Signature Projects

Our signature projects are sights of research, innovation, student engagement and community collaboration to confront multifaceted issues and to develop cutting-edge theory and practice to confront environmental and educational injustice.

    Calabasas Elementary School Community Garden

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    In April 2017, UCSC students and staff began to mow down weeds at a vacant lot at Calabasas Elementary School to reignite a community garden. A collaborative formed of UCSC faculty, undergraduates, elementary school administration and families from the neighborhood. The garden opened in February 2018 and shortly thereafter 50 15x15 foot family plots, 15 classroom plots, a communal corn field, pumpkin patch, nopal garden, medicinal herb and native plant garden began to emerge, all run and organized by families. The garden has monthly community meetings and families are in the process of organizing their governance style. Yolanda Perez, a community member and our Community Outreach Coordinator, Michelle Hernandez co-manage the garden.

    Our partnership with Calabasas Elementary School and the families seeks to build stronger horizontal community-school partnerships, where Latinx students see their familial and cultural knowledges honored and reflected in the school. We see the community garden as a potential mediating space to generate these curricula and to cultivate stronger, mutually beneficial and horizontal relationships among the families, teachers and administration that can, in turn, support the elementary school students.

    Drs. Lu and Beckett work closely with a team of undergraduate researchers in the community garden to study how the families and the teachers perceive the value and function of the garden. We hope this exploratory study will surface important themes for future dialogue and activities among the community and school which could, in turn, support our curriculum. We have a grant proposal already drafted that outlines our next steps in disseminating our findings with the community partners and considering ways our findings can inform best practices in science education. 


  • Re-Imagining Sustainability at UC Santa Cruz

  • Our second signature project supports ongoing collaborative campus-based efforts to understand the diverse ways the students, staff and faculty understand sustainability. Through a suite of classes, students will conduct research on their campus (surveys and ethnographic field notes) to trace diverse definitions of sustainability. This research will then be integrated into campus-wide efforts toward more sustainable futures on campus and beyond.

    CLTE 135: “Social Justice, Institutions and Power (Theme: Imagining Sustainable Futures)” will be offered in Winter 2019 and taught by Dr. Linnea Beckett, Director of (H)ACER.

    In this class, we explore socio-environmental relationships in this class through readings, reflective writing and ethnographic research at different sites in UC Santa Cruz. The research conducted in this class will contribute to a year-long study seeking to de-theorize and re-theorize notions of sustainability and belonging at UC Santa Cruz. As UC Santa Cruz “undergoes significant demographic change (e.g. UCSC’s undergraduate population is 66% non-white and 43% are first generation college students) framings of sustainability must resonate with these increasingly diverse populations” (Lu et al. 2018: 64). This class is designed to take a step back from dominant notions of sustainability to consider how relationships with land, memory and identity are tied up with student, staff and faculty experiences here on campus and this line of inquiry into these domains may open up new ways for us to make sense of sustainability and belonging. Initial questions include: What is sustainability? What assumptions about the relationships between humans and nature are privileged in these definitions? Who determines if a thing or a practice is sustainable? What futurities are linked to normative imaginaries of sustainability? In what ways do these definitions, practices and futurities animate anti-blackness and settler colonialism? In our class, we will investigate ways in which UCSC students, staff and faculty make sense of UC Santa Cruz as a place and how this may inform a re-theorizing of sustainability and belonging.

    CLTE 136: “Methodologies of Critical Practice” will be offered in Spring 2019 and taught by Dr. Bob Majzler, Lecturer at John R. Lewis College and Psychology.

    This course provides an in-depth and hands-on exploration of the topics introduced in CLTE 135. Students receive qualitative research training and continue to grapple with the complexities of community-engaged research methodologies. Students will learn about the historical tensions and struggles of research as a form of knowledge production and consider how research may support more socially and environmentally just futures.  In a collaborative and supportive environment, students learn interviewing skills (recruitment, preparation, interview space). They will also learn several analysis techniques that include coding, thematic analysis, and the Listening Guide for self-as-narrative. These skills will be put into action on the capstone research project, in which students will collaborate with partners on campus in developing research on topics of sustainability from critical, decolonial perspectives outlined in the class description to CLTE 135 above.


  • Groundwater Sustainability in the Central Coast

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    Our third signature project is made possible by a grant (2019-2022) from the National Science Foundation, “Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability: Joint Learnings from Human-Groundwater Interactions” (hereafter T2SGS grant), which is part of the NORFACE and Belmont Forum Transformations to Sustainability Joint Research Program. The T2SGS brings together scholars from across the world, which includes hydrologists, anthropologists, sociologists, ecologists, geographers, practitioners, and engineers from and working in India, Tanzania, Morocco, Algeria, Peru, Sweden, US, UK and Netherlands. UCSC (namely College Nine and John R. Lewis College through (H)ACER and the Environmental Studies Department) is the institutional home of the US portion of the grant, led by Principal Investigators Flora Lu and Linnea Beckett working closely with a team of recent PhDs, graduate students, undergraduates. The T2SGS is not only multidisciplinary, multi-institutional and multinational, but it is also committed to centering community-based local approaches, action research and joint learning, and feminist methodologies. 

    Our research team is studying groundwater governance and management in both the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys—two high-yield agricultural hotspots utilizing different groundwater governance strategies. We are examining the various practices, knowledges and technologies designed to address groundwater overdraft and contamination, all within the context of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). With our project collaborators around the world, we are investigating: (1) the multiple and contested meanings of sustainability and how these normative framings are contested, debated, and implemented on the ground; and (2) how agricultural and cultural imaginaries of productivity, modernity, and development based in California were exported as a template for empire building and as justification for large-scale water projects across the world. 

    We designed two undergraduate courses in Fall 2019 (CLNI 60: Water Justice: Global Insights for a Critical Resource) and Winter 2020 (CLTE 135: “Apprenticeship in Community-Engaged Research, Topic: Water Governance and Water Justice”) that consisted of creating an interactive, co-productive learning space for the UC Santa Cruz undergraduate and graduate students. Students were trained in feminist qualitative research methods and critical issues of groundwater quality and sustainability; heard guest lectures from UCSC post-docs and graduate students; undertook field trips to see water infrastructure and recharge projects; and learned from community members and agency representatives. Our course design illustrates a creative pedagogical approach to systematic documentation of diverse ‘groundwater practices,’ providing opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations with student-researchers. In these courses, students interviewed international T2SGS colleagues about their respective research efforts, fostering student-led data collection, producing information for the website and promoting greater familiarity between T2SGS team members. Students then reflected upon their experiences as interviewers and wrote about their positionality and perspectives as California residents growing up in such a water-intensive state.