UCSD EarthLab Community Station


UCSD-EarthLab Community Station

EarthLab is an official partner of the UCSD Community Stations, a network of field stations in underserved neighborhoods across the San Diego-Tijuana region, where teaching and research are conducted collaboratively between UCSD researchers and communities.

Educating a new generation of leaders capable of thinking socially, ethically and collaboratively across disciplines to tackle today’s most pressing urban challenges requires that universities expand experiential learning opportunities, and develop new field-based curricula that places students into actual community settings. This is the mission of the UCSD Community Stations.

In the UCSD Community Stations, university and community partners mutually contribute resources and knowledge, and actively participate in research, learning and problem solving. Research shows that this horizontal model of community-university engagement cultivates youth leadership, community capacity, and ultimately produces better, more sustainable outcomes for both the university and community partners.

There are currently three UCSD Community Stations operating across the San Diego-Tijuana region, each focused on a particular set of urban and environmental issues. The Stations seek to link the specialized knowledge of UC San Diego with the community-based knowledge embedded in underserved neighborhoods on both sides of the border. This two-way flow – a mutual exchange of knowledge, inquiry and resources – is a new model of partnership between university and community-based agencies, redefining the idea of community service from a vertical conception of “resource provision” or “applied research” to a collaborative, or horizontal, model of engagement.

The UCSD Community Stations Network is the first of its kind in public higher education in the US, positioning UCSD as a leader in community-engaged research and teaching on issues of diversity, social disparity and uneven urbanization, contributing to its reputation as a campus committed to public service, research impact and accessibility.

The Blum Summer Field Internship

The Blum Summer Field Internship (BSFI) was established in 2014, with generous funding from University of California Regent Richard C. Blum and the UC Office of the President, to enable UCSD undergraduates to participate in immersive, team-based field research and projects in the UCSD Community Stations. The internship promotes experiential learning, training students to analyze societal challenges through multiple disciplinary lenses, communicate across disciplinary languages and knowledges, and engage in collaborative problem-solving with each other, and with our community partners.

Every summer since 2015, BSFI has been placing undergraduate teams at the EarthLab, to serve as teaching assistants and mentors in EarthLab’s summer educational programming and to conduct supervised research on such issues as:

  • Public space development and programming
  • Youth leadership
  • Environmental education and climate action
  • Engineering and technical problem solving
  • Arts and culture as agent of community capacity building

Public Mentorship

Every Summer, through the BLUM Summer Field Internship, UCSD undergraduates serve as mentors to local youth and children. In collaboration with Groundwork SD, we are presently co-curating an annual mentorship program. The Public Mentorship program will invite high school students to participate in a year-long set of circulations between EarthLab and UCSD. With the support and guidance of a team of inspiring mentors (professors, graduate coordinators, and undergraduate students), they will develop and launch their own design projects with a focus on education and climate action, contributing to the development of the EarthLab Food, Water, and Energy exhibits, as well as the fabrication programming at the Environmental Design Lab. Mentees will actively share their expertise with their Encanto community, propelling their journey as climate-action leaders in their future academic and career paths.

Public Scholars

The Public Scholars program, launched in 2013-14, supports respected community leaders to to spend time on campus each academic year to engage with faculty and students, lead workshops, and find other innovative ways of sharing their community-based experiences and knowledges. This “meeting of knowledges” enables the university to engage more ethically, elevating the public scholars as ambassadors for their communities inside the campus, helping to critically frame the challenges that need to be prioritized in the construction of new educational and research agendas.

UCSD EarthLab Community Station Research

UCSD and Groundwork together produce collaborative research on some of today’s most pressing social and environmental issues. For example:

Impact of Experiential Environmental Education on STEAM success in underserved urban communities.

UCSD education researchers and Groundwork San Diego are studying the effectiveness of experiential environmental learning on students in the Lincoln Cluster, eager to share data and best practices from the EarthLab with researchers and educators across San Diego, the State of California and beyond. (cite some of Bud’s research?)

Impact of community-engaged research opportunities on undergraduate success

The EarthLab is also a laboratory for experiential university education. UCSD researchers are documenting the positive impact of community-engaged internship and research on the educational experiences and trajectories of public university students across disciplines. UCSD’s EarthLab interns report that their summer field experiences have greatly enhanced their academic trajectories. Pairing classroom knowledge with the richness of field experience has helped students more clearly define their career aspirations, many of whom deepened their desire to pursue public sector careers committed to improving quality of life in underserved neighborhoods. Documenting this impact is essential evidence to support our claim that universities should expand opportunities for undergraduate field research in local, underserved communities. (we have 4 years of qualitative data but nothing published yet)

Bending the Curve: Participatory Climate Action in Underserved Urban Neighborhoods

The EarthLab has become a model of university-community partnerships for participatory climate action in underserved urban neighborhoods. EarthLab figured prominently in the 2015 report, Bending the Curve: 10 Scalable Solutions to Carbon Neutrality, vice-chaired by Groundwork Advisor, UCSD Professor Fonna Forman. The report identified 10 solutions to reducing carbon emissions that have been successful in California. It was commissioned by UC President Janet Napolitano, authored by 50 University of California researchers, and carried by Governor Jerry Brown to the COP-21 meetings in Paris. Bending the Curve presents the EarthLab, and Groundwork’s Chollas EcoVillage project, as a central case study of university-community partnerships for advanced energy solutions in California’s disadvantaged communities.

EarthLab was highlighted in further iterations of Bending the Curve, including a new University of California system-wide undergraduate course and MOOC focused on climate change solutions. This course now reaches hundreds of undergraduate students each year, with plans to scale to thousands in the years to come.

The EarthLab was also presented by UCSD Professor Fonna Forman at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Summit: Our Planet, Our Health, Our Responsibility in November 2-4 2017. In attendance were some of the world’s leading public health policy advocates and researchers, renowned scientists, as well as California Governor Jerry Brown and US Representative Scott Peters, among others.