By Emily Cobar, Greenhouse Program Alumna, and Stacey Vigallon, Director of Environmental Education

Emily Cobar (on the far left) was part of the very first cohort of Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program Interns in 2008

Emily Cobar (on the far left) was part of the very first cohort of Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program Interns in 2008.

The Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program is now in its eighth year, and we are thrilled to see our students move on to bigger adventures academically and career-wise. But, we’re even more thrilled when they come back! Bringing new skill sets, ideas, and motivation as early-career professionals, our alumni have become an essential component to our environmental education, habitat restoration, and bird monitoring programs. Emily Cobar was a member of the very first cohort in the Greenhouse Program in 2008, spending her junior and senior years of high school in our program. She completed her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz, served as an Environment for the Americas Shorebird Intern, and now works for Los Angeles Audubon. In the narrative below, Emily describes the role that nature has played in shaping her career goals.

Emily’s project during her senior year of high school while in the Greenhouse Program was to develop a restoration plan for this section of Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park. Since that time, hundreds of volunteer hours have been spent restoring this area of the park.

Emily’s project during her senior year of high school while in the Greenhouse Program was to develop a restoration plan for this section of Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park. Since that time, hundreds of volunteer hours have been spent restoring this area of the park.

If I look at my drawings of what I wanted to be when I’m all grown up that I did at age eleven, I would see a lawyer, a model, and a photographer. Not either/or, but all of those professions at the same time. However, it all changed when I had my very first connection to the natural world. In eleventh grade, I had the opportunity to attend a backpacking trip at Yosemite with eleven other students. I was inspired by our two leaders who taught us how to survive in the wilderness and taught us the history of Yosemite. They were so knowledgeable and seemed so passionate about teaching students about nature. At the end of the trip, I remembered that I wanted to be just like them - bridging the gap between inner-city kids and their connection to nature.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have Guatemalan roots. When I think of my connection to nature during my childhood it would be roller-skating through an urban park with my brother and catching lizards in our backyard. We didn’t do much camping or hiking, but we spent a lot of our time outdoors, stayed in the city. In high school, I became involved with the Eco-club where we ran an in-school recycling program and engaged in the school garden. Through this program, I developed a love for the environment and wanted to do as much as I could to keep it safe for both people and animals. The Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program got started my eleventh grade year. I applied to this competitive program and became an intern for two years until the end of my high school career. My first year I conducted an experiment on Prickly Pear Cactus seeds to study germination rates. My second year I developed a restoration plan for a site at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Park with another intern. This was the first I was engaged with science and community and decided I wanted to go in the field of science.

As an Environmental Studies major, Emily participated in UC Santa Cruz’s competitive Natural History Field Quarter program. This program engages a small team of students in travel to and study of ecosystems throughout California, with students camping and backpacking for most of the quarter.

As an Environmental Studies major, Emily participated in UC Santa Cruz’s competitive Natural History Field Quarter program. This program engages a small team of students in travel to and study of ecosystems throughout California, with students camping and backpacking for most of the quarter.

In high school, I was heavily involved with many programs such as Upward Bound, Leadership, the Young Lawyers Program and also played tennis. I was always active and that habit stuck with me through college. Ever since I got to UC Santa Cruz I sought opportunities to volunteer, work, or study in the field. In 2011, I interned at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, where I was later hired and worked until I graduated. While working at the Arboretum, I networked with staff and professors and other students. In 2012, the former director of the Arboretum, Brett Hall, advised me to apply for the California Naturalist Program. I was granted a scholarship for the program that engages the community, science, and environmental stewardship. We had fieldtrips following lectures on various topics, such as geology, ornithology, herpetology, hydrology, etc. I enjoyed learning about the natural world and I began using my naturalists skills every single day since the program, including observing, journaling, sketching and so on. 

After graduating from UCSC, Emily was selected to participate in the Environment for the Americas Celebrate Shorebirds internship in 2015. Here, she is pictured at an Earth Day tabling event in Downtown Los Angeles with Los Angeles Audubon board member Robert Jeffers, Director of Environmental Education Stacey Vigallon, and Environment for the Americas Coordinator Natasha Kerr.

After graduating from UCSC, Emily was selected to participate in the Environment for the Americas Celebrate Shorebirds internship in 2015. Here, she is pictured at an Earth Day tabling event in Downtown Los Angeles with Los Angeles Audubon board member Robert Jeffers, Director of Environmental Education Stacey Vigallon, and Environment for the Americas Coordinator Natasha Kerr.

My third year in college I heard about Natural History Field Quarter that UCSC offers each spring. Students in this field-based class develop their naturalists skills while learning about California’s flora, fauna, land, and resource management first hand. This was an amazing experience to enhance my naturalist skills with 27 other students with similar interests and values. We didn’t just learn from nature and from our two wonderful professors but from each other. However, one thing I noticed from this group was that I was the only person of color. I also noticed that the UCSC Environmental Studies Department didn’t have that many people of color either. One of my conclusions as to the reason for this was that not many urban people of color are exposed to the natural sciences or find their connection to nature. After I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A in Environmental Studies, I moved back to my hometown, Los Angeles, and aspired to inspire young naturalists.

Earlier this year, I was offered an internship with Environment for the Americas, an organization that focuses on migratory bird conservation and education, in partnership with Los Angeles Audubon. Through this internship I conducted shorebird surveys and outreached in community events about the importance of birds. I also guided nature walks in various locations including the LA Arboretum and my community’s local urban park, Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. The best part of this internship for me was networking with other LA-based organizations with the same interest and values. For example, I met people from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and LA Rooted who fight for community health and the environment. One of my proud accomplishments would be guiding families from the Central American Resource Center in nature walks in Kenneth Hahn Park, Debs Park, Franklin Canyon, and the LA Arboretum. That way it wasn’t only outreach to kids but their parents, most of whom grew up in rural areas in Central American countries. At the end of the day, we would reflect on the trip and parents had great appreciation for the natural areas within the city. Their words of gratitude always inspired me to continue in environmental education and outreach.

The internship ended at the end of July, and since then I have been working full-time with LA Audubon. I work with Carlos Jauregui, who was a former intern with Environment for the Americas and who I have also worked with at the Audubon Center in Debs Park’s Summer Day Camp in 2013. We work on habitat restoration projects in Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Kenneth Hahn Park, conduct California Least Tern and Snowy Plover surveys, and work in environmental education. Every week we work with Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program students in habitat restoration and engage them in community events while connecting to the natural world. It is great to lead students in the program I once was part of and I really hope to help inner-city youth develop naturalist skills. When I was in high school, I saw nature as an escape from “reality” but now I see how nature is part of our reality and there are ways to connect with nature in the city. I feel blessed and am grateful for all the people I’ve met through my internships and jobs.

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