Jacob Blais: Live Sustainably with Less Tension

Dec. 1, 2022

Jacob Blais is a senior studying Natural Resources, and will pursue a Ph.D. in Ecosystem Science. As an intern for a NASA undergraduate research lab, he studies soil respiration in the Sonoran Desert.

What is your major/year?
I am a senior studying Natural Resources with an emphasis in Global Change Ecology and Management. Once I graduate in May, I will be pursuing a Ph.D. in ecosystem science at either Northern Arizona University or Colorado State University.

What are you involved in on campus or in Tucson?
I am an Intern Advisor for the Arizona NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship Program, which is an amazing opportunity for undergraduate students. Through the program, you are paired with a local mentor and conduct research in some STEM-related field. I am currently studying soil respiration in the Sonoran Desert to investigate how different monsoonal precipitation patterns will affect soil carbon storage. Thus far, I have discovered that monsoon seasons dominated by rare but intense storms have the potential to keep more carbon in the soil, and that monsoonal precipitation patterns can influence soil carbon storage the following spring. I am also a Liverman Scholar through the Arizona Institute for Resilient Environments and Societies. We are currently working with a community partner in Phoenix called Project Roots to help design an efficient solar structure for their farm. Lastly, I am a Social Media Officer for UA Cycling where we ride for leisure as well as race.

What sustainability issues are you most passionate about?
I am most interested in how climate and weather patterns affect ecosystem functioning. It is difficult to predict how future climate and weather patterns will influence vegetation and how nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen cycle between the biosphere and atmosphere, so it is important to attempt to understand the impacts of future scenarios using manipulation experiments. The findings of these experiments can help inform the actions of land managers. I am also interested in reducing my carbon footprint, which is the primary reason I became a vegetarian. I try to be conscious of my consumption habits as well. If I were to give a tip to someone looking to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, it would be to live sustainably in a way that creates the least amount of friction for you. Starting small is usually the way to go.

What was the first thing that sparked your interest in helping with campus sustainability?
My interest in environmental science stems from running trails in my hometown, Tucson. I used to run the same trails over and over again and began to notice the small changes that occurred over time. Different plant species would appear and the soil would erode in some places but not others and I wanted to know why. I wondered if the changes I saw were positive or negative. This is why I chose to study Natural Resources.

How does your major shape your outlook on sustainability?
In my major, we learn a great deal about various environmental issues the world is facing today as well as policies and laws that are in place to help protect the environment and the resources it provides. This has led me to realize that we need to advocate for corporations and governments to make eco-friendly changes, as well as do what we can in our own lives to treat our planet with more respect. I believe it is also important to educate others about environmental issues and how they can be a part of a green transition.

What advice would you give current and future UA students who want to get involved with environmental issues/activism?
I would say to go explore the natural areas around Tucson doing whatever you enjoy most, whether that is running, hiking, biking, or just relaxing. While you are out adventuring, make sure to be open to meeting new people! You may meet someone with a career you find interesting or learn about different sustainable initiatives around town. Another piece of advice I would give others is to check out Students for Sustainability. SFS is a great resource on campus where you meet so many people from all sorts of backgrounds involved in different green efforts. Also, remember that you do not need to be tied to one environmental niche; UA has so many programs and groups to explore! If there are any specific topics that interest you, talk to a fellow classmate or a faculty member about them because you never know where it will lead!

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