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Bren School Master’s Students Present Final Work

Projects Range from Assessing Environmental Impacts to Eco-Entrepreneurship


UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management hosted its 15th annual Master’s Group Project Final Presentations last Friday with projects that ranged from assessing environmental impacts and sustainability in the tri-county area to eco-entrepreneurship ventures.

The Bren School‘s two-year master’s program at UCSB emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues, as evidenced by the diversity of this year’s projects. The presentations are the capstone of the program and serve as the master’s thesis.

The students worked in groups of two to six and conducted research on their topic over the course of the preceding year. Research topics are proposed by government organizations, corporations, NGOs, and communities, who then become a group’s “stakeholder.”

According to Jennifer Deacon, Bren’s assistant dean of development, the experience of researching and working as part of a team for the stakeholder client has many practical applications that she believes will set Bren students apart in the competitive job market, especially since some employers were in attendance on Friday.

“This project is very important for Bren School students,” said Deacon. “They’ll move on now into the job market, but they’ve already had the experience of accommodating a client, meeting deadlines, as well as being able to verbalize and show the importance of their results. A critical part of science today in being able to communicate well.”

Among the presentations was GreenSoil, a composting business started by three Bren School students that took food waste from area schools and turned it into worm castings that was sold as fertilizer. Not only was the business environmentally sound, but GreenSoil was profitable as well, making $1.90 net profit per pound of worm castings.

Key to GreenSoil’s mission is hands-on education. Accordingly, vermicomposting units were set up at elementary school Laguna Blanca and students there were instructed on the art of composting as well as where to throw their food scraps. Laguna Blanca, outfitted with special waste bins and enthusiastic students, has successfully diverted 800 pounds of food waste and 800 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere since January.

Another presentation, proposed by Ventura’s Listing and Recovery Coordinator for Plants U.S. Fish Wildlife Service, assessed the impact of sea level rise on native plant species and human communities along the central California coast. Concerned that rising sea levels globally may mean extinction for native plant species, the group set out on 15-month research project analyzing nine native plant species, intended to model the diversity of plants in the region, and determined that four of the nine will likely be exposed to cliff erosion, dune erosion, flooding, and inundation as a result of rising ocean levels. Of these four species, one local plant, C. maritimum, may face extinction by 2100, at which time 90 percent of its territory will be affected.

According to group member Rachel Freed, the expected rise in ocean levels may become especially problematic for Santa Barbara County. “I think flooding will be very impactful for this community, especially in terms of money to adapt or rebuild human infrastructure in the area,” Freed said. “Ecologically, the development of coastal areas has meant added pressure for plants like the ones we studied that probably won’t be able to adapt in time to survive.”

In one of the day’s final presentations, business partners and researchers of eco-entrepreneur venture DROPcyle, Kellen Klien and Greg Soulages, ended on a musical note. After explaining the ins and outs of their closed loop bicycle delivery service in Isla Vista to replace water filters and their aspirations to become the “TOM’s shoes of BRITA filters,” both partners rapped about the “stinky water” that plagues I.V. and Santa Barbara County while Klein used an old BRITA filter as a maraca to keep the beat.

DROPcycle proved profitable, turning a profit of over $7,000 since its inception and, more importantly for Klein and Soulages, their business prevented thousands of water bottles from entering landfills.

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