Imagine for a minute that you’re a graduate of
Eagle Rock High School, where a teacher sparks your interest in environmental
studies—a subject that you then go on to study in university. And yet, for all
your interest in nature, you have no idea that one of the finest public parks in
the city lies just a stone’s throw east of the 110 freeway.
That was the case with Jessica Loya, who completed a 12-week summer internship at the Audubon Center at Debs Park earlier this month. Although she grew up in Glassell Park and even has an uncle who’s a frequent visitor to Debs, Loya was clueless until recently about “this very small and unique place of nature in the middle of Los Angeles,” as she put it.
Currently in her third year at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Loya was chosen as an intern by Audubon Center Director Jeff Chapman from a pool of more than 70 applicants.
“She’s pretty amazing,” Chapman said of Loya, whose passion for environmental studies was so strikingly evident during the internship screening process that he couldn’t believe his luck.
From June 10 through Aug. 7, Loya led a group of kids aged six to 12 years in the Audubon Center’s popular summer camp. Every week, she introduced them to a different theme designed to pique their curiosity in environmental issues ranging from the ecology of the Arroyo Seco region and its neighboring communities to the children’s connectedness with Mother Earth.
While pushing them to think about environmental problems and solutions, Loya was surprised to discover that many of the students don’t use plastic bottles, support L.A.’s ban on plastic grocery bags, and practice composting at school or home.
What’s more, the students mentioned littering and air pollution as some of the major environmental issues that impact local communities. “One student said he has asthma and that the poor air quality is not helpful,” Loya said.
Loya’s own interest in environmental issues was kindled by Chris Oswald, who teaches AP Environmental Science at Eagle Rock High and is the Associated Student Body Leadership director. (See photo.)
When Loya showed promise in an AP Environmental Science course during her junior year, Oswald encouraged her to excel in class. “And once I was applying to schools and deciding which major to take, he advised me to take one of the sciences because there’s a giant need for women of color in the sciences, which are typically thought to be a very male-dominated area,” Loya said.
“At UCSC, I realized exactly what Mr. Oswald was saying about the need for women of color in the sciences,” Loya said, adding: “I could count on one hand the number of women of color in entry-level environmental studies courses, which Mr. Oswald had prepared me well to succeed in.”
Loya is also majoring in economics and taking a minor in education. “I want to find a way to mix it [the subjects] all together,” she said, adding that her career goals is to make the business world greener by training to become a green business adviser.