat, many herbs have deep significance. Some meals with minority representatives and park rangers involved discussions on how to negotiate the needs of conservation and traditional culture.

While dishes like smoked pork and spring onion, or wild mushroom, garlic and red chili were presented as continuities of hundreds of years of Miao and Tujia culture, the high-end, handmade teas they offered with pride represented some modernizing aspirations.

Growing tea instead of more resource-intensive cash crops eases pressure on native vegetation. Some enterprising park residents have embraced this possibility with enthusiasm and produced new kinds of teas with traditional techniques borrowed from neighboring areas.

Satellite photography mapping the people’s changing land uses fit right into many people’s ideas of new techniques working with traditional ways.

I hadn’t expected such interest in our research or how much our goals in preserving monkey habitat aligned with those of the locals. My first fieldwork experience featured a lot of cooperation with residents and park management. Contrary to some previous experiences with Chinese government officials, I found the experienced rangers and police dedicated to both environmental and cultural conservation.

One afternoon, on a densely wooded ridge, we spotted a fire that had been set in the protected zone, part of a now illegal charcoal creation method. Our botanist counterpart, Shilei, and police guides hurried to put out the fire, carrying creek water in empty cracker bags (photo 2, Allison). Although we didn’t see anyone when we arrived, we saw two old Tujia women as we hiked down. My guides decided it was most likely the women who had set the fire, but since it had been put out early and the police now knew a common fire setting location, there was no reason to pursue the case. Monitoring the location meant they could prevent fires in the future, which was preferable to prosecution.

One thing I learned about fieldwork was that it requires a lot of transit time. However, that also meant there are a lot of new discoveries that occur while getting from one place to the next. A new discovery for me was when a local police officer told me that he was a big American movie fan. We learned that we were both anticipating Tarantino’s new film. That led us into a discussion of which American directors would be best for which Chinese movies (it was Spielberg and the Battle of Red Cliff, by the way).

The fact that our time there overlapped with the U.S. election led to a comparison of government systems and some of California’s 2012 propositions. One drive was punctuated by a sighting of some macaques (photo 3, Allison). We were even able to visit a school working with the San Diego Zoo’s Education Outreach program and chat with children about the environment.

It turned out that our primary goal of collecting data about Golden Monkey habitat was only part of doing fieldwork. There is still so much to learn in Fanjingshan Natural Nature Reserve.

Photo 1, Allison

(Photo 1, Allison)

Photo 2, Allison

(Photo 2, Allison)

Photo 3, Allison

(Photo 3, Allison)

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A “Dang” Hard Semester


I’ve been told that pain and struggle bring people together.

Although I don’t want to explicitly say that my classes this semester have caused me pain and struggle, I will say that they have been challenging.

Very, very, challenging.

But because of it, I’ve built a relationship with a handful of fellow public relations students that I am very grateful for and never thought I could have made.

Maybe it was the late night hours in the libraryphoto together, the timed news releases, the survey construction, the media pitching, the “fatal flaws,” or the fact that we had seen each other break down and go crazy with stress and anxiety throughout the semester; but without being pushed and challenged to the very end by my professors I don’t think we would be as close as we are now.

When I think about it, a college semester is more than just the knowledge you learn, but the life skills and relationships you build.

So although I may be suffering and crawling across the finish line of finals now, I know it will be all worth it in the long run.

Wherever my career takes me, wherever my final semester at San Diego State leads me, I know I can always rely on the support from the future “PR studs” who I’ve gone through this semester worth of challenges with, no matter how crazy they are.

Good Luck with Finals!

Follow David on Twitter @DavidRozul

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From Political Science to the Presidential Campaign


Krista Parker is a former Associated Students Executive Officer at San Diego State University. She graduated in spring 2012 with a degree in political science and jumped right in to working on the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama. Following is her account of what that experience was like.

On July 14th, I jumped on a plane to begin the crazy adventure of campaign life- my destination Virginia Beach, VA. As one of the most important battleground “states”, I say state in quotations simply because VA considers itself a Commonwealth still to this day, VA was the place to be for this roller coaster Presidential Election and I was the lucky one who was able to sit in the front!Krista Parker

While in Virginia Beach, my role as a Field Organizer resulted in sleepless nights, stressful situations and pressure that is on the border of being scary. No day on the campaign was ever the same however our ultimate goal was consistent … win. That process was centralized around three types of communications: phone calls, knocking on doors and getting people registered to vote. I was responsible for seven voting precincts and the majority of those precincts had voted Republican back in 2008 so the difficulty level was high but the challenge was accepted. I met so many people on this journey ranging from the 78 year old woman who couldn’t read therefore had never registered to vote because nobody would help her with the form, to the man who lost his job because it was shipped overseas. Every person we talked to had a story of why they supported our candidate and every person had a vote.

On September 27th, I had the honor to meet the man I was working so hard for – President Barack Obama. I could use the cliché line of “this was the best moment of my life so far” and I will. We held a campaign rally in Virginia Beach that resulted in approximately 7,000 people to show their support for him. After he spoke, he walked around the crowd shaking hands, taking pictures and talking to the voters. This was my chance to thank him for everything he had done for the country and for me as a woman and student. He made his way around the curve and he shook my hand. His famous campaign quote came out of my mouth “Don’t Boo, Vote” he came in closer and replied “What did you say sweetie?” I repeated myself a little louder and slightly more confident and he smiled with a response “That’s right, Don’t Boo, Vote. Thank you for what you are doing for this country” THAT was the best moment of my life, so far.

krista parkerFrom July until early October, I spent most of my time developing teams to work as hard as possible during the final push – Get Out the Vote (GOTV). GOTV was by far the most exciting time on the campaign because everything started to fall into place. The polls didn’t matter in my eyes and I had to stop even looking at them as we started to inch toward November 6th. The days leading up to the election resulted in horrible fast food, absolutely no sleep and many trips to 7-11 for energy drinks. Think of finals week but far worse. Walk packets had to be prepped, scripts have to be crafted for volunteers and everything had to be perfect or you risk failure. We were lucky enough to have the best teams, the best voters and the best system – that resulted in an election night projecting our candidate Barack Obama the winner of the 2012 election.

Nothing is perfect. At some of our precincts, we had people waiting in line for 10 hours to cast their vote for the President in the pouring rain. We had systems that were meant to prevent any large problems and they were successful. We had worked for months to get to this moment. Our work had paid off and the President was re-elected. It was draining and exhausting but on election night after all the polls had closed and the results were final, it was all worth it. Four out of my seven precincts voted Democrat and voter turnout increased drastically. One of my precincts ended up having a seven vote difference, in favor of the President. That is the direct effect of a ground team and that is what won the election for the President.

Many have asked me “would I ever do this again?” My answer stays the same, I don’t know if I will ever connect with a candidate the same way I did with the President. I can’t imagine doing this for a candidate that I didn’t fully agree with their policies or their politics. The President is someone I supported and was willing to work 20 hour days for 7 days a week and to find a candidate like that will take time. The friendships I have made and the experience is absolutely priceless, so on that note, if the opportunity presents itself and one truly believes in a candidate, jump on the campaign while you can still operate in “college” like conditions. The outcome is worth it!

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The lessons and legacies of D-day


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Coalition politics. Insurgency and counterinsurgency. Human rights abuses and war crimes. Technological adaptation and innovation in the face of security challenges. These may seem like themes ripped from events in a post-9/11 world but as we walk the hedgerows in Normandy, France reflecting on this D-day anniversary we see the past and the present.

As co-director of SDSU’s graduate program in Homeland Security, the past few summers I have had the opportunity to take students to learn about these themes first-hand during a 16-day thematic study abroad course “The Lessons and Legacies of D-Day.”

In partnership with Normandy Allies, a non-profit organization which provides logistic and educational support for those wanting to learn more about the events associated with D-Day and Operation Overlord, 16 students and I have the unique privilege of being in Normandy on this D-day anniversary.

This trip allows students to get a sense of history they could never have picked up in the classroom. It is one thing for students to learn about war in the classroom but it is another thing entirely to learn about it in front of a wall pock-marked by German bullets used to execute a teenage boy in the French resistance, or to talk with a decorated American veteran who, at 19, floated to earth in a hail of gunfire so that he and his brothers could shed their blood to liberate those under the yoke of a totalitarian regime.

During the trip, students learn about the strategic, operational and tactical levels of the conflict via readings and a series of staff rides to many of the numerous battlefields of Normandy. They also meet and discuss the war and its consequences with American, British, Canadian and French veterans of the war, as well as many French civilians and resistance fighters who suffered as the battle raged around their homes.

While we are here we will also engage in a number of citizen diplomacy efforts too, joining French veteran and civic groups in laying wreaths on the monuments commemorating the sacrifice of American soldiers. On this anniversary day we’ll attend official ceremonies of remembrance occurring in the British and American sectors. This year, students are in the VIP section for a speech made by recently elected French President Hollande.

Many of these students are war veterans themselves and for them this trip can be truly cathartic. I see them reflect on their own service and connect it to the battles of past generations.

When I talk about war and security in my classes, it is not just an academic exercise. This trip helps me show them that while many things have changed, some never will.

Dr. Jeffrey McIllwain is co-director of SDSU’s graduate program in homeland security and associate professor of public affairs

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Rock the Vote


As several political races begin to heat up, 2011-12 Associated Students Vice President of External Affairs Krista Parker, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in political science this Friday, blogs about the importance of students voting in June and November.

After many visits to local, state and federal legislators’ offices over the past three years at SDSU, I have heard one common message: students don’t vote. After awhile, I really got sick of hearing that and when I took office in May 2011, one of my main initiatives was registering students to vote.

Rock the Vote at SDSU is a campaign that really encompasses the importance of the youth vote. Students have been known not to vote in the past simply because they don’t know why their vote matters. The campaign really focuses on the issues that directly impact students and educates them on the candidates running for office.

With June 5 and Nov. 6 elections quickly approaching, the importance of registering to vote is increasing. It really is easy! Go online to Rockthevote.com, head over to the Associated Students Government Affairs Office in the Alumni Center or visit the San Diego County Registrar of Voters to fill out a form to register (in San Diego, voters must register at least 15 days in advance of an election).

However, the most important part is to make sure and vote. There’s even a polling place on campus to make it easy Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view, download Adobe Acrobat Reader. (7 a.m. to 8 p.m., June 5, Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center)!

So back to the original question: why vote? First, let’s prove those legislators wrong and show that students do vote and, second — and most importantly — this is the perfect way to begin the process of getting your opinions heard!

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Storm, Nasatir Halls Getting a Makeover


Two of the older buildings on the San Diego State University campus are about to get long-needed makeovers.

Renovations will begin June 1 on Storm and Nasatir Halls, bringing the 1957 buildings into the 21st century with modern energy efficiency and current health and safety standards.

We’ll post construction updates on this blog to keep our readers informed about the progress of the project. For more information about the project, read this SDSU NewsCenter story.

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