San Marcos,
08:41 AM

Biology Student Works to Address Environmental Issues

By Tim Meehan

Kyle Lunneberg’s life changed forever on April 17, 2017.

On that fateful day, his lifelong friend Alex Lazo committed suicide. Lunneberg’s personal and academic life as a student at Cal State San Marcos took an understandable dark turn.

But with the help of counseling and a strong support system of friends and family, he regained his composure, recording a GPA a full point higher in fall 2017 as compared to the previous spring.

Kyle will graduate this month with a bachelor’s in biological sciences and go straight to a prestigious graduate school program.

“His death has changed many of my perspectives,” Lunneberg said. “Mostly personal, but it framed the importance of community support, teamwork and kindness in my career. It was difficult relearning how to focus after losing Alex, but happiness is a choice and can be achieved by anyone who seeks it out.”

Lunneberg came to CSUSM as a computer science major, but something serendipitous occurred in his first semester. His GEL 101 professor introduced him to the topic of ecology and the importance of understanding the role of all organisms in our environment.

For an outdoor enthusiast who has camped his entire life, it was an easy decision to switch to biology with a concentration in ecology in that first semester and never look back.

“CSUSM gave me a chance other universities didn’t,” Lunneberg said. “I never felt motivated or challenged in middle and high school, and it showed in my academics. CSUSM’s focus on accepting local students gave me a second chance and has made a huge difference.”

Lunneberg was recently nominated for the Outstanding Graduate award for the College of Science and Mathematics by Environmental Studies faculty member Christina Simokat. As a student in her Introduction to Environmental Studies course as a freshman, he impressed her with his attention to detail and strong communication and writing skills.

“His individual work is of the highest quality, showing an ability to master complex concepts and apply them to real-life situations,” said Simokat, who added Lunneberg was her top-ranked student in that course. “In groups, Kyle is a natural facilitator, taking responsibility for organizational tasks and helping other group members to express themselves clearly. I always find Kyle pleasant, professional and positive with a helpful attitude toward his peers.”

While many college students wait until their senior year to gain valuable work experience, Lunneberg got involved with local ecological organizations early. He interned at Springs River Ecological Sciences LLC and worked as a parks/trails aide for the city of Carlsbad. He has also been working at Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation in Carlsbad for the past three years.

At AHLF, he heads the scientific monitoring committee, which works with industry leaders for enhanced monitoring of the lagoon.

“Kyle is a true ‘MacGyver’ of all things, and our community nature center would be of lesser value without his many talents,” said AHLF CEO Lisa Rodman, a CSUSM alumna. “I have no doubt of his bright future and successes in any field he chooses to pursue. He is an outstanding human as well. You can always count on Kyle to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. He inspires me daily.”

Lunneberg will continue his academic career as a student in a joint doctoral program in ecology hosted by San Diego State and UC Davis. He will study under Dr. Walter Oechel, who is the co-director of the Center for Climate and Sustainability Studies and the director of the Global Change Research Group at SDSU.

“I am grateful to have my next adventure planned and very excited to participate in a lab at the forefront of climate change,” Lunneberg said. “It’s a foundational goal of mine to leave this world better than when I started, and this is a major step toward that.”

Following his educational path, Lunneberg would like to eventually consult large-scale mitigation projects. Wherever his professional career takes him, he possesses a singular focus of making the planet better for future generations.

“Environmental issues are one of the most looming problems for our generation, and there are many different facets to address,” Lunneberg said. “The problem we face has accumulated over generations. We need to focus on multiple social, political and scientific dilemmas to properly deal with environmental issues.

“It’ll take a village; not just the politician, the activist or the scientist. That’s what I feel is most important for our generation to agree on.”

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