Student Spotlight: LeAnn Zuniga

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
Picture of LeAnn

Major/Minor: Geology, Environmental Geosciences

College and Year: Natural and Social Sciences, 3rd Year

What are your future career goals?
To become a researcher for a government entity such as National Parks Service, USGS, etc. I am interested in hydrogeology and effects of water use on habitats.

What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
I am an Honors Ambassador, an officer for the Cal State LA chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, part of the Student Health Advisory Committee, and an officer in the Geosciences Club on campus.

Research experience name, location (city), and brief overview of your responsibilities:
Research Experience for Undergraduates, a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded program, at the University of Hawaiˈi, Mānoa in Honolulu, Hawaiˈi. I worked on a hydrology project one-on-one with Dr. Aly El-Kadi titled “Experimental and modeling assessment of dispersive characteristics of porous media”. We used analytical models and lab experiments to assess dispersion of non-reactive contaminants in porous media.

When do you/did you begin this research experience?
I began this research on June 5 and presented on August 4, 2017.

  LeAnn near Magma  LeAnn with rock

What outcome did you expect from your research?
I hoped to gain research experience in the field of hydrology and to contribute to what is known about dispersion and dispersive characteristics in groundwater that is stored in porous media and to help develop better field methods for assessing these on-site.

What inspired you to focus on this research topic?
I am interested in hydrology because it is a very important field of the geosciences. We all use and need water and how we manage this precious resource is important for our health and for the health of the environment. I was also selected for this project out of 9 other projects in the program this year.

What has been your greatest challenge during your research?
Working through problems when they never seem to end. Scientific research is more about failing and figuring out what does not work and less about the actual “breakthrough”. I also had a steep learning curve and had to learn a lot of technical hydrology methods and their applications in a 9-week period.

What tips can you give other students in your major?
Experience in any branch of geology can be extremely valuable to what you are interested in, even if it does not seem all that related. Geology is a huge field and each branch often relies on other branches, so don’t rule out experiences or opportunities just because they don’t seem to fit your interest. You can still learn a lot and will probably end up applying some of that knowledge to whatever it is you are actually interested in.

How has this experience affected your career goal and ambitions?
I have come to appreciate the importance of modeling in hydrology, but I also learned that I definitely want to pursue research that involves more field work. The experience in general was one big affirmation that I have chosen a career path that I know I will always enjoy.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I have been practicing martial arts for most of my life, and also enjoy training for obstacle course races such as Spartan Races and Tough Mudders.

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For more information on REU by the National Science Foundation: 
https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/