Building Connections in Environmental Research

July 1, 2019

Manny Herrera conducting environmental researchBefore Manny Herrera ’20 began his research project examining the protection trees provide people from ultraviolet light, the environmental science major had no idea he’d beaten hundreds of other students for this great opportunity.

But in fact, more than 400 of his peers across the country had applied for his coveted research spot. He learned that after joining the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) Undergraduate Research Program for the summer, a selective group of student researchers who study water in its many facets. The environmental network sent Herrera to Arizona State University, where he’s teamed with a professor there to study whether there’s a connection between how much water a tree uses and how much it protects people from ultraviolet light.

Herrera has his own professor to thank for helping him stand out in a crowded application pool: Cinzia Fissore, who teaches environmental science.

“What set me apart was I had a mentor like Cinzia Fissore who really willing to look at my personal statement before I submitted them and really give me feedback on where I should improve upon or what I should highlight more,” Herrera said. Spending his summer at one of the largest higher-ed institutions in the country, Herrera can appreciate all the more how a small college like Whittier allowed him to forge a meaningful connection with his professor.

At the Arizona university, Herrera is comparing a wide variety of native and non-native trees, from the ubiquitous palm, to the densely green Chinese elm, to the native Arizona sycamore, and more. He theorizes that the more water a tree uses, the bigger its treetop canopy, which in turn provides better UV protection. Using computer software and a camera, Herrera is getting a real view of how much of the invisible light is getting through the different canopies.

By August, he and his cohort will reconvene from their nationwide experiments and present their findings at a UWIN symposium. Not only will they leave with new skills and knowledge, but the professional connections in their fields offered by the UWIN network of scientists. Herrera will also end his summer with a relationship to ASU, where he may want to apply for a master’s or Ph.D. program down the line.