Jessica Kleiss

I love the moments of insight when students suggest things that I hadn’t considered.

Jessica Kleiss headshot




Associate Professor


Environmental Studies

What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?

Connected, Grounded, Aspiring

Rogers Summer Science Research, July 2023

Tell us about your summer research.

My research this summer is focused on air quality observations and exposure to air pollutants. We were motivated by the activism in the Parkrose-Argay neighborhoods of Portland, where the neighbors are resisting the construction of a 38-bay diesel distribution center for online retail delivery (summer 2023). We are spinning up a new research project involving collaborative learning and citizen science with Parkrose-Argay community members.

How did you become interested in your research topic? What sort of real-world implications does your research have?

I have previously done research in Oceanography (wave breaking in the deep ocean) and Atmospheric Science (fair-weather cloud geometry to improve climate models). I wanted to pursue research that more clearly connected to our environmental studies courses and that can be considered from multiple standpoints such as local politics, global supply chains, economic livelihoods, urban planning, race studies, ethics, history, chemistry, earth science, and more!

How are students involved?

Since this is a new project, students have played a key role in reading previous studies and helping to develop the research goals and questions. That’s been a lot of fun! Practically speaking, this summer my students have been field testing and calibrating small, hand-held air quality sensors. The goal is to understand the accuracy and limitations of these devices to enable people to better understand the air quality in their home, work, and school. The students then develop code in the R programming language to import, graphically display, and summarize the data, and use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to create maps for spatial analysis.

What would prospective students find most interesting about this research?

The community involvement is very compelling. This is a research project about a specific community and a particular need that is happening right now. We meet with Parkrose-Argay neighbors to learn more about their concerns and their questions. We meet with Argos Scientific to learn about their state-of-the-art air quality monitoring. We meet with members of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to learn about their capacity to monitor and respond to urban air quality issues. So it takes a special student to pursue this work. Someone who likes to “geek out” with data sets and computer programs, and also wants to talk to and learn from people, including those who hold differing values and beliefs.

What do you enjoy most about collaborating with Lewis & Clark students?

I find that our students are very responsible, respectful, and great communicators. I also love the moments of insight when students suggest things that I hadn’t considered. Sometimes I have been stunned by their insight and ability to connect different ideas from different issues. Since a lot of our work is computer-based, I try to get out of the office whenever possible. I’ve enjoyed taking students on hikes to help us get to know each other and build our community.

How does Lewis & Clark/this summer research experience prepare your students for a career and/or advanced studies after graduation?

Computer skills, including GIS mapping, have frequently helped students land a first job out of college. But I think that engaging in research is a critical life-long skill that can enhance many professions: articulating a question or problem statement that is unknown yet tractable, and systematically pursuing knowledge to inform it.

What sets your department or program apart from other small liberal arts colleges?

A devotion to question some assumptions of traditional environmental thought and consider the validity or possible contributions of alternate viewpoints.

How do you describe the liberal arts?

It’s a daring approach in which the study of diverse topics such as economics, religious studies, biology, or history leads to insight on a given topic or issue in ways in which you might not be able to predict.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

The Dovecote coffee bar. I LOVE working from a coffee shop, and it’s right here!

What’s your favorite thing about living in Portland?

The school system seems keenly interested in fostering kind, caring, respectful kids who not only tolerate, but celebrate being “weird.” It seems like there is a lessened need to conform, and a greater freedom to be who you are, and do what you do.

What’s your most cherished L&C memory?

The overnight field trips that I took my Environmental Problems and Solutions course in Willapa Bay, WA.  

Share something you think your students would be surprised to learn about you.

I was an exchange student to Russia for a year during my junior year of high school (that was 1993/94!) when Yeltsin was president! 

Environmental Studies Rogers Summer Science Research