ELAC students study Environmental Science in the Rocky Mountains

By Annette Quijada

Former East Los Angeles College students Daniel Novoa and Nhan Nguyen took part in The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory summer research experience for undergraduates. 

Novoa said his inspiration to take part in the program came from his love of science. 

“Specifically, Microbiology was always interesting to me. Whenever I looked at stuff in a microscope it looked really cool. I’ve always loved Science. I like the diversity of Science,” Novoa said.

The National Science Foundation funded their internship opportunity. The internship allowed students the chance to study Ecology and Environmental Sciences in Colorado. 

Their research looked at how human activity on recreational trails (hiking and biking) is affecting rodent populations such as mice and chipmunks. 

“We used cameras, specifically made to look at rodents with sensors. Still cameras were used on the trails to detect people. We used those numbers from the pictures to model the estimated negative or positive impact between the two,” Novoa said. 

The internship consisted of both the summers of 2020 and 2022. Each session lasted two weeks. Novoa said the results of their research came from the combination of both summers readings. 

“2020 had no huge negative effects. The impact was more positive. If there were more people there would be more squirrels. In 2021 we saw no negative effects. We had similar results as the year before. 

We took a look at the data day by day and saw that on a specific day there were people around and there would be no squirrels,” Novoa said.

Novoa said his experience in Colorado was great. 

“I learned a lot of good writing skills for proposals and how to come up with an experiment and logistics and the process of pulling it off. It was great having access to scientists from all over the place.” 

ELAC Biology Associate Professor, Jimmy Lee introduced the students to the opportunity. 

“I took his Biology 006 class at ELAC and he had a presentation on the internship. The idea was to go to this beautiful place and do science and get paid for it. To me as a community college student, I didn’t think this was a possibility, but it is. A lot of community college students don’t realize that it’s an opportunity available to them,” Novoa said. 

Novoa transferred to the University of California Davis as a Microbiologist major in 2021. He is currently applying to grad school and said that he wouldn’t had the drive to apply to grad school if he hadn’t spoken to other students in the internship. 

Nhan Nguyen is now in the Master’s program at University of California Davis in the graduate group of Ecology. During her time at ELAC she applied twice to be a part of the RMBL program. 

Nguyen specifically requested to study animals after spending her first experience studying insects. 

“I realized I don’t really like working with insects,” Nguyen said.  

She also realized that she didn’t need to become a veterinarian to work with animals. 

“That changed my mind a lot. I know that to work with animals I don’t have to be a vet but researchers help them too,” Nguyen said. 

Nguyen said the ecology research field is not very competitive and she encourages students to apply for grants. 

She said getting into these early research programs can make students more desirable candidates for paid positions in the future.

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