ECC Geology Student Juggles Fieldwork, Class Work and Presents Award-Winning Research

ECC Geology Student Juggles Fieldwork, Class Work and Presents Award-Winning Research

El Camino College geology major Javaria Aziz isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when digging into her research work. As a collections assistant at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Javaria is working on an independent research project near Carpinteria where a team of scientists is discovering new information about the area. 

Part of her work includes digging up fossils that range from 1 to 2 million years old. She then brings them to a lab and washes away all sediment so the fossils can be identified, cataloged and studied.

“This kind of research helps us study the age of this site, so if an animal is 2 million years old we can also study the paleoecology of these animals and we can learn that they were a shallow water species,” said Javaria, who is currently looking into a future research project to study the sediment, including its properties and origins.

“We can further understand the environment back then – this area was part of the ocean, part of the Santa Barbara Basin. This research proves what this particular area looked like, which has never been studied before. Every part of it is interesting!” 

Javaria’s field work crosses over into her class work and she will present her award award-winning research at the annual Honors Transfer Council of California Student Research Conference at UC Irvine this spring. She has already twice presented "Biodiversity and Paleoecology of Plio-Pliestocene Marine Molluscs, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County, California," based on data she gathered with the museum project. She works at the Natural History Museum’s Invertebrate Paleontology Research and Collections Facility in Gardena, where she previously was an intern for two years.

The internship program is supported by a National Science Foundation grant and welcomes students from colleges and universities. Many students from El Camino College and CSU Dominguez Hills already take advantage of this opportunity to work with the extensive collection so close to campus. 

“We are pleased to provide this internship for students. We want this to be a meaningful relationship – that is, we give students an opportunity to expand their learning beyond the classroom and they are able to assist us to accomplish our project goals,” said Collections Manager Austin Hendy, who supervises the internship program and the significant collection, the third largest of its kind in the U.S.

“Javaria is doing a fantastic job, she definitely has the enthusiasm, ambition and motivation to succeed. We try to mentor students, so they can take advantage of opportunities they might not otherwise know about. Javaria was looking for an independent study project, we pitched the idea for her research, and she ran with it. We also look for our students to participate in outreach and go into the community to show what we are doing. Javaria does just that. She also has great mentors at El Camino College who are very supportive – she will do well, and I am interested to see how she progresses.” 

Javaria traveled to Seattle with Natural History Museum staff this past fall to present research findings at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting. The conference brought together about 7,000 geologists from around the world.

In addition, Javaria was selected by the Paleontological Society, an international organization of several thousand paleontologists, to be one the group’s first “Student Ambassadors.” She received a scholarship from the Paleontological Society that fully funded her attendance at the conference and was the first student from El Camino College in about 15 years to present at a Geological Society of America meeting.

“Javaria is the perfect example of a student who can succeed way beyond expectations, given the opportunities available at El Camino College,” said ECC earth sciences professor Joe Holliday, who is also a noted geologist, researcher and naturalist with National Geographic. “She already has more on her academic resume than most students at the university level.”

Javaria also presented her research at the Western Society of Malacologists’ 50th Annual Meeting, where she won first prize in the “poster presentation” category.

“Ever since I was in third grade, I’ve loved the mountains,” said Javaria, who even rock climbs as a hobby. “I loved my student atlas and maps and everything about rocks. I always wanted to be outdoors and study the earth. And here I am doing that. I definitely love working in research and I love geology. There is just so much you can to do with a geology degree.”

Javaria will graduate from El Camino College in June and plans to transfer to a university in fall 2018. She is a teaching assistant at ECC, a member of the Honors Transfer Program, and is also president of the college’s very active Science Club, which has trips to Death Valley and national parks in Utah planned for the upcoming spring semester. She also arranged several tours of the Invertebrate Paleontology collection for ECC geology majors during the past two years.

“El Camino College is a great school and I love the Earth Science Department,” she said. “It is big, but small enough to feel like a family. The faculty know us, and we know each other. Also, the field classes are amazing, there are so many opportunities for field work, which is crucial for a geology major. It’s amazing that a community college could offer a such a big variety of field classes.”

February 28, 2018