Claudia Luke- A Bridge Between Individuals and the Environment

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Intrigued by the environment at a young age, Sonoma State Director of Field Stations & Nature Preserves Claudia Luke always knew that her place was outdoors. “When I was in 5th grade, I went home and I asked my mom what do you call somebody who studies animals,” Luke reminisced. “So at a very young age, I knew I wanted to learn about the natural world.”

Luke pursued this interest, completing both her undergraduate and graduate work at UC Berkeley, and earning a Ph.D. in Zoology where she “fell in love with the desert,” studying reptiles for 6 years. During her years at UC Berkeley, Luke took class field trips and conducted her research at many of the 36 reserves administered by the University of California Natural Reserve System. Her life-long passion with field stations and the transformative experiences they create were formulated in these years.

After graduate school, Luke spent four years consulting as a herpetologist and learning the ropes of the regulatory process, and then heard of an opening at the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center, a UC Riverside field station in the remote East Mojave Desert. This was a chance for her to be reunited with the desert and to get her feet wet with the diversity of challenges in land management, public relations, administration, and fundraising that are the hallmark of running a productive field station. She worked there for six years on what she describes as a “one the most spectacular places on earth.”

Luke left the Granite Mountains in 1999 to develop programs in the coastal scrub and riparian habitats of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, a station administered by San Diego State University. Luke loved the excitement of moving to a new site. “Each preserve has complex ecology overlain with management and regulatory challenges. This Preserve was the first place where I realized the potential at field stations to engage students and researchers in these issues.” During her six years at the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, she worked on engaging faculty and students in sensor network development, fire management and habitat connectivity.

Always wanting to come back to the bay area, Luke first worked at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Reserve and then moved to the Sonoma State where she had the opportunity to manage a network of sites: the 411-acre Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Sonoma Mountain , the 3,670-acre Galbreath Wildlands Preserve in the coastal range of Mendocino County, and the 40-acre Los Guilicos Preserve in the Valley of the Moon. “The SSU Preserves are beautiful and inspirational,” Luke said. “They have such potential to enhance academic excellence at SSU by engaging students in real-world environmental issues.”

The SSU Preserves are literally outdoor classrooms for studying sustainability issues. “Each of our Preserves is a unique blend of social, economic, and environmental history,” Luke said. “We have students from all Schools on campus engaged in projects, classes, and trainings in our programs.”

One of several projects Luke is coordinating is the Watershed Academics to Enhance Regional Sustainability (W.A.T.E.R.S.) Collaborative, funded by the Sonoma County Water Agency and engaged with faculty across campus. “The Water Agency has management needs on Copeland Creek,” she said. “Copeland Creek starts at the Osborn Preserve and flows right through campus; it’s a perfect microcosm for students to explore interdisciplinary challenges of flooding, water quality, and regional biodiversity.” During the start of year of the collaborative, Luke is working with faculty from departments across campus to get their classes engaged in needed projects.

What Luke loves most about her job at SSU is the opportunity to work with so many different communities of people. “I love helping people to connect,” she says. In her position, she serves as a bridge between agencies and researchers, staff and academics, students and community, while helping maintain the Preserves she has grown to love.

See Luke's Comcast Newsmaker interview at