Capstone Reflections Part 1: Writing a Proposal

Halina Do-Linh and Clarissa Boyajian

Hello! We are Halina and Clarissa, students at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Bren School’s Masters of Environmental Data Science (MEDS) inaugural 2022 cohort.

About us

Halina has a BA in Environmental Studies & Biology from UC Santa Cruz and has experience in field research, outdoor education, environmental advocacy, and waste. While working in Los Angeles, she recognized data inaccuracies in representation and in metrics. Halina is excited to apply her data science training to address these gaps and to find equitable solutions for environmental issues affecting urban watersheds.

Clarissa holds a BA in Urban and Environmental Policy from Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. She has experience with volunteer management and education, grant writing, and nonprofit management. In her 5+ years in the Los Angeles urban forestry sphere, she experienced a lack of data collection and analysis to guide program and policy decisions. She is excited to bring her data science training to collaborative work that creates equitable connections between people and the developed and wild environments.

MEDS Capstone Project 101

The MEDS capstone project is a collaborative team experience where students use data to design, develop, and share a deliverable to help a client address an environmental issue. For the 2021-2022 academic year, all clients for capstone projects are UCSB affiliated, but in future years anyone will be able to propose a project. Projects that are chosen by the Capstone Committee get a team of 3-4 students from January to June 2022 (roughly 1 full-time staff for 6-months). All projects need to be product-oriented, have access to necessary data, be fully funded, have an environmental justice aspect, and have a clearly defined scope. Check out more in the timeline below!

Our proposal and capstone

We were co-authors on the proposal, Ensuring equitable access to outdoor recreation: Evaluating spatiotemporal patterns and trends in campground use on federal public lands. This proposal was chosen as one of the final capstone projects for 2022. It will combine data from the Recreation Information Database (RIDB) and U.S. Census Data to create a tool that visually represents our analysis of access to federal lands. There is a growing need to understand and mitigate inequities in access to outdoor recreation, especially since outdoor recreation provides critical health and well-being benefits to communities. This proposal aligned closely with our interests, as we both have experience working directly with communities and the environment. Our primary deliverable is to create an interactive platform using the R Package, Shiny. The app will summarize and visualize park-specific patterns and trends in visitation volume, demand, and visitors’ location of origin.

Major shout out to Kaitlyn Gaynor and Will Rice for all their support and guidance on our proposal!

Other capstones for the 2022 cohort

  1. Assessing Potential Environmental Justice Implications of Environmental Pressures from the Global Food System

  2. Snow Today: Delivering impactful information on snow cover and albedo to diverse global users through web based big data visualizations

  3. A web‐based application for visualizing spatial and temporal patterns of anthropogenic stressors on coral reefs in the lagoons of Moorea, French Polynesia

  4. Renewable Energy Siting Predictors Observed from National Data for Wind and Solar (RESPOND Wind and Solar)

  5. Understanding Climate Change’s Impact on the Forest Ecosystem: Developing a Reproducible Machine Learning Approach to Ecohydrologic Model Output

  6. An open-source pipeline for remote sensing of crop yields under environmental change in Sub-Saharan Africa

Tips, thoughts, and recommendations

Now that our proposal has been submitted (and selected!), we’ve taken some time to reflect on the proposal process. There’s a lot we’ve learned and we’ve compiled our most essential thoughts below.

Why you should write a proposal (even if you think you shouldn’t or can’t)

We won’t deny that writing a proposal can be a daunting task – it takes time and work – but we think it’s a worthwhile process. Even if the proposal deadline is two weeks away while you’re reading this, we encourage you to write a proposal! See if these reasons can convince you:

Most Helpful Resources

The “hardest” parts of the process

Writing a proposal is doable and we’re all capable of writing one. For us, describing the work before we’ve learned how to do it was the most overwhelming part of the process. But you’re not alone! That’s where the clients for our project came into play. They were able to put into technical terms our ideas and excitement for the project. Don’t be afraid to be upfront with what you don’t know yet.

How to consider an Environmental Justice lens in your proposal (and beyond)

Environmental Justice (EJ) has multiple definitions that changes with context. One framework we’d like to share with you is intersectional environmentalism, coined by Leah Thomas. Intersectional environmentalism focuses on the interconnections between injustices that harm people (especially frontline communities or those who have been historically discriminated against) and the environment. This is a crucial lens to maintain while you are writing your proposal because the solutions we write about are not solutions unless it works for everyone involved. We have found this lens to be challenging at times because it forces us to think differently and tests assumptions we’ve grown up with, but ultimately it makes us better data scientists.

Here are some EJ themes and questions to think about while writing your proposal. These questions use Justice Analysis to identify environmental injustices and come from Bren’s Equity and the Environment course (highly recommend taking).


Distribution of Harm

Anthropocentrism / Species-ism

Racism & Xenophobia

Ways of Knowing

Exclusionary Solutions

Burden of Evidence

It’s only week 1 of Winter quarter and we’re just getting started! Come back for more Capstone updates over the next 6 months.