The Catalina Experience

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SSCI 587: The Catalina Experience

Forms and information

A signature part of the USC GIST Programs is the one-week field experience at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies (WIES) on Catalina Island as part of SSCI 587: GPS/GIS Field Techniques course. Here’s some info on what you can expect.


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What’s the purpose of the field week?

You’ll conduct your own research project in self-identified groups, using the week to investigate your research question using GPS and GIS technologies for spatial data collection, analysis, and presentation of your work. You’ll also get to know some of your classmates and faculty, and can visit the USC campus, including the Spatial Sciences Institute. Past students have considered their Catalina week to be the highlight of their GIST experience.

What is the typical schedule?

The schedule generally follows this format, although it may be adjusted for weather conditions and other considerations out at the island that week:

Morning: 7:30 am sharp: Depart for USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island. Arrive approximately 9:00 am. Tour the facilities. Catalina Island Water Safety and housing orientation.
Afternoon: Course overview. Walking tour of Two Harbors, a small town approximately 2 miles from WIES (by foot, van, or water taxi).
Evening: 7 – 8 pm: Project expectations and constraints. Distribute laptops and GPS units.

Morning: 9 am – noon: GPS/GIS Workshop.
Afternoon: 1 – 3 pm: GPS/GIS Guided Field Training.
Evening: 7 – 8 pm: Roundtable discussion of results, formation of groups, and initial brainstorming and discussion of project ideas.

Morning: Work in groups to prepare your project proposal.
Afternoon: 1 – 3 pm: Proposal presentations. 3:30 – 5:30: Optional field trip to Little Harbor, or begin data collection.
Evening: 7 – 9 pm: Thesis Night. Faculty discusses thesis requirements and expectations for completing the MS GIST.

Morning: Continue with data acquisition and analysis.
Afternoon: Continue with data acquisition and analysis. Roundtable discussion of results.
Evening: Optional field trip to Two Harbors Bar.

Morning: Discuss final presentation and poster. Continue data acquisition and analysis.
Afternoon: Complete data acquisition and continue with data analysis and visualization.
Evening: Group work to design and prepare final posters.

Morning: Continue with data acquisition, analysis, visualization, etc.
Afternoon: Continue work on posters and develop final presentations.
Evening: Optional time to finish posters and presentations

Morning: 8:30 am: Pack up. 9 – 11 am: Final group presentations. 12:00 – 12:30 pm: Lunch. 1:30 pm: Depart to SCMI on mainland.
Afternoon: Optional tour of USC and SSI and visit to USC Bookstore.
Evening: 5 pm: Optional dinner with other GIST faculty on campus.

How do we get to and from Catalina Island?

We travel on the Miss Christy, a 45-foot boat owned by USC and operated by WIES, approved for passenger travel by the U.S. Coast Guard, dedicated for USC travel.

We depart on Monday mornings at 7:30 a.m. from the USC Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI), located at 820 South Seaside Avenue, Terminal Island, CA 90731, to WIES on Catalina Island. On Sundays, we leave to return to SCMI on the mainland by 3:00 p.m.

The journey takes approximately 90 to 120 minutes depending on sea conditions. Closed-toed shoes are mandatory for the boat ride!

Your professor will give you more detailed directions and parking information.

What should I pack?

Please bring casual and comfortable clothes, a light jacket and/or sweatshirt (evenings tend to be cool), closed-toe shoes for the boat ride and walking/hiking, a hat, sunscreen, and toiletries. There are great opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as kayaking, hiking, as well as mountain biking. Feel free to bring clothes for any of these activities, such as a swimming suit. It would also be very useful to pack a water bottle. Although we will have two presentations scheduled during the week, you do not need any formal attire for these presentations. You can check the weather for Avalon as a gauge for the weather at WIES here. A laundry room is just adjacent to the dormitory/apartments. The cost is $1 to wash and 50 cents to dry, and detergent is available from a vending machine for 50 cents per load.

What are the accommodations like?

We stay in dormitory-style rooms and/or furnished apartments. Typically, two students are assigned to share a room which is equipped with twin beds, desks, bookshelves, dressers, large closets, a small refrigerator, and a full set of linens. There is no daily housekeeping service. There is limited availability for single rooms, at an additional fee.

All meals are included and are served in the cafeteria. We have three set meal times: breakfast (7:30 - 8:00 am); lunch (noon - 12:30 pm); and dinner (6:00 - 6:30 pm). We eat with other researchers, staff, and guests working at and visiting WIES. The full-time kitchen staff can accommodate special dietary needs requested in advance.

Two Harbors has a general store and restaurant.

How much “down time” is there?

Most of the week’s schedule is a function of group work in the field and each group’s work on their project. Each group organizes itself with faculty direction and “down time” is largely a function of group dynamics. Groups are encouraged to complete their projects during the work sessions during the day as much as possible, so they could work on other class assignments, check in with their offices, and relax in the evenings. Many past groups have done this successfully, while some groups opt to continue to work together into the evenings.

Is there cell phone and Internet access?

Yes, the USC wireless access is reliably strong and available throughout the WIES campus.

Can spouses or guests come along?

Spouses and significant others are not allowed to stay or visit during this field trip as you will be residing in the dormitories and spending most of your time working on assigned tasks during the week. However, in the past, some students have joined friends and/or family members after the class is over in Avalon (on the other side of Catalina Island) where there are hotels, attractions, and fun activities for a vacation.

What are the additional expenses?

In addition to your travel expenses and regular tuition costs, a room and board fee of approximately $313 will be charged to your USC fee bill. You will not need to pay this fee prior to going on the field trip, but it must be paid in full prior to registering for courses the following semester.

What about travel to and from Los Angeles?

While some students live in the greater Los Angeles area and will be able to drive to the SCMI the morning the boat departs for Catalina Island, other students will need to arrive in the Los Angeles area at least one night before the field trip begins. In addition to using Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for your travel plans, you may want to look into flights in and out of Long Beach Airport (LGB). LGB is relatively close to the SCMI and not nearly as busy as LAX.

What about Long Beach area accommodations?

Students arriving in the Los Angeles area in advance of our departure to Catalina Island on Monday morning may consider staying at one of the hotels in San Pedro and Long Beach close by our departure point at SCMI. While USC does not promote any specific hotel or lodging arrangement, many students from previous sections have stayed at various hotels in San Pedro. If you plan on spending a night at a hotel prior to the field trip to Catalina, you may want to initiate or join a thread on Blackboard to coordinate with any classmates that may want to share a room and/or cab to SCMI.

What equipment do I need?

The Spatial Sciences Institute will provide each student with a Trimble Juno 3B GPS unit and a laptop for data collection and analysis for the entire week. Additionally, you will have reliable access to USC wireless Internet there. You may want to bring a camera and any other personal equipment to supplement the resources that will be provided to you during the field trip.

What is the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies?

The USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies is a .5-acre research and educational campus where scientists from around the world join USC faculty and staff to investigate biological adaptations to climate change, study interactions among humans and natural systems, and connect science to environmental policy. View a virtual fly-over of the WIES campus prepared by the Spatial Sciences Institute using Esri’s CityEngine, and visit the WIES website for more information about the facilities, the research and education programs, and the island itself.

Will I be able to visit USC?

Upon returning to SCMI from Catalina, we offer a visit to the USC main campus, with a visit to the USC Bookstore, a tour of the Spatial Sciences Institute, and a casual dinner with faculty, schedules permitting. The USC campus is located near downtown Los Angeles, approximately 20 miles north of SCMI. Generally we have enough cars to carpool from SCMI to the campus.