Brittanie Rodriguez, a recent graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, is joining Blueprint for her third expedition as a biology cataloger.
What have you been doing since graduating last June?
I am working right now to save money while I consider my career options. Eventually I would like to go to graduate school. My dream job would be working in the field—similar to what we’re doing with Blueprint Earth. I’ve always been a very outdoors-oriented person, and I love hiking.
What has your experience been like so far as a woman working in a STEM field?
My experience with Blueprint Earth has been great, especially because Jess Peláez is a role model for me—seeing how she’s developed this organization. She’s showed me how to pursue doing what I love, and she has been so supportive.
There seem to be many women biologists, and I haven’t experienced any specific barriers as a woman. But when you’re in a research lab, I have noticed that there usually are more males. It has made me feel a little intimidated. Part of that has also been that as an undergrad, you don’t always have full confidence in what you know. But my experience with Blueprint is that we’re all treated equally. We all are carrying the same equipment and loads, for example, and we’re all supporting each other.
What’s been the hardest thing about the fieldwork so far?
Going into this, the hardest part for me was gaining confidence. On my first field expedition, although I did know basic plant biology, I didn’t know how to use the GPS system, and I didn’t know how to identify the plants. But after a couple of days out in the field, I felt like an expert with both. Now that I’ve gone back, I’m teaching others, and I’ve overcome that insecurity. When you get to teach others, it ensures that you remember what you learned.
Have you worked with both students and established scientists during your field expeditions?
On my last expedition I primarily worked with students and was paired with an undergraduate, and I was coaching him. The first time I went I was working with Kirsten Fisher, an ecologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. She’s an expert in plants. She came out with us, and she was actually how I found out about Blueprint Earth.
Have you felt that the expeditions have been successful?
Yes, very successful. We’ve gotten so much data. And, in another way, Blueprint Earth is successful because it is changing our lives. It has changed my life. I know now that I can work in the field, and that it’s something I want to do. I was skeptical before about working in a lab, and I didn’t want to do it. And now I have a whole new outlook on my career—and on my life.
This is a huge job. During the expeditions, did you ever feel like, ‘Wow, how are we going to do all of this?’
Yes, sometimes you do feel like that. You wonder how are we going to put all this data in and get it all together. This is a three-year project.
What area might you like to blueprint next?
I would love to blueprint the Amazon Rainforest. I took an environmental class and learned that the rainforest is being cut down so much to make room for cattle and to grow soy. The Amazon is an essential part of our survival. It supplies the whole planet with 20 percent of our oxygen and more than half the species on Earth come from there. If we could blueprint that—so that if it ever does all get diminished, which I hope won’t ever happen—but if it did, we would know how those ecosystems work.
What do you hope to do on this next Blueprint expedition?
I hope to see some more animals. We caught mice and I’ve seen lizards, but I have yet to see a turtle or a coyote or other wildlife. We’re camping this time, so we may see something different!
—As told to Jane Falla, Blueprint Earth contributor