Getting The Dirt On Portland’s Soil

Meet art and biology major Steven Garcia ’20.

September 3, 2020

Major: Studio Art and Biology

Hometown: Beaumont, Texas

Thesis advisers: Prof. Keith Karoly [biology] and Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art].

Thesis: In Consideration of Ethical Grounds

What it’s about: I collected soil samples from around the Portland metro area and analyzed their biological, chemical, and physical properties to determine how soil health differs across the city. I produced a series of maps with ArcGIS to overlay urbanization and social economic gradients over soil data to demonstrate what areas of the city and socioeconomic groups have greater access to healthy soil. My thesis aims to offer new methods of scientific data representation in an attempt to spark curiosity from the general population about ecological health in the age of the Anthropocene.

What it’s really about: Utilizing art as a tool to communicate scientific findings and uncover ecological inequities to mobilize community stewardship of the land we inhabit. 

In high school: I took dual-credit classes at a state university, but decided to complete the “traditional” four years at Reed. I do not regret this at all! I loved enjoying four years of learning new concepts and skills.

Influential professor: Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art] has really opened the world of biology and art to me.

Influential book: Art, Theory and Practice in the Anthropocene by Julie Reiss.

Concept that blew my mind: Art historian Alois Riegl’s Kunstwollen denotes “characteristics and boundaries of an epoch’s aesthetics, as well as the intrinsic creative drive peculiar to it.” Thanks, Prof. Michelle Wang [art history]!

Cool stuff: I started freshman year with the Peer Mentor Program Odyssey and later became a mentor in the program. I learned ballet and welding (plus a ton of other cool stuff), and worked in the Reed College Herbarium. I also got to take some amazing camping trips to places like the Olympic Peninsula and conduct independent research on Mt. Adams.

Challenges I faced: Transitioning from a school with giant classes to Reed's conference style was difficult for me, but it has also changed my entire way of learning for the better.

How Reed changed me: I have learned to view the world through a critical lens and to celebrate the ways I am different. I no longer feel like a passive member of my community and have learned to internalize my own accomplishments. I think most importantly is the way Reed taught me to create space for the things I feel are worth doing.

Financial aid: I would not be able to attend Reed without its amazing financial aid. I’ve gotten access to so many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.

What’s next: Pursuing my love of plants and design!