Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

CLU Research At Its Finest

Professor David Grannis and his two students, Karie Portillo and Kristiann Jones, recently flew out to Maryland to present their findings regarding the California drought. In order to get a closer look at the research that goes on here at CLU, I interviewed a member of the research trio, Karie Portillo. Just to give a little bit of background, Karie is majoring in communications with 2 emphases: Marketing & Communications and TV & Film Production with a minor in Spanish, graduating this spring! Read on to learn about research at CLU and how this team of three successfully tackled such a controversial subject.                                                                  Photographed left to right: Kristiann Jones, Professor Grannis, and Karie Portillo

Her Campus Cal Lutheran: I saw you were in Maryland in March! What were you there for?

Karie Portillo: I went to the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference in College Park, Maryland. The reason I went was because I was a research student over the summer, along with my research partner Kristiann Jones and we worked under the direction of Professor David Grannis. This time last year, Professor Grannis proposed to have a research project funded by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship for a documentary. His proposal and abstract was about the California drought. He wanted to do a documentary about the California drought in regards to what we’re doing for it on campus, what the city of Thousand Oaks is doing locally, and overall talking about water in California: where it comes from, what the problem is, and give insight into the different opinions that people have about how to handle water and water politics.

HCCLU: What kind of conference was it?

KP: This was like a green, eco conference. It ran from March 27-28. The topic was about smart and sustainable campuses so we talked about what Cal Lutheran was doing to be an eco campus. We also talked about our work in general and the process we went through to create our documentary.

HCCLU: What material did you present at the conference?

KP: We presented a powerpoint on the making of our documentary, showing the different aspects that went into its making. We also showed eight finished scenes from our documentary.

HCCLU: How did the conference go?

KP: We got such positive feedback. We were actually evaluated as the best presentation at the conference. After our presentation, there was a 15 minute Q&A session where we got a lot of questions regarding Southern California. People asked “Aren’t you out of a drought? Didn’t it rain like crazy?” And we are not. We are not in a severe drought anymore, but we’re still in a drought where we could easily go back to the severe state. We learned that 80% of the water we received from that rain went into the ocean. Northern California is still clear because it rains a lot up there, but Southern California is still struggling. 

HCCLU: Were there challenges in the realm of just getting to the conference itself?

KP: It was definitely difficult to get funding for our trip to Maryland. The research department here at CLU can only cover so much for each research student, but it’s difficult because part of the requirement of being a research student is that you do have to present at a conference. We were lucky enough to get one that accepted us that was across the country, so we definitely had to apply for grants and a lot of it came out of our own pocket to make this happen.

HCCLU: How did you end up doing this research project?

KP: Professor Grannis approached me, asking me what I was going to do in the summer of 2016. I was student in his Broadcast News Production class last spring. I’ve been in a few of his classes so I’ve known Professor Grannis for a while. He told me he had a research project and he needed a student, so he proposed the position to me. I was very honored and I immediately said yes.

HCCLU: What was your aim in doing this project?

KP: We wanted to tell a visual story. We are all aware of the statistics and the problems because we hear them on the news. Our goal was to take all this information and opinions people have and put it in front of you and paint a larger picture about what the problem is to let you decide your own opinion.HCCLU: Can you tell me a bit about the production process?

KP: In the summer of 2016 from May to August, we worked on producing a documentary. We’re still working on it, but those were the four straight months we worked on pre-production, production, and post-production. We are currently in the post-production phase of our film, so we’re editing it. I was mainly in charge of pre-production that consisted of getting the logistics together, setting up shoots, setting up interviews, and finally we went and did it. Kristiann is the main editor, so she’s editing the whole film together. Something to keep in mind is that it’s normally a film crew of forty to fifty people to make, but it was just us who made it possible.

We did an LA day where we went to the Griffith Observatory to get a wide shot of LA and we went to Beverly Hills to get footage of these mansions with beautiful green lawns. We spent three days out in Fresno in 100 degree weather, filming on farms with bugs. I could tell you that these were some of the best three days I’ve ever had because I was out there with my favorite professor and my research partner and we were just trying to get things done.

HCCLU: What types of people did you interview?

KP: We interviewed scientists; Dr. Linda Ritterbush at CLU was our main source for the topics of El Nino and La Nina, water in regard to weather. We talked to activists. We talked to environmentalists. And we talked to people who work in local businesses. We talked to a sod farmer who had to lay-off 20 of his loyal, long-term employees because he’s losing business due to people ripping out their lawns and not buying sod. It was quite a ride. Water is controversial, which is something I wasn’t aware of. Being from Southern California, I really didn’t know about the major problems happening in Central California, in the San Joaquin Valley including all of the farmers struggling to make ends meet.

HCCLU: What challenges did you face when making this documentary?

KP: There were a lot of aspects to this film, but we had to try to keep it small and unbiased. This posed a great challenge for us.

At one point we decided that we couldn’t talk about water in California without talking about almonds. Almonds are a very controversial crop because they’re a cash crop, but it takes one gallon of water per almond. The interesting part is that people don’t even want to talk about almonds because they’re so controversial. We contacted the Wonderful company and they were like “No, we’re not going to talk to you”. We weren’t trying to do anything negative, we just wanted to shed light onto how much water goes into almonds and how this industry is struggling because of water. So then I started cold-calling. I cold-called almond farmers up and down California and a lot of them didn’t want to talk to us. We finally got an almond farmer to schedule an appointment with us and we had to drive all the way up past Bakersfield, past Fresno and he cancelled on us last-minute. He told us that the Almond Board of California contacted him and every other almond farmer up and down California and told them not to talk to us. I think they thought that we were trying to do something negative and it really wasn’t that at all. We just wanted to cover all areas of water for California.

HCCLU: Is your aim to make people use less water?

KP: We’re not trying to do anything except put all of this information out there and let you decide what you think. You get the environmentalists who think farmers are just really selfish and want to cash out as much as possible and use as much water as possible. There are towns up in Northern California whose ground water has been completely pumped dry. There’s no water for them to use. We visited a town called Stratford, a town so dried up that the ground literally sunk in two inches because there’s no water underneath. There’s nothing for people there; the town is all boarded up. When we went it was heartbreaking because there were people moving out as we got there. There was just nothing left for them to use and these are people who grew up on these farms.

HCCLU: What is it like being a research student in this field?

KP: It’s a huge honor to be a research student. The professor will be spending a lot of time with you and it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hours are put into the research. It was great, too, because it was primarily just Kristiann, Professor Grannis, and myself working on this project.

HCCLU: Is the film finished?

KP: We are actually still working on the film and we hope to finish it by May of this year. We were supposed to have finished by December of 2016, but there’s been so much information and so much to do, including trying to coordinate three different people’s schedules. The main film that we will be submitting to film festivals is forty-five minutes and encompasses all of the details that I have talked about. We actually ended up making two films with all the footage we have.

HCCLU: Do you plan to continue with this field of study?

KP: Definitely. I’ve always wanted to do work that was bigger than myself. I feel like using my TV and film skills is so rewarding. If I could make documentaries for the rest of my life, I’d actually be incredibly happy. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. I’ve always wanted to touch on subjects that people don’t know much about and I think that making documentaries is a great way to do that.

All photos provided by Karie Portillo.

Her Campus Placeholder Avatar
Andrea Lopez

Cal Lutheran

Andrea is a sophomore at California Lutheran University. She's currently trying out many different career paths, driven by her creative passions to help people. She's a dreamer who has the discipline to turn these dreams into her reality. The moment she starts thinking rationally is the moment she has lost all hope. Andrea believes in being irrational, and taking risks. She cares to travel the world in the hope to be exposed to as many viewpoints as possible. Andrea wants to help people live the lives they desire. She believes in the insane kind of love, the one that drives you crazy. She believes deeply in Jay Gatsby and Peter Parker. Andrea is an artist at heart and a scientist by nature. She wants it all. She wants to make an impact.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️