My name is Kathryn Tippett, and I’m an undergraduate at San Diego State University studying mechanical engineering. Last August, I joined the team of undergraduates and graduate students at the Disturbance Hydrology Lab led by Dr. Alicia Kinoshita and have never looked back. I’ve always enjoyed spending time outdoors, so I jumped at the opportunity to spend my weekend mornings studying portions of the San Diego River.
When I moved to San Diego, I had the opportunity to return to my studies to pursue my first Bachelor's degree at San Diego Mesa College. During my last year before the transfer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Disturbance Hydrology Lab (DHL) at San Diego State University and develop my undergraduate research under the mentorship of Dr. Kinoshita and graduate student, Danielle Hunt.
The main goal of my project was to collect soil samples and measure soil infiltration of Alvarado Creek (Del Cerro study site) on the field and at the laboratory. This research experience allowed me to amplify my studies on specific topics within my field, like geomorphology, hydrogeology, and pedology. My work on soil infiltration rates at Alvarado Creek investigated infiltration based on four different variables: soil type, vegetation, slope, and geomorphic features like secondary channels. Also, we were able to evaluate a sampling methodology to perform infiltration tests in the laboratory and save our group some time! We successfully found similar infiltration measurements between field data and laboratory data, which included the use of copper pipes to store the cores. We also found that infiltration rates were higher in high slope areas and in vegetated areas.
This internship improved many of my skills. First, I was able to study more about the urban riverine system and its disturbances. I learned the importance and emergency of modeling this type of watershed since it is crucial for the ecosystem and urban life. I also learned how the DHL is working to model Alvarado Creek after disturbances such as urban fire and restoration.
During the process of choosing the scope of the research, developing a hypothesis, and designing the field and lab experiments, I had contact with different journals and articles that improved my knowledge within the Earth science system and amplified my list of references for future research. I learned how to survey and measure stream channel topography , and perform the pebble counts as an estimate of streambed material. I got experience with new field equipment, such as the Mini Disk Infiltrometer (MDI; used to measure infiltration rates in my research) and GPS. I utilized Google Satellite imagery and Geographic Information System (GIS) to identify and map 13 new sites. These infiltration measurements from 2022 in Alvarado Creek augment previous studies conducted by the lab.
I'm happy about this opportunity. It was an essential experience outside of the classroom (and the regular laboratory classes), where I developed and tested a multidisciplinary hypothesis. It was gratifying to go out during the weekends for field reconnaissance, sampling, data collection, and also spend afternoons in the laboratory!
During data collection, I used my field experience to cover a significant portion of the creek successfully. Still, I also gained new skills like sampling cores and conducting infiltration tests using the MDI.
During data analysis, I improved my spreadsheet skills to create charts and calculate the hydraulic conductivity of the collected samples for loamy sand and sandy loam conditions.
I also learned how to design a poster and write an abstract for the Student Research Symposium 2022 (one of this project's most significant achievements). During the preparation for my presentation, I practiced my writing, verbal, and communication skills. The opportunity to present the research at a symposium where I interacted with many students and professors was a huge step towards my career goals in the research industry. Having contact with different researchers and getting feedback on my work was very significant, and it made me feel more interested in science and research.
My name is Kathleen Nguyen, and I am currently a chemistry student at San Diego Miramar College and San Diego Mesa College. With the internship opportunity for the Disturbance Hydrology Lab led by Dr. Kinoshita, I was excited about the field work because I enjoy the great outdoors of San Diego and working on hands-on activities. Not only that, it was intriguing to learn more about the impacts of the California fires and seeing the vegetation and wildlife in Alvarado Creek. I have only worked with lab techniques in a chemistry setting, but working with the field equipment has increased my competence in my hands-on skills and knowledge on the field of civil engineering.
As I am still growing as a student, I found the techniques and experiences of the Disturbance Hydrology Lab to be helpful in my academic career. Chemistry and civil engineering may be different disciplines, but they have similar methods to calculate and measure data. I have learned how to infiltrate water to observe Alvarado Creek’s soil water movement and rates, and analyzed field data with Excel for surveying. Data measured and collected from surveying was used to observe the land properties and vegetative state of Alvarado Creek. I have participated in stream gauging and pebble counts to understand collect information on stream processes.
The internship activities have taught me about how diverse and inclusive civil engineering is, and I am intrigued with the hydrology aspect of it. Learning more about the different kinds of methods and techniques used in civil engineering has broadened my perspective on the kinds of careers that I am interested in going into and how it resonates with the field of chemistry.
The hands-on experiences done with the Disturbance Hydrology Lab have enhanced my skills and confidence in the laboratory, and have geared me towards my future endeavors in the STEM industry. Despite the limited activities that could be performed during the COVID pandemic, I still had an amazing experience with the Disturbance Hydrology Lab. The Disturbance Hydrology Lab team are supportive and positive mentors. I enjoyed both the field work and working with them, and I have gained skills that will last me a life time not only academically, but skills that foster both communication and listening skills.
Casa Vieja Meadow Project
My name is Samuel Zorn, and I am a senior Environmental Engineering student at SDSU. I have been very lucky to be a part of several research laboratories. My first lab was in the biochemistry department under Dr. John Love. We were studying protein design with the intent of using antibodies to halogenate small, organic molecules. My duties involved a lot of bench work which was a great, hands on introduction to the field of biochemistry My current work is with the Disturbance Hydrology Laboratory led by Dr. Alicia Kinoshita. Most of my work has revolved around using satellite and or field data to characterize the resilience and hydrological characteristics of various regions in Southern California. Being a member of the DHL has introduced me to a number of wonderful mentors and peers and has provided me with valuable knowledge that I will continue to apply in my eventual career as an engineer.
Last year I wrapped up a project supported by the San Diego Fly Fishers. The final product was a report about Nine Mile Creek, a small stream in the Southeastern Sierra Nevada, California, which is home to wild hybridizations of golden and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus Aguabonita & Oncorhynchusmykiss). This report focuses on the condition of Nine Mile Creek in Casa Vieja Meadow from 1995 - present. Observations of erosion and undercutting provide direction for developing a plan for future data collection to further describe Nine Mile Creek habitat and ensure that their habitat is protected. Research was conducted using a combination of satellite and field data composed of Google Earth imagery, United States Geological Survey data, and data points collected in the field with a global positioning system (GPS) receiver that records longitude, latitude, and elevation data. Findings indicated that for the 1.17 kilometers of creek analyzed, there have been no significant changes to stream meander over the past 25 years. However, some specific areas of the stream showed evidence of undercutting and potential erosion. These locations require further monitoring to assess the rate of geomorphological change. The report also identifies topics that should be explored further, such as the effects of cattle grazing and the absence of woody plants on erosion, sediment, and trout habitat.
My name is Rey Becerra and I am an undergraduate civil engineering student at San Diego State University. I joined the Disturbance Hydrology Lab (DHL) during the spring semester, 2019. My research focuses on examining the post-fire sediment response in a riparian watershed with dense invasive plant species to better understand soil dynamics during the 2018-2019 storm season by developing a regression model to estimate soil erosion in relation to sediment physical characteristics after the storm events.
This research opportunity has allowed me to develop and apply new skills in different settings. Specific field tasks such as soil sample collection and surveying were existing skills I applied constantly and used effectively to obtain critical data for the understanding of soil dynamics. Lab skills I learned included performing methods to identify soil samples' physical characteristics and helped me to better understand topics discussed in my major This research project challenged my ability to communicate my data analysis in an academic research setting. However, by conducting presentations at several conferences and reporting my findings through a research report this experience offered me multiple opportunities to improve my communication skills. Additionally, this internship has given me a sense of belonging in the research team which I believe is important for any undergraduate student. Therefore, my involvement in the Disturbance Hydrology Lab has been beneficial for my academic growth inside and outside of class and it has granted me future prospects including pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering with the objective to increase my career path opportunities in water resources engineering. The multiple field expeditions were my favorite experiences while being part of the Disturbance Hydrology Lab because they represented a challenge to a problem and as an undergraduate civil engineer it’s empirical to realize that applied sciences require creativity and critical thinking to approach the problem.
The research experience offered by the Disturbance Hydrology Lab is fundamental for STEM related majors seeking research opportunities to advance their understanding in water resources and hydrology. The DHL’s motivation to better understand hydrologic disturbances is significant for the developing urban communities and the experiences and opportunities offered to undergraduate students can be academically rewarding.
Monitoring Vegetation Regrowth using Field-based Observations and Citizen Science
My name is Madeline Hapgood, I am an undergrad recently graduated from San Diego Mesa College, transferring to San Diego State University this fall. I had been studying geography and was excited when an opportunity to get experience in the field came up. After living in California and being so exposed to the damages wildfires can have upon a community made this experience even more meaningful to be a part of. When hearing about the projects being done on and around Alvarado Creek it was inspiring to hear what can and has been doane in the “backyard” of SDSU.
Since this was my first time working in the field and doing research my knowledge of fieldwork and their processes were little to none. Overtime with every new fieldwork technique I learned I expanded my knowledge and passion for working in the environment. My project was based around the regrowth of the plant life from the burned area that had caught fire a month previous. In the beginning I was unsure what to expect and where to go from that point, where would I focus my research, how would I collect my research. With the help of mentors and volunteers I was able to go out and get help from others and learn other tools along the way. Not only did my project involve going out in the field and surveying vegetation heights and ground cover but I also got to use tools such as densiometers to calculate canopy cover.
My project used a public photo point where the community was invited to share live photos of the site which would be shared to a public document. This was extremely helpful to have a visual timeline of the growth of plants throughout the time researching. Not only was this helpful for me as the researcher because I was not able to be there at the site all the time but also so the community could be involved and see the growth overtime as well they were welcomed to ask questions on the document as well.
Although I was new to working in the field other skills and traits I had already helped me along the way. My creativity was one thing that I wouldn’t have expected to help throughout the research, research seems it would be rigid and strict but the opportunities and ideas can be endless. New skills I learned were learning how to learn again and accepting you may need to try and fail again. As well as to not expect an outcome to be one way or the other. The tools and research in the field were all new to me and were easy to learn along the way.
Working in the field taught me that you can always learn new things and that it doesn’t all come naturally. This opportunity also taught me to believe in myself as well as thinking on your feet and diving into your research to see what can benefit you. I never considered myself a scholar or researcher but I never thought was possible especially as an undergrad. I had never planned on going to graduate school or getting a doctorate because I did not believe I could do it. This community and research opportunities showed me that I can do whatever I want and not let the unknowns keep me away. Talking with other researchers and getting experience at something I am passionate about made the experience meaningful. Being more detailed and planned would be a skill that would be important to have in this field especially when going out on the field with a partner.
About the authors
Follow the adventures and reflections from the DHL undergraduate student interns and research assistants!