STEM Engaged Learning

Biogeography of Southern California

Some of the first words of greeting that Earth Sciences Professor Judy King receives from Biogeography students are: "Have you seen the garden today?"; "Did you notice how much the Sycamore has grown?"; "Those Monkey Flowers are blooming like crazy!"; "The Pitcher Sage is drooping." Twenty-six students joined forces to plan a garden, learn the scientific and common names of their plants, dig, add amendment, dig some more, learn to plant carefully, spread wood chips, build a path, and water diligently.

The service-learning course Biogeography of Southern California has garnered much interest from the CSU Dominguez Hills community, receiving assistance from other earth science classes, the Earth Science Club, and even anthropology students who were just as enthusiastic as earth and environment majors.

Beyond planting a native plant garden, students learned the part each plant plays in its natural southern California ecosystem, including any uses made by Native Americans. The course curriculum included lectures on common ecosystems (e.g. chaparral, coastal sage scrub) followed up by field trips to these same systems. In the field, students may touch, smell, and see the concepts they have learned from lectures. Their learning is further heightened by seeing their own native garden plants in the wild and understanding each plant's contribution to its native habitat.

These students have become more committed to environmental science because of this course. Over the semester, they have evolved into practicing ecologists, able to critically evaluate the health of an ecosystem while out in the field. Most participants would like to continue in the environmental science fields as Resource Managers, Park Rangers, Environmental Consultants as well as continuing on to graduate school.

As an example of their commitment to the garden and their interest in the field, students hosted a booth at Earth Day to promote the Native Plant Garden. They took interested members of the campus and greater community on guided tours of the garden throughout the day and exemplified outstanding leadership and organizational skills.

"Once the native garden project was complete, students were enthusiastic to begin another project. Since the Palos Verde Peninsula Land Conservancy was our partner on the native garden project, it was easy to jump into the restoration of the blue butterfly's habitat," shared professor King.

The Palos Verde blue butterfly was designated as an endangered species in 1980 by the federal government. A few years later, the blue butterfly was thought to be extinct due to habitat loss. Luckily, a remnant population was discovered in 1994 and restoration efforts began. While scientists are cultivating the butterfly, CSU Dominguez Hills students spent the summer of 2012 digging, clearing, and preparing the soil in order to add 300 plants to the Chandler Preserve, an area that they hope future blue butterflies will call home. "Even though it was hot, dirty and physically demanding, it was rewarding and we are thrilled to be a part of reestablishing the Palos Verdes blue butterfly's natural habitat within the Chandler Preserve," said CSUDH student Jenny Greer. Student volunteers will continue to tend to the reintroduction site. They plan to be on hand for the release of the butterflies between March and May 2013. (Read the Dateline Dominguez article for the full story on the butterfly project.)

Watch this video about the outcomes of the Biogeography course: