Geography helped Cal State LA student understand the world
By Madeline Tondi
Cal State LA News Service
Christiana Saldana may have been born in Upland, but she was raised all across Los Angeles. She has lived in East L.A., Carson, Ontario and Pico Rivera, attended high school in Rancho Cucamonga, moved up north to Fresno, then moved back to Rancho Cucamonga and now resides in West Covina. She considers each place a chapter in her life.
“When people ask where I’m from, I say L.A., because I am,” Saldana says. “It’s hard to choose [a hometown] because I am so connected to L.A. now.”
The 23-year-old Saldana says her deep connection to Los Angeles helped her find her passion at California State University, Los Angeles. She will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Geography and a minor in geology. Though she was undeclared when she first stepped onto campus, Saldana enrolled in a general education course in physical geography and found a field she loved.
“It just really clicked,” she says. “I’ve always been kind of the wanderer and all of a sudden, I’m excelling in something that I absolutely love.”
Saldana says being able to see the real world connection in geography motivates her. Under the mentorship of Kris Bezdecny, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences and Environment, Saldana began to notice the rising rate of lofts being constructed in historic buildings downtown.
“I was just really curious about why and what kind of effects that was having,” Saldana says of the construction.
Her curiosity led her to begin a research project eventually titled “Loftification: The Refurbished Gentrification Dynamic.” Her work took her to Portland, Ore., where she presented at the 2016 Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. There, Saldana won the President’s Award for Outstanding Paper by an Undergraduate Student. She considers this a validating experience of her chosen career.
“Winning for something I worked so hard on and coming back to my department being really proud of me and my family being really proud of me … I felt this wave of feeling like I belong in what I’m doing,” she says.
Saldana presented the completed results of her research at the national level during the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Boston earlier this year.
After graduation, Saldana plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees. Influenced by her professors, especially Professor Bezdecny, she is also considering becoming a teacher.
“I might not inspire every student,” Saldana says, “but even the few that I can [inspire] to really look at their environment and to think about it and realize all the things that you can learn and all the paths that geography can set you on, I want to be a part of that.”