Support NRES

Club Activities and Events

club involvement GET INVOLVED!
Check out CLUB events...

Preparing passionate leaders driving change in sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

  —Our Mission

NRES Outstanding Student of the Year Awards

Each year the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department recognizes an Outstanding Student of the Year within each program. Students are nominated and selected by NRES faculty and are recognized for their exemplary contributions to the department.

2023 Recipients

Sarah RamirezSarah Ramirez (Environmental Earth and Soil Science, ’23), traces her interest in natural resources back to high school, when she took an FFA Soil Chemistry class and an AP Environmental Science class. Through these classes, she learned she enjoyed work that allowed her to travel and be outside. This appreciation for career possibilities in natural resources continued to develop throughout her time at Cal Poly and has grown into a passion for sustainable agriculture, soil research and restoration.

As a Cal Poly student, Ramirez embraced opportunities to get involved beyond the classroom and build community. She was a member of the Latinos in Agriculture club, served as a student assistant for the University Academic Programs and Planning department and worked as a teaching assistant in SS 221: Soil Health and Plant Nutrition.

She also worked with Charlotte Decock, associate professor of soil science, conducting research on algae as a biofuel. This experience prepared her for a summer agronomy internship with a corporate farm in Eastern Washington, where she was able to conduct her own research on soils and fertilizer.

Ramirez described her involvement in the Environmental Sciences Club (ESC) has been one of the highlights of her time at Cal Poly. She participated as a member, club secretary, and served as co-president her senior year. She is proud of the growth the club experienced and said it has been rewarding to see the involvement in club meetings and events increase substantially.

Her involvement in the club, her engagement as an NRES Student Advisory Committee member, her efforts as a teaching assistant and her willingness to volunteer her time in supporting the department and other students are some of the qualities described in her nomination. In her free time, Ramirez enjoys playing tennis, cooking with her family and exploring new hiking trails.

She aims to become a certified crop advisor so she can advise growers on soil conservation practices. With the goal of working for an organization like the Natural Resources Conservation Service, she hopes to promote awareness and foster a network for farmers to practice soil conservation.

Ramirez advises current students “to find clubs and build community around campus to build connections with fellow students. These friendships really contribute to college memories that you’ll remember for a long time.”

Skyler McKinnonSkyler McKinnon’s (Environmental Management and Protection, ’23), interest in environmental science started in an AP Environmental Science class in her junior year of high school. McKinnon, a resident of Los Gatos, California, knew she wanted to pursue a career in science, and she liked how environmental science was a little mix of everything, including biology, chemistry and physics.

She took a botany class and fell in love with plants. She decided to incorporate as much plant science into her degree as possible, which led to an increased interest in restoration ecology and biology and ultimately inspired her to pursue a minor in biology.

McKinnon’s love for botany motivated her to get more involved in research so she could expand her understanding of plant science and build upon her research and field experience. In the summer of 2021, she participated in Cal Poly’s Frost Summer Undergraduate Research Program, assisting a graduate student studying the community assembly of wildflowers that grow on clay soils in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

She gained valuable experience working as a teaching assistant for many professors in both NRES and biology departments. Her stint as a teaching assistant for an Environmental Impact Analysis and Management class propelled McKinnon into a lab instructor position for NR 416: Environmental Impact Analysis in spring 2023. In this role, McKinnon taught students about national environmental policy and California environmental policy acts and how these acts are applied to environmental and natural resource management problems and projects, as well as how to prepare environmental assessment proposals and documents.

"Skyler regularly leads teams of her peers in group projects, producing superior products,” said an award nominator. “Her mastery of concepts across disciplines has allowed her to be an instructional student assistant in dendrology, field botany and environmental impact analysis. She is an exceptional student who is respected by her peers and trusted by her professors.”

McKinnon could often be found studying at her favorite campus study spots or any local coffee shop, but during her free time, she enjoys being outdoors, hiking, cooking and baking with her friends.

Her close work with professors helped McKinnon network with professionals in industry. During the summer of 2022, she interned as a botanist at Terra Verde Environmental Consulting, and that internship led her to a full-time position with SWCA Environmental Consultants as an assistant staff biologist.

McKinnon suggests that students get to know their professors, who are great connections for networking and getting in touch with industry professionals. “There’s a lot of opportunity in this program to make it what you want,” she said, emphasizing the importance of “exploring all the classes Cal Poly has to offer.”

Mary CizinMary Cizin (Forestry and Natural Resources, ’23) is a first-generation college student from Susanville, a rural town in Northern California. Little did she know that joining an FFA forestry team her senior year of high school would lead her to pursue a career in the forestry industry.

During her time at Cal Poly, Cizin maintained a full schedule. In addition to keeping up with her coursework and working a part-time job, she embraced numerous opportunities to engage in programs such as the Rangeland Management Club; Packing Enterprise, which teaches how to pack a load onto a horse or mule; FFA State Finals forestry contest; and the Logging Team.

Halfway through her sophomore year, Cizin joined the Logging Team and found an “inclusive and supportive” community that “encourages people to try new things.” She embraced the Logging Team wholeheartedly, serving as treasurer, arranging many of the travel logistics for members to attend the national collegiate competition in Oregon and competing in various events.

Her nomination for this award included the leadership qualities and work ethic she displayed through her participation in the Logging Team, her role as co-chair of the FFA State Finals Forestry Contests and her work in the department office.

Outside of her many Cal Poly-related activities, Cizin enjoys spending time cooking, running, fishing, gardening and working outdoors.

Months before graduation, she accepted a full-time position with FWS Forestry and began one week after Spring Commencement. Her plan is to gain the additional knowledge and experience needed to become a registered professional forester. Her long-term goal is to write timber harvest plans for a private timber company.

Cizin’s advice to current Cal Poly students is to “join things. If you like something, let yourself ‘like to learn,’ and ‘nerd out’ on the classes you enjoy. Don’t stress over the hard classes.” She encourages students to value the time out of the classroom where you can get “boots on the ground” experience.


2022 Recipients

Madison Glenn has been named Cal Poly’s NRES Department 2022 Student of the Year for her outstanding work as an Environmental Earth and Soil Science (EESS) major. Growing up in Santa Rosa, California, Madison’s friends would describe her as hardworking, empathetic, and creative. When she’s not playing the piano, flute, or ukulele, you can find Madison hard at work in the Kennedy library. Her empathy has always extended towards the natural world, and is the driving factor behind her chosen career path. She spent her first two years at Cal Poly involved in Engineers for a Sustainable World, a project-based club focused on improving, exploring, or developing sustainable technologies. But Madison’s campus involvement doesn’t stop there! She was also a member of the Cal Poly Spanish Club for two and a half years. Her love for the language since the 7th grade helped her pursue an interdisciplinary minor in Spanish. Her minor propelled her success into a translation role with the TRIO Achievers program, known as Student Support Services (SSS). Madison also has loved her time as Chair of Cal Poly’s Soil Judging Team, where she placed 5th in the 2021 Fall Regional Soil Judging Competition. Later that spring, Madison helped her team place 10th overall in a competition of over 20 teams from universities across the nation at the National Soil Judging Competition in Marysville, Ohio.Madison has involved herself in two different research projects during her time as an undergraduate. Later, Madison went on to work as an Undergraduate Research Assistant on David Feldtkeller’s master’s thesis which aims to study the effects of cover cropping on greenhouse gas emissions and agriculture. Last summer, she worked as a researcher for the National Science Foundation with a professor at Fresno state on developing a soil quality index. She performed soil surveys for Tulare county, presenting these surveys in the form of a final thesis paper and scientific poster with a focus on GIS soil mapping. After graduating in the spring of 2022, Madison hopes to work in restoration ecology, conservation, or environmental consulting. Even though Madison started out as an ENVM major at the beginning of her freshman year, she says she has “never questioned whether switching to EESS was the right decision”. She credits her decision to switch majors early on to her love for soil science. If prompted to give advice to any person entering her major, Madison says “The people in this department want you to do well. Take advantage of this kindness, and let it help you build a community of interesting and intelligent people. You won’t regret it.”

Hope Springer has been named Cal Poly’s NRES Department 2022 Student of the Year for her dynamic work as an Environmental Management and Protection (ENVM) major. Her journey towards environmental management started six years ago in her hometown of Tacoma,Washington. There, Hope took a high school AP Environmental Science course that opened her eyes to food system ecology. This peaked interest in agricultural sustainability propelled Springer’s undergraduate career. Her freshman year, Hope worked on the Cal Poly Organic Farm. After this, she worked as a Student Undergraduate Researcher for Swanton Pacific Ranch,where she helped write a comprehensive sustainability framework for the ranch’s rebuild after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Hope says this position at Swanton helped kickstart her understanding of the intersection between community and Earth’s natural resources.  Hope was then voted the Cal Poly ASI Secretary of Sustainability for the 2020-2021 school year. During her term, Hope sat on both the Sustainability Advisory Committee and Academic Senate Sustainability Committee. She helped Cal Poly host a weekly sustainability round table and networking events geared towards job/volunteer opportunities in the field of sustainability and environmental sciences. She also worked for the city of San Luis Obispo as a student representative, helping act as the city’s student voice during an update of their general plan for resilience. Hope says her position with the city of San Luis Obispo in combination with Dr.Verma’s course on Conflict Management in Natural Resources taught her how to better assert herself in a professional setting. In her time as an undergraduate, Hope also interned for Green Campus, who in partnership with Cal Poly focused on sustainability initiatives with The Facilities Energy, Utilities, and Sustainability team. These initiatives focused on campus-wide environmental education, and included both the 2021 Sustainability Month and 2022 Earth Week. Hope credits some of her success to Dr. Babin’s Agroecology course, where she was first introduced to the social implications of a dying food system. After graduating in spring of 2022,Hope has plans to travel during her summer to Greece, Italy, France and Spain. She will continue her studies as a master’s student with the Cal Poly Environmental Sciences and Management Masters Program in the fall of 2022. Fighting climate change is at the forefront of Hope’s goals in a post-graduate career. If given the chance, Hope would encourage any student entering her major to take advantage of this department’s passion from both students and faculty alike. “This major, this department, these people, they are unlike any other. You have the chance here to make a tangible difference! Don’t let it slip away.” says Hope.

Emily Nash was awarded 2022 Student of the Year for the Earth & Soil Science Major. Emily’s hobbies include hamocking, reading, and going to the beach to collect cool rocks and dried flowers. She is a dedicated, easygoing and organized scientist with a passion for our soils and the motivation to put in the work. During Emily’s time at Cal Poly, her most significant undergraduate experience thus far has been as a member of the NRES Advisory Council. Additionally, she truly enjoyed her time as a peer advisor and research assistant on campus. When asked about her favorite part of the job Emily highlighted that, “making sure students are able to get the most out of their education and graduate on time is the best part about the job.” As passionate as she is about peer advising, Emily also loves studying our soil and recalled Soil Morphology with Dr.Wilson as one of her most impactful classes. Emily also spoke glowingly about the support from knowledgeable faculty in the department like Dr. Sistla and Dr. Telesetsky who have helped shape her experience at Cal Poly. Also emphasized was how Cal Poly’s job opportunities, the faculty and staff in the NRES department, and her experience with the Advisory Board really made her college experience and have opened up the doors for the beginning of her professional career.Emily’s advice to incoming freshmen was, “Just get involved in something that you like,because if you find something that you really enjoy, everything else will come from that, and even if it doesn’t quite work out, it will always open up another door. Emily’s goals post-graduation next year include getting a job with the NRCS working on soil sustainability in California and possibly nationwide. We then shared a chat about the importance of having educated soil scientists at the forefront of environmental policy,and when asked about any final shout outs, she said she had to thank Meagan Groom for hiring her as a peer advisor, and found her a great resource for any academic help on campus.

Kase Arkeder was awarded 2022 Student of the Year for the Forest & Fire Science Major. Kase’s favorite hobbies include anything that gets him outside, like hiking, running, and going to the beach to enjoy the beauty that San Luis Obispo has to offer. He is a loyal,funny and driven forester with an understanding of our California forest systems and the motivation to unite like-minded individuals to work together. During Kase’s time at Cal Poly, he was an active member of three unique clubs including President of Fire Ecology Club (SAFE), the Society of American Foresters (SAF), and the Logging team.When asked about his most significant undergraduate experiences, he said that he’s most proud of, “Getting the SAFE club back on campus after having seen the club motivation slow down through COVID. It’s home to a great group of people so I had to make sure we kept it going.” As passionate as he is about fire ecology, Kase also thoroughly enjoyed NR 141 - Intro to Forest Ecosystem Management, and is thankful to Professor Maurica Fitzgibbons for having inspired him to join the forestry clubs on campus after her glowing recommendations for all three that he became involved with. As a graduating senior, Kase spoke of his college experience fondly, mentioning that there were lots of amazing faculty within the NRES department that were instrumental in shaping his college experience, citing that, “having not been at Cal Poly for as long as most people, and even those who are here from the start, it’s a quick 4 years, so I had to make the most of it.” When asked what he will miss most about his time as a student, he shared that, “As forestry is a pretty small major, you happen to see a lot of the same people in your classes, and get to grow a lot of meaningful relationships, which make all of the courses that much better through those interactions. You develop a sense of family, which makes it harder when it comes to saying good bye.” His best advice to incoming freshmen is to, “Just say yes to all opportunities. There are so many opportunities, so many things to do, just say yes and try it out. Even if you don't like it, you’ll learn that, and in the future you can do something else. Most likely along the way you’ll discover a lot of awesome activities, meet a great community and have the chance to find new interests.” While his initial goals when going into the major were to follow a career in Wildland Fire Suppression, Kase’s post-graduation plans have grown after finding interest in studying forestry into pursuing a career in private timber management.


2021 Recipients

Alex FloresAlex Flores is the 2021 Student of the Year for the Forestry and Natural Resources major. While staying busy with classes, Alex also immersed himself in many of the natural resources clubs on campus. Alex served as president of Cal Poly’s Society of American Foresters Student Chapter during the 2020-2021 year. He is also finishing up his role as the student state representative for California's college SAF chapters. The Society of American Foresters is a professional club for forestry and natural resources students that is focused on networking and professional development . Additionally, Alex was also a part of Cal Poly’s logging team, serving as treasurer during his junior year. When he wasn’t busy studying or working with the Society of American Foresters or the logging team, he liked to catch up on sleep. Alex’s most memorable times during his four years at Cal Poly were the field trips he took to Swanton Pacific Ranch and the Valencia Creek Property for different FNR classes, such as silviculture. Additionally, he enjoyed his time spent at and travelling to SAF conventions and logging team competitions. Alex’s favorite logging team activity was log burling, which is where two opponents run on a log spinning it and reversing direction in an attempt to make the other person fall off. During his time at Cal Poly, Alex had the opportunity to work with Dr. Richard Cobb researching forest health -specifically stand composition changes in fir and pine forests in California. His research is part of a CSU sponsored fellowship grant, and Alex and Dr. Cobb plan to present the completed report at the end of the quarter. Alex also shared how influential Maurica Fitzgibbons was as an advisor for SAF and on the logging team. Alex not only learned from her experiences, but was inspired by her involvement in the extracurricular lives of students. When asked what he will miss the most about Cal Poly, Alex replied “I didn’t realize how much I liked going to school until I realized I had to leave”. Besides his curiosity, the memories of working with his classmates toward common goals is a comradeship Alex has and will continue to value. He will also miss talking to all his professors and seeing his friends His advice for incoming freshmen is simple and straightforward: just show up. Alex emphasizes that if you want to be a part of something, just continue to show up and commit. “I just kept showing up, this is how I got to know people and became invested.” After graduation, Alex will be working with CalFire in the LaTour State Demonstration Forest which is located near Redding, California. He is excited to start the Forestry Aide position in June.

Gissella QuirogaGissella Quiroga was awarded Student of the Year for the Environmental Management
and Protection Major for the 2021 year. She has a motto that she learned from her father, “you learn something new every day, even if it is something small.” It is a life lesson that she tries to keep at the forefront of her mind as she goes through life. She is an avid volleyball player, while not the most experienced camper, has a real joy for it and truly has a love for Forestry being an active member of SAF (Society of American Foresters). Despite initially feeling nervous about SAF she became a prominent member where she has made a lot of friends and connections. Gissella references three professors specifically as steering her development and standing out as ones she felt a particular connection to. She remembers Professor Miranda Canestro discussing the way she viewed the ocean and how it stuck with Gissella to hear Canestro’s passion for the subject anddescription of what is seemingly something we take for granted from a perspective that  is largely landbased. Dr. Cousins is another professor who had a wealth of knowledge and love for her field, silviculture, that stuck with Gisella. The first quarter Gissella met Professor Cousins she was enrolled in both NR 206 and NR 365 with her, and felt she was such a deep store of information who was also possessed of an exceptional ability to relay what she knew to those trying to learn. The third professor that really stuck with Gissella was Dr. Richard Cobb. She has only taken NR 402 with him, but he is also her ARI fellowship mentor, and as such she has gained quite a bit from him in regard to learning opportunities and experience in forestry. She credits him with truly being a catalyst for inspiring her to pursue her Master’s Degree in a field related to forest ecology, forest health or silviculture. Gissella’s eagerness to learn and grow has played a vital role in earning her the ENVM Student of the Year honor.  Unsurprisingly, some of her best memories at Cal Poly stem from academic experiences. Notably the relationships she built with her peers taking NR 315 followed by NR 365 in the following quarter, their dedication to excelling in these classes lead to as she says, “Someone named room 105 of building 11, the 315 Dungeon because of the countless hours we spent in that room (it was our lab room for 315, 365 and 414).” This mentality has been a constant through Gisella’s academic career at Cal Poly and is something she looks forward to implementing in her professional career when she graduates at the end of Spring 2021. She will be working for Cal Fire for the next nine months as a Forestry Aid at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest, and her future plans to attend Graduate School to attain her Master’s degree starting in the Fall of 2022. Her fellow Cal Poly peers wish her the best of unneeded luck on her academic and career paths.

Justin LackJustin Lack is the 2021 Student of the Year for the Environmental Earth and Soil Sciences major within the NRES Department. Justin is honored to be named Student of the Year and believes the award is a greater reflection of the collective support he generously received from faculty, staff, and students in the NRES department. He would like to give special thanks to his professors Dr. Nishi Rajakaruna, Dr. Chip Appel, and Dr. Bwayla Malama for the countless office hours, advising sessions, and amazing research opportunities that allowed him to flourish in his education and learning. During his time at Cal Poly, Justin was involved with clubs such as Cru, the Environmental Science Club, Association of Environmental Professionals, Peaks, Plants, & Pals, and assisted several professors with their research. Justin highly recommends incoming and current students to check out campus clubs as they allow you to learn through volunteer and leadership opportunities and connect with new friends. His most memorable experience at Cal Poly was his summer internship at Swanton Pacific Ranch. For him, this was a culminating experience as he could apply his learning from all his classes such as soil science, hydrology, forestry, geology, botany, agriculture, and GIS. He also became bonded with the ranch and his fellow interns. He hopes that more students in the future can live, learn, and work at Swanton and have similar transformative educational opportunities. Justin's Cal Poly education with NRES allowed him to explore numerous environmental and social topics that helped him discover his passion. During his time here at Cal Poly, he cultivated a deep care for environmental justice and community activism. In the future, Justin hopes to serve in the Peace Corps as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Panama and later pursue his master’s degree in International Development. His long-term career goals are to continue working in Latin America as a United Nations Environment Programme Officer and partner alongside community nonprofits to support their environmental development goals; namely using agroforestry as a tool to combat climate change, and environmental degradation, and rural poverty. As of right now, Justin is looking forward to spending quality time with his family, playing soccer with his niece and nephew, and cooking homemade pizzas with his brother. Justin’s time at Cal Poly has been amazing and full of accomplishments. He is excited for all the incoming students to start their journey at Cal Poly. Justin’s message to his peers and incoming students is: “You have my best wishes, I believe in you!”

Related Content

Support NRES

  • club activities

    Focused on students
    NRES provides an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

  • SURP Students


    Hands On Learning
    NRES students from all majors get hands on experience.


support NRES

How You can Help

Advising & Forms

cap and tasselStudents have access to CAFES Academic Advisors as well as faculty in their major.


More on Advising


Office Hours

clockOpen: M - F 8am - 5pm
Closed: 12pm-1pm for lunch
Location: 180-209


Contact NRES