Lia Ossanna, Environmental Science Major

Spring 2019 CALES Outstanding Senior

We nominated Lia for the Environmental Science Outstanding Senior Award because she is an exceptional student recognized at the national level by the American Society for Microbiology for her academic excellence and passion for research... and has been a critical asset to our environmental microbiology research program for three years.

- Dr. Julie Neilson and Dr. Katerina Dontsova, nominators 

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an Environmental Science major with minors in Sustainable Plant Systems and East Asian Studies.

I am from Tucson, Arizona and absolutely love the Sonoran Desert! In addition to school, I enjoy reading and creative writing. I try to be actively involved in politics and social justice movements that promote equality and highlight the voices of traditionally marginalized communities.

As an environmental scientist and advocate, I believe the broader dialogue surrounding environmental issues should be contextualized by the historical implications of colonialism and other inherently unequal institutions. On both a global and local level, people of color and lower socioeconomic status disproportionately suffer from climate change, which is detrimental to their health, safety and quality of life.

I want to use my degree to address these environmental justice concerns.

What have you enjoyed most about your major?

Environmental science draws from many disciplines and is relevant to everyone. We use creativity and interactions with the natural world to approach problems in novel ways. I like that environmental science emphasizes the connectivity between fields of science and the complexity of things we encounter every day, such as food systems and land use change. I’ve learned the mechanisms behind many processes I previously took for granted, like wastewater treatment and mining.

One of my favorite classes was Sustainable Management of Arid Lands taught by Dr. Jim Walworth. I liked that it pertained to agriculture in the Southwest and addressed problems specific to this region that I could recognize because I grew up here. It’s also especially relevant because globally the amount of arid and salt-affected lands is increasing with climate change and greater population demands. The class has a lab section involving several field trips, which provide a nice chance to get off campus and see pecan orchards.

Any clubs or leadership positions you enjoyed?

I was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in spring 2018. It funded a personal research project that became my Honors Thesis and gave me the chance to present at ASM’s national conference in June. 

I have also been actively involved in ASUA Students for Sustainability and UA Planned Parenthood Generation Action on campus. I learned a lot about community organizing and activism through these groups and am grateful I was given so many opportunities to volunteer and support issues I am passionate about.

Any scientific research you did?

I worked in Dr. Raina Maier’s lab for the past three years on a mining reclamation project. The UA Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining works with active mining companies to develop indicators of soil health that can guide revegetation processes.

Over the past year I have developed my own study examining nitrogen dynamics and fertility island effects of pioneer plant species. I love working in the lab – my lab group is a diverse group of wonderful people who taught and supported me greatly over my undergraduate career.  

Any study abroad?

I participated in study abroad programs to Namibia and Ecuador, both of which were amazing experiences I would highly recommend to those interested in conservation biology or who like adventure!

Next steps?

After graduation, I will work in Dr. Maier’s lab group and continue my research about mine revegetation and nitrogen cycling, as well as work on a large collaborative project examining rubber production from guayule, a plant native to the Southwest. I plan to apply for graduate school next year to continue studying soil science and agriculture in arid regions.

Words of advice?

Take time to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Your own health and well-being are extremely important!

Read more about Lia and other CALeS Spring 2019 Outstanding Seniors