Institute for Sustainability 2020

  • People banner with red background


Headshot of Natale Zappia


For two decades, Professor Natale Zappia has directed, created, and participated in multiple projects related to food systems, urban farming, environmental sustainability, and food justice. Between 2008-10 he served as the Executive Director of the Garden School Foundation (GSF), a 501(c)(3) developing garden-based curricula for students of need in South Los Angeles. Between 2013-16, he also served on the Board of Directors for GSF, heading up the strategic planning committee. Since 2007, he has also served as a UC Certified Master Gardener on numerous urban farming projects across Los Angeles County, including at elementary and high schools, homeless shelters, community centers like the Boys & Girls Club, and local colleges.

More recently, Zappia has co-founded and launched Open Gärden, a history app connecting urban garden spaces with historical environments in Los Angeles and around the world. As the Director for the IS at CSUN, Zappia is involved in numerous campus-wide, regional, and national sustainability projects, including overseeing climate and CO2 reduction initiatives.

Headshot of Sarah Johnson

Sustainability Program Analyst

Sarah has worked at the Institute since its inception in 2009. As the Sustainability Program Analyst, she works with campus departments and community organizations to implement sustainability initiatives, programs, and events. Sarah helped develop CSUN's 10-Year Sustainability Plan, which began in 2013 and is tasked with achieving the goals set forth in the plan. She is also responsible for educating and engaging students, employees, and the community while reducing the university's environmental impact. She oversees student assistants working on research, outreach, gardening, and event planning.

Sarah is passionate about reducing food waste and food insecurity; she has coordinated orange picks in the CSUN Orange Grove for the last 10 years. Volunteers have harvested over 175 tons of oranges with that have been donated to feed hungry people. In her free time she enjoys camping, hiking, working in her garden, and raising butterflies.

Headshot of Helen Simonyan

Administrative Support Coordinator

Helen has been an active part of CSUN since 2016. She has earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is currently completing a Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership. As the part-time Sustainability Support Coordinator since January 2020, Helen sees her role as supporting the Institute in its day to day office procedures and in achieving its vision and goals. Some of her responsibilities include providing leadership in the development and coordination of the Institute’s projects, supervising student assistants and overseeing student budget, supporting activities for multiple projects, and coordinating the day to day operations and administrative functions of the Institute.

In addition to this, being part of the team, her role is to bring her own ideas, skill set, and experiences with the aim to help the Institute grow. Helen has initiated the CSUN 30-day Minimalism Challenge and has supported the CSUN Victory Garden program. Helen’s research interests are sustainability and happiness, emotional intelligence, mental health, student success, and psychology in general. Additionally, she has a strong interest in youth empowerment, mental health counseling, and entrepreneurship.

Headshot of Yesenia Mateo

Sustainable Garden Grower/Social Media Assistant

Yesenia (she/they) is a junior at CSUN majoring in Urban Studies and Planning. As a student assistant at the Institute for Sustainability, Yesenia helps care for the garden and delivers produce from the garden to the CSUN Food Pantry every week. They also created and currently run the Garden Instagram. Yesenia is working towards land sovereignty in efforts for food justice to be served.

Headshot of Elline Deogracias

Social Media Coordinator/Researcher

Elline is a Research and Marketing Assistant at the Institute for Sustainability. She manages the Institute's main social media accounts, writes the monthly newsletter (The Footprint), and helps coordinate and market events with campus partners. Currently, Elline is conducting research focusing on corporate social responsibility with Dr. Tracie Tung from CSUN's Family and Consumer Sciences Department. As a Business Law undergrad, she plans on going to law school and becoming an environmental attorney.

Headshot of Karina Jimenez

Sustainable Garden Grower

Karina is a Student Assistant at CSUN’s Institute for Sustainability. Her job entails maintaining the Food Garden and teaching volunteers about the benefits of sustainable gardening. She is also part of CSUN’s Bridge to the Future Program and is majoring in Geography with a minor in Geology.  Karina plans to become an environmental scientist.

Headshot of Richard Rachman

Biodiversity Coordinator

Richard Rachman (pronouns He/Him/His) is the Biodiversity Coordinator for the Institute for Sustainability and a graduate student in the Biology Department. His Master's thesis is studying the role wildfires and bark beetles play on the spatial distribution and die-off of coast live oaks and valley oaks in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County. Richard received his AA from Moorpark College in Natural Sciences and went on to transfer to CSUN to earn his BS in Ecology and Evolution and minor in GIS. During his time as an undergraduate at CSUN, Richard was involved in research projects studying stress response in big-eared woodrats, growth ring analysis of basin big sagebrush in Owens Valley, scorpion diversity in the southwest deserts, coyote scat analysis, harvestmen morphospecies microhabitat analysis, and testing neotropical rodent capture methods.

He has worked as a biological field technician alongside the United States Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management for the Great Basin Bird Observatory, Mountains Restoration Trust, and NatureServe, respectively. Richard’s hobbies include hiking, watching movies with his boyfriend, and fighting for queer and environmental rights.

Headshot of Frida Endinjok

Lead Instructor

Frida Endinjok is a Global Health doctoral student at Oregon State University. She has a bachelor’s in Nutrition and Dietetics, which fuels her passion for sustainable food systems. She is part of the Zoom/Pandemic Class of 2020 with a Master of Public Health from California State University, Northridge. She is the Lead Instructor for the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture AFFP Program hosted in partnership with CSUN Institute for Sustainability. During her undergraduate, she developed the “Let’s Grow Healthy” program that delivers hands-on garden enhanced nutrition education at local schools. At CSUN, she coordinates the MMC Wellness Garden that offers gardening workshops, produce, and projects for the CSUN community. She is a co-founder of the Food Recovery Network chapter at her university with the goal of diverting edible food from the landfill to food-insecure people. She is always looking for opportunities to use her voice and make a change.



Headshot of Alex Plaza

Volunteer Associate

Alex Plaza graduated from the University of Arizona with a BS in Biology. He is a passionate composter who is heading up IS's community composting program. His goal is to educate people on the importance of sustainability and implement more community compost sites across SFV.

Headshot of Danielle Levy

Volunteer Associate

Danielle is a recent graduate of UC Davis with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science and Management. She works with our social media and research team. She hopes to soon enter grad school and achieve either a Masters with an emphasis in environmental management or an MBA with a concentration in sustainability or corporate social responsibility. She plans to dedicate her life to uniting people, planet and profit for a more sustainable corporate world.