Project Team

Project Leaders


Cinzia Fissore, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of biology and environmental science at Whittier College, where she teaches coursesin Environmental Science, Soil Science, Climate Change, and Sustainability. Cinzia has over ten years of research experience in the field of soil science and terrestrial biogeochemistry across ecosystems, from forest to urban ecosystems, which have led to a number of peer reviewed publications and other relevant reports and documents. She has conducted work for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Recently, she has conducted work on urban farming and on the practice of coffee-avocado intercropping at the peri-urban fringe.

Natale Zappia, Ph.D.Natale Zappia is an associate professor and the Nadine Austin Wood Chair in American History at Whittier College. His work explores the intersection of food systems, Indigenous political economies, and ecological transformations across early North America. Before Whittier College, Zappia served as the Executive Director of the Garden School Foundation, an environmental non-profit based in South Los Angeles focusing on ecological literacy. He continues his focus on food justice issues as co-director of Whittier College’s Sustainable Urban Farm Lab (SUrF) and co-director of Whittier’s Integrated Arts and Humanities Program, as well as other projects around the city.

Team Members

David Williams, Ground Manager at Whittier College.

Scott Murray, Farm Manager. Murray is a sustainable agriculture expert and farm manager at Mraz Ranch. Murray trained at the famed UC Santa Cruz Agroecology Program ( and has decades of expertise in organic farming and coffee-avocado intercropping as well as tropical fruit production.

Stephanie Alcala, MS. Stephanie graduated from Whittier College in 2015 and continued her studies at the University of Michigan, where she obtained a master in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology focusing the molecular ecology of coffee and on how coffee forests create sustainable ecosystems and help mitigate climate change.

Lauren Swanson, Ph.D. Prof. Swanson joined the Education Department at Whittier College in 2011. She earned her Ph.D. in education from UC Santa Barbara with specializations in teacher education/professional development and science education. Her primary research interests focus on teaching and learning in STEM classrooms, particularly the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse students in such settings.

Ashkan Soltani, MA. Soltani is an Associate Professor and Director of the Film Studies Department at Utah State University. Soltani is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have screened at numerous international film festivals. In his films, Soltani explores a wide range of topics such as affordable housing, immigrant workers, indigenous land rights, and subversive music. His past documentaries include I Know You Well, Tuning the Pulse,King Coal, and Long Struggle.He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including sponsorship from the prestigious International Documentary Association.