Kristen Monteverde

kristen monteverdeProfessor Monteverde teaches geography and sustainability classes at San Diego State University. She holds mentor meetings for students in environmental-related fields on Mondays at 6pm. Her passion for people, the environment, and helping students shines through in this spotlight where we discuss Professor Monteverde’s love for sustainability, work in storm water, experience teaching, and advice for students.

How did you become interested in sustainability?

“At first I didn’t have a word for it. Growing up we had to make do with what we had and lived in a sustainable way before actually knowing what that term meant. As I got older and I heard more about sustainability, I realized that these were practices that my family had been doing for a really long time. I first became interested in sustainability in high school. Learning more about the environment just lit a passion for these types of topics especially because I loved the ocean. I was becoming aware that this was a resource we had to protect not only for environmental purposes but also for social purposes. That got me first interested in sustainability and that’s the first time it resonated with me.”

What do you love about sustainability?

“I love the idea of sustainability because it incorporates every aspect of life. It incorporates my passion for people through subjects like environmental justice and social justice and then it also incorporates my love and passion for the environment. One of the things that I absolutely love about sustainability is that we can get perspectives from all different backgrounds and each one is valid. For example, in my classes I try to provide another perspective that some people might not associate with sustainability.”

“Something else I just love about sustainability is it provides a different perspective to solving some of our most pressing issues. It’s really multi-faceted. In my classes I talk about an environmental problem and how that environmental problem is not just isolated, it’s also connected to some of the social issues that we see. For example, when we are looking at wetlands, we cover how they provide a service for us that we as taxpayers need to protect. Otherwise, we are going to be paying a lot more money to filter water somewhere down the line. It’s to our benefit to live sustainably and I think it provides a really unique lens to solving some of these issues that we are facing now as a society.”

Could you tell us about your work in storm water?

“Being an undergraduate at San Diego State, I was in Geography 584, which was a GIS class. We had the opportunity to partner with The Sage Project and the City of Santee to collect locations of private storm drain inlets. The city of Santee wanted to map these locations to track illicit discharges. Cities have the responsibility of protecting the waterbodies that flow through them and for Santee, it was the San Diego river. They wanted to be able to track illegal discharges to the river through private storm drain inlets as a way to maintain the water quality that was required of them.”

“That really opened my eyes to what storm water is. Any water, whether there’s a storm or not, that’s running over the surface of our urban or vegetated landscapes is considered storm water. That water is not treated before it enters our creeks, our rivers, and then eventually our oceans. Water is really good at picking up pollutants, especially in an urban environment. Those pollutants could be brake pad dust, drips from your car, and much more. That project made the connection to me of coastal water quality, which I was always really passionate about, being so impacted and affected by the practices of people inland.”

“I got an internship with the City of Santee after we presented our final project and I worked with them for two years, which was such a great experience. For any development projects that were going on and for businesses on the day-to-day operation, we were able to have a voice to enforce policies and laws of protecting water quality, making sure that these projects were being done in a sustainable way.” 

Could you tell us about your experience teaching sustainability and geography?

“It’s been such a blessing and such a good experience. I knew I wanted to teach in 2014 when I was at Grossmont College. The professors there were so encouraging of students and they made the environment so welcoming. I love teaching geography and I love teaching sustainability. Both are very broad disciplines and that’s something I really like about them. I love focusing on the 3 Es in sustainability (environment, equity, and economics) because you get to focus on a number of different environmental issues and look at how those issues interact with the social and also the economic components of reality. Another thing I really like teaching about sustainability is the inclusion of different perspectives. These issues aren’t just environmental, they are inherently social as well. The equity component is huge to me and just as equal as the environment.”

“I love geography. It allows us to look at really complex social and environmental issues and see ourselves as nested in this complex system. My favorite class to teach is Physical Geography because I love deepening students' understanding of how earth operates. Learning about topics like climate change allows students to become more knowledgeable and aware of their impact on the environment. It's encouraging to see how a greater appreciation of our physical earth creates more passionate and engaged students.”

"Education really can and does transform lives. I am so encouraged by our students and am amazed to see what they have accomplished. My goal is to come alongside students in their educational journey and provide any support I can. That is my way of saying thank you to the professors and mentors who did the same for me."

What advice do you have for students?

“First, get involved as much as possible. Whether that’s on-campus activities, within your own department, undergraduate research, work, or volunteering, those types of opportunities allow for really good networking and relationship building between you and your faculty or your department.”

“Two, set goals for yourself. I do my mentor meetings on Monday and I mentor students because I see students graduating without really having a strong direction of where they are going. Being a student who back in the day was unsure of my future and what I wanted to do, I realized if I didn’t have a direction that I wasn’t as driven or motivated. Making goals and having a vision of the future is crucial to doing well in college and after college.” 

“Also, having good communication and talking to your professors is key because they can give you great advice for internship opportunities and careers. Taking on the responsibility of finding resources and using those resources to your advantage is really important. SDSU has a lot of resources and if students aren’t pursuing those then they just go unused. You can get internship and interview tips, get your resume reviewed by someone, and get so many other resources that can help you be successful.” 

“One last thing is the importance of informational interviews. If you see someone in research or a career that you find really interesting, ask them for information on what they do. Informational interviews can lead to internships, I’ve seen it happen. Informational interviews are really important because they let you know what the person does in their work and helps you determine if that is something you want to emulate. You can ask them what types of courses they took, if they got any professional certifications along with their degree, and any other questions you have.”