Francisco Gallegos arrived at San Diego State with an interest in pursuing psychology. But when he discovered the university’s on-campus greenhouse, his curiosity was ignited in a different way.
“I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘I have to learn what’s going on there,’” he said. “I began volunteering, then became the greenhouse’s head grower.”
Gallegos’s experiences at the greenhouse forced him to change course in his education. Today, he is about to embark on his final year at San Diego State, majoring in Biogeography with an emphasis on sustainability and policy. During his River Partners internship this summer, Gallegos collected soil samples and monitored vegetation along the State Route 94 corridor. His work with native and non-native plant species squarely struck his interests and will have a lasting effect on this ecology at a local level.
“With this work, I can help River Partners choose a working plant palette for their future renovation and restoration projects in that area,” he said, “keeping in mind, of course, predicting climate change, as well.”
Certainly, the impacts from climate change are not ideal—but Gallegos chooses to look at it from both directions.
“Climate change is not a good thing, but we’ve been experiencing a pretty steady increase, so at least it’s easier to predict,” he said. “But sadly, at the same time, we have to start preparing for harsher droughts and what comes with that.”
Gallegos said his major of Biogeography is a relatively new area of study for him, but it’s an area of study that combines several of his varied interests—and it fits in nicely with his River Partners internship.
“It links together all of my plant knowledge and understanding with the macro world and geography in order to understand why certain plants thrive in certain sections,” he said. “And that’s the main focus of my project with River Partners.”
Born in San Diego and raised in Tecate, Gallegos said he has always been drawn to the outdoors, preferring that to staying indoors as a youngster. Additionally, he recalled being in the backseat as his family drove on SR-94 highway, seeing work on the local ecology and plants—like using empty milk cartons to protect plants that are in their early stages.
“My parents now tell me, ‘you would tell us all the time that you were going to figure out what that is,’” he recalled. “I would see that all the time and ask, ‘what is that, why are they doing that?’ It’s funny that I get to work there now.”
While Gallegos said his vegetation specialty before his Rivers Partners summer internship was more coastal sage scrub and chaparral, the experience he received learning from professionals has been invaluable and has set the table nicely for his final year at San Diego State.
“I wanted to give this a try and learn and the experience I had really helped me sharpen my skills,” he said. “River Partners uses GIS and all these other awesome technologies and I’ve learned all these skills that I’ve needed going back to Biogeography. This opportunity really helped open my scope of goals.”