Baja Field Studies Program Purchases Mexican Real Estate in Bahia de Los Angeles

El Vaquero Staff Writer

“The Baja Field Study was one of the best academic experiences I had during my college years and that field study made me want to be a biologist,” says Steve James, who attended the Baja field study in 1982 and is now a Sacramento City College biology professor.

The program, an intensive learning experience in Baja California, has been active over the last 33 years and has offered instruction in 27 different subjects such as marine biology, conversational Spanish and philosophy.

“We create a learning community,” said Jose Mercade, the director of the Baja program. “The students over the years come back and let us know of the experience they gained from this program. They even send donations.”

Several donations, each one in the amount of $750, have been made by Kent Waters, a former GCC student from 1980. As Mercade explained, Waters had been so inspired by this experience that he has been sending donations since he graduated from the college.

According to Mercade, this program is very unique and the station is right on the beach of the Sea of Cortez. He added, “It’s an academic and an experiential program where students learn by seeing most of the things related to the subject they are studying.”

“What I really liked about the program is that it was more of an adventure than a regular class,” said Maher Abdel-Sattar, a student who attended the field study in the summer of 2005.

“We were put in extreme conditions to adapt to: hot temperatures, long days of snorkeling in the water, being in an isolated fisherman town of barely 400 people, sleeping outside on the beach every night, swimming and interacting with various interesting sea creatures [such as] octopuses, sting rays, puffer fish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, huge sea stars, sea lions and dolphins. It was just amazing,” said Abdel-Sattar.

This field study has tried to keep the cost of the program low during the past years and, according to Mercade, it costs less compared to the other study abroad programs. Students currently pay $780 to $795 for a full two-week program and the price will remain the same or possibly go lower.

This year, the college’s Board of Trustees took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a property to host the Baja field studies program. A facility will be built on the site.

GCC has been renting the station for the last 33 years and the district decided to buy property because the program has been continuously active. The leased property is in the same town and is located a few miles from the rented one.

“The program used to be much larger but because of financial problems and some budget cuts it has been cut down – over the past years,” said Lawrence Serot, GCC Executive Vice President of Administrative Services. “But the feeling is that we could do more [things] down there if we owned a piece of property.”

Currently, the program is run during the summer intersession and the students spend the nights sleeping outside but “by having dormitories we can run the program during the cold months of the year,” said Serot. The weather gets down to 50 degrees at nights during winter.

According to Serot, the budget for this program is $350 thousand from which $125 thousand is to be spent on the purchase of the property and the rest to build the facility. “But this may go up,” said Serot.

The college is trying to lower the cost of this project by hiring a Mexican contractor, and, according to Serot, “the structure will be made with the same standards that buildings are made here.”
There will be six small structures built separately and, according to Mercade, “We are hoping to run two different programs at the same time.”

Serot said that GCC has most of its equipment in place and the program will continue using it. “We are not planning to use any of this budget to buy more [supplies], but Mercade may send a special request to the instructional people and ask for more equipment.”
The college owns some biology equipment such as boats and a disabled student’s wheelchair which allows them to use it inside the water and on the sand. But, according to Mercade, the college may need some geology and oceanography equipment as well.

A total of 300 students are going to be served in this program each year. The program will also make it possible for different classes to organize field trips, according to Mercade.

As soon as the mortgage is paid in full, the college will have no further rental costs, which will give an opportunity to the students to use the station and the facility as often as they wish.
The only cost remaining would be the cost of the maintenance of the equipment and the structures in Baja. As Mercade explained, GCC owns a few boats and biology equipment kept in a Baja rental station.

“One of the goals we have is to keep the cost reasonable,” said Mercade. “Because with each $5 we add to the cost we will loose a student.”

The cost of this program 30 years ago was $80.