Ask Robin Mendoza to take you on a tour of the Clark County Wetlands Park and she’ll seemingly meander the long way until you reach her favorite spot, a lake near the Nature Center.
Don’t worry. She knows her way around the 2,900-acre park.
She and fellow students Ray Danser and Shirley Lim have applied their geographic information system skills (GIS) to updating a map of the Wetlands for the Clark County parks department. It was part of a project for a class taught by professor Jaewon Lim (no relation to Shirley) of the Greenspun College’s School of Environmental and Public Affairs in fall 2013 and spring 2014. But the trio got much more than a good grade out of the project.
Greenspun faculty emphasize the importance of undergraduate research experiences. Students gain practical and analytical skills from participating in research by developing early on relationships with potential employers and community partners.
Much of their work contributed to the park’s official print and online map used today, said Crystalaura Jackson, a recreation and cultural specialist for Clark County Wetlands Park. Along the park’s 13-mile loop, you’ll find wildlife, vegetation, and trails connected to the city of Henderson, River Mountains, and Las Vegas bicycle trail systems, and to Lake Las Vegas.
Mendoza, Danser, and Lim enhanced their GIS skills, collecting GPS coordinates, distances between trails, photos, bike routes, available amenities, and other information on the Sunrise Trailhead network and the trail system north of the Las Vegas Wash. The map was introduced in the park in spring of 2015.
On a recent trip to the park, Mendoza noted, “There are more weeds here covering the lake. Just goes to show you how much nature can change in weeks or months.”
Now the 20-year-old is a master of public administration student with a resume bulked up with real experience.
After the class project was completed, Mendoza stayed on as Lim’s student worker for an independent study further exploring how GIS could help Wetlands Park visitors. She developed a web-based mapping service that can function as a mobile app. With a few clicks, visitors can figure out the trail measurements, find the nearest restroom, or calibrate their exact location. She presented it to Clark County officials and hopes to bring the mobile app to fruition soon.
“With this project I was able to get a lot. I love being outside and doing what I love. I didn’t see it as a school project. I saw it as a hobby,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza attended Cimarron-Memorial High School and enrolled in the College of Southern Nevada where she earned college credit. She initially set out to become a pharmacist but discovered her path to environmental studies while in her natural habitat, a retreat to Mt. Charleston.
With a little help from a school counselor, Mendoza switched to environmental studies and obtained a solar and renewable energy minor. Under Lim’s mentorship, her graduate studies focuses on the integration of GIS in data-driven decision making and policy.
Mendoza has a graduate assistantship funded through Credit One Bank with the UNLV Nonprofit Leadership Initiative, where she is working on the Community Advanced Data and Research Analysis (CADRA) project. It’s a joint partnership with the economic analysis company Applied Analysis, to help nonprofits create programs based on needs identified by data trends in Las Vegas and Nevada. Accurate community, economic, fiscal, and social service datasets help nonprofits improve their chances of winning grant funding. Mendoza also is enrolled in the Graduate College’s research certificate program for undergraduates and graduates.
“What I found inspiring about CADRA is that we want to act as a centralized data hub so we can have information for the community through open source,” Mendoza said. “If community members want to look something up, we can be there for them.”
Back at the Wetlands Park, Mendoza points out a park bench where she sat to read Henry David Thoreau for her environmental studies 101 class. Some of Mendoza’s ideas on collaboration and helping the community stem from Thoreau.
“You have to separate yourself from the world to understand yourself, and get a broader understanding of the community,” Mendoza said.
“Places like Wetlands Park are so pristine. By conserving areas like these, you can have those experiences like I did.”