Camarillo, Calif., April 19, 2012 – Instead of spending her spring break lounging on the beach, CI senior Jessica Cortez joined 14 of her fellow students to help rebuild aquaculture oyster farms in a Japanese village devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Senior Ivett Plascencia headed to New Orleans to restore wetlands and create community food gardens for areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

And junior Suki Fukumoto went to Detroit to meet with auto industry executives and learn how U.S. car manufacturers are rebuilding and innovating.

Their spring break trips were actually service and travel learning experiences that form the basis for three innovative CSU Channel Islands courses.  The courses are aimed at helping students gain a first-hand understanding of complex world problems and the skills and dedication to help solve them.

“It was eye-opening,” said Cortez, a biochemistry major.  “I did not know much about Japanese culture before taking this class and I now have a profound appreciation for the people and the culture.  It was extremely gratifying to be able to contribute to something greater by helping the local oyster fisherman revive their business and encouraging them to have the strength to carry on in their recovery efforts.”

On Tuesday, April 24, from 4 to 7 p.m. in CI’s Broome Library, more than 40 students who participated in the trips will share their experiences, insights and discoveries with the campus community.  The students’ poster presentations will address topics ranging from how to promote eco-tourism in tsunami-stricken areas of Japan to levee failures, automotive production and jazz.

“These trips are primarily funded by the students’ Instructionally Related Activities fee,” said Dr. Simone Aloisio, Associate Professor of Chemistry, who led the trip to Japan.  “We ask the students to share their experiences and insights through presentations, so they can take part in a fun, educational event that gives back to the entire campus community.”

For Aloisio’s course, UNIV 392: Science and Technology in Japan, 15 students traveled to the Tohoku area of Japan, where a March 11, 2011, magnitude 9.0 earthquake caused tsunami waves more than 130 feet high and more than 15,000 deaths.

Students traveled to the fishing village of Karakuwa, near Kesennuma city in northern Miyagi prefecture.  The main industry of the village was fishing and aquaculture of oysters and seaweed, which was wiped out by the tsunami.  CI students made rope and tied oysters to the aquaculture lines, where they will grow over the next year or so.  They met and worked alongside villagers and other volunteers during the 10-day trip that included travel to Tokyo and Kyoto.

Twelve students headed to New Orleans with Dr. Sean Anderson, Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Resource Management, as part of ESRM 492: Service Learning in New Orleans.  The course and trip, now in their sixth year, allow students to work on restoration projects and assess the long-term ecological impacts of Hurricane Katrina and BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In addition to participating in swamp restoration monitoring, installing community food gardens and harvesting food, the students met each night with some of New Orleans’ most prominent musicians, authors, chefs and architects to get a sense of the local culture.

“It is quite simply transformational,” Anderson said.  “Many students describe it as the highlight to their college career.  These types of experiences really bring home the lessons and ideas described in our classrooms.  Many of our alumni have relocated to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast after graduation – either permanently or for short-term stints to work or volunteer with local agencies or nonprofit groups.  Two such relocated alumni actually joined us on this year’s trip.”

Fourteen students headed to Detroit with John Griffin, lecturer in the MVS School of Business & Economics, as part of UNIV 391: U.S. Travel Study Experience.  This semester’s course offers students an in-depth look at the recovery of the U.S. auto industry.  The class met with Ford and GM executives, visited an assembly line, observed crash tests, toured museums, explored blighted and revitalized neighborhoods, and convened with local business leaders and residents.

“The question that I was posing to students was: What did the auto industry learn from their bankruptcies and bailout?” Griffin said.  “We focused on studying innovations around fuel economy and safety.  It’s a great opportunity to get these students thinking about how they can become innovators in these two growing needs of personal transportation.”

Service and experiential learning is a cornerstone of the CSU Channel Islands mission.  The travel-based courses have proven to be influential in students’ future education and career goals.  Several students have returned to these communities after graduation to continue their work, service and study.

“Although we were only in Japan for a short period of time doing the work to help cultivate the oysters, our impact does not end there,” Cortez said.  “I am sure none of us will ever forget the experience we had there and we are determined to share our experience with as many people who will listen.  In doing this, we will increase awareness and, ultimately, have a greater impact.”

For more information, contact:
Dr. Simone Aloisio at 805-437-8999 or (Japan)
Dr. Sean Anderson at 805-437-8984 or (New Orleans)
Dr. John Griffin at 805-338-6036 or (Detroit)

(Photos for media are available upon request)

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About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands 
(CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI’s strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master’s degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more by visiting CI's Social Media.