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Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

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Our Science. Nuestra Ciencia.

Nuestra Ciencia researchers teach elementary student to use microscopeABOVE PHOTO: (From left) psychology graduate student Hector Reyes, biological sciences Professor Alejandra Yep, Mia Soriano (11 years old) and liberal studies Professor Jasmine Nation. Soriano is being instructed on using a microscope in the Center for Applications in Biotechnology lab. Photos by Sarah Davenport


Read this article in Spanish.
Lea este artículo en español.

APRIL 2024

Hector ReyesIt’s noon and the bell rings at Pacheco Elementary School in San Luis Obispo. We’re a group of terrified yet excited Cal Poly undergraduates ready to begin the lesson that we’ve been preparing for months: teaching kids about how herd immunity works — in Spanish.

As the children enter the classroom, they notice the first image of a slideshow presentation displayed on the screen and boxes of materials for the upcoming activity. “It can’t be harder than presenting at a conference,” I think. Although my team and I have rehearsed many times, I feel anxious to see how the children will react.

"As a child I never used my native Spanish academically, and never thought about science in Spanish. It wasn’t until I joined Nuestra Ciencia that I used Spanish as a tool and served as a role model for young children.

~Hector Fernando Reyes

Nuestra Ciencia researcher,
Cal Poly alum, Psychology, ’23,
San Diego State University master's student

We’ll ask them to simulate a community scenario involving vaccinated and non-vaccinated groups. The students will collect data and create bar graphs to present their results in class, growing in confidence every step of the way, and learning that they, too, can be scientists. As the children settle in, their Pacheco teacher, Maestra (Teacher) Carmen Jimenez, signals that we are ready to start.

Nuestra Ciencia researcher with elementary students

I take a deep breath and begin: “Hola, buenos días, nosotros somos Nuestra Ciencia, un grupo de profesores y estudiantes de Cal Poly San Luis Obispo! Juntos hacemos lecturas y actividades de microbiología en español e ingles para los grados K-6.” (Hello, good day, we are Our Science, a group of professors and students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo! Together, we’ll do lectures and activities in microbiology in Spanish and English for grades K-6).”

What is Nuestra Ciencia?

That was my first day in the classroom with Nuestra Ciencia, or Our Science, a program in Cal Poly’s Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics Education (CESAME). The opportunity to interact with Spanish bilingual students was fulfilling, formative and influenced my aspirations for teaching and research. Nuestra Ciencia marked the highlight of my undergraduate career.

A few years ago, biological sciences Professor Alejandra Yep and liberal studies Professor Jasmine Nation were inspired through personal experiences to tackle two important issues – addressing misconceptions about microbiology and increasing the number of Latinx students who choose STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Latinx students are underrepresented in STEM majors and in the workforce.

After a few months of planning, and the formation of an undergraduate research team, Nuestra Ciencia was born. Nuestra Ciencia is a partnership between Cal Poly and local bilingual elementary schools. University students teach biology to bilingual K-6 students in Spanish. The team coordinates experiments, educational resources and classroom visits. Materials and activities are developed in Spanish and English, while activities are taught in Spanish to inspire our young Latinx scholars. The work highlights the importance of asset-based bilingual instruction in science, which uses students' aptitudes, skills and prior knowledge as a starting point for learning. The strategy views student differences as assets, not deficits.

As a young student, I never had a visit from college students to help me explore my interest in science or encourage me to consider a career in STEM. As a child I never used my native Spanish academically, and for a long time I never thought about science in Spanish. It wasn’t until I joined Nuestra Ciencia in 2021 that I used Spanish as a tool and served as a role model for young children. This opportunity made me feel closer to my Spanish-speaking community and I drew from my life experience to contribute to program goals related to science and diversity.

Frost Research Fellow and liberal studies student Yajaira Diaz (left) with her 10-year-old son, Isrian Lopez, and School of Education master's student José Hernandez Domitilo (center). Diaz and Domitilo were both part of the Nuestra Ciencia research group.Frost Research Fellow and liberal studies student Yajaira Diaz (left) with her 10-year-old son, Isrian Lopez, and School of Education candidate José Hernandez Domitilo (center). Diaz and Domitilo were both part of the Nuestra Ciencia Learn by Doing Lab.

Nuestra Ciencia in Action

As we build connections through mentorship, we hope to spark students’ interest in STEM-related subjects.

I recall a child’s reaction after I handed him a lab coat and told him that now he was going to be a scientist. Wide-eyed and beaming, he thanked me and began asking enthusiastic questions. This was one of the moments I knew that we had impacted these youngsters in a way that they would remember for the rest of their lives. Moments like this happened throughout my time in Nuestra Ciencia and motivated me to give my all to this project and these kids.

Nuestra Ciencia researchers with elementary studentYep (left) explains why there are different types of colonies in an environmental sample to nine-year-old Noé Gomez. Reyes is on the right.

We encouraged students to have conversations about science with their families and provided educational resources to help with those discussions — inspiring learning and curiosity at home.

The interdisciplinary approach is another important component of Nuestra Ciencia, which brings together motivated and inspiring experts from different fields to solve multidisciplinary issues. As a psychology major, I worked with peers who studied political science, environmental management, biomedical engineering and biology, among others. Some of us were bilingual, others only spoke English, and this diversity allowed for different perspectives, more creativity and unmatched interdisciplinary collaboration.

The focus on microbiology is not arbitrary. Our advisor, Dr. Yep, is a bilingual microbiologist with vast knowledge and experience in the field. Nuestra Ciencia formed three years ago during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that crucial moment for healthcare, we informed our young scholars and their families about vaccines. We met this challenge by using different methods of communication, activities and experiments adapted to each grade level. We tackled important questions: How do vaccines work? How does our immune system function? Are vaccines bad? What is herd immunity?

Ariann Landaverde (left) with Yep. Landaverde is an environmental management and protection student minoring in biological sciences and Spanish.Ariann Landaverde (left) with Yep. Landaverde is a Cal Poly alum (Environmental Management ’23) and will be starting the School of Education’s bilingual authorization program in fall 2024.

Our Research

The Nuestra Ciencia project team conducts research in two important ways. First, we collect questionnaires from elementary students before and after the lessons to assess knowledge and instructional effectiveness. Next, Nuestra Ciencia gathers data on our team members’ experiences.

Through focus groups, we reflect on how this project has impacted our lives and what we have learned. Most notably, undergraduates feel a greater sense of belonging at Cal Poly and in the surrounding community when they embrace positions as teachers and role models. This inspired positive attitudes toward future research projects.

My Cal Poly peers shared that incorporating background and culture impacted the way lessons were taught. This made teaching a lot more natural and meaningful because of connections with language, our collective life experiences and relatable cultural experiences. In addition, the elementary school students’ views on Spanish shifted from considering it a home language for “day-to-day things” to valuing it as a tool for expressing self, being a role model and connecting with family.

Nuestra Ciencia research groupCal Poly researchers from the Departments of Biological Sciences; Liberal Studies; School of Education; Psychology, Biomedical Engineering; Environmental Management and Protection, Industrial Technology and Packaging; with four bilingual elementary-age students. Top row: Landaverde, Natali Ceja, Domitilo, Xavier Aguilar, Dayanara Ramirez, Ana Bañuelos, April Garcia-Valdez, Alexis Espinoza. Bottom row: Yep, Diaz, Lopez, Alaiya Garcia, Soriano, Noé Gomez, Reyes, Nation.

Achievements and Next Steps

Nuestra Ciencia research paper NSFIn just a few years, Nuestra Ciencia has grown in many important ways. At Cal Poly, we were approved as the first Learn by Doing Lab section in Spanish, allowing an easier channel for the team to connect with elementary schools and organize student team visits to campus. This on-campus lab is where fifth- through eighth-grade students from local schools do hands-on science led by Cal Poly students.

In 2023, Professors Nation and Yep won Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing Scholar Award, which recognizes outstanding faculty contributions to our university’s signature hands-on pedagogy, Learn by Doing.

In 2022, Nuestra Ciencia started a campus club to attract new students of all majors and backgrounds to the team. Students involved in the project have given talks at two Social Justice Teach-ins and presented at several BEACoN (Believe, Educate and Empower, Advocate, Collaborate, Nurture) research symposia, Bailey College Student Research Conferences and University of California Links International Conferences, a hybrid meeting where Cal Poly students participated online.

Off campus, Nuestra Ciencia team members presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Meeting in 2023 and published a 2021 article in the scientific journal Integrative and Comparative Biology. Beyond these achievements, the project’s goals include expanding to more schools as well as adding lessons in other scientific fields, to be made possible with additional funding.

Nuestra Ciencia helped shape who I am as a professional and what I hope to achieve in the future. I hope more Cal Poly students and faculty will continue this important mission that will impact future generations in amazing ways: ¡Nuestra Ciencia es para todos! (Our Science is for All!)

Alejandra Yep,
Jasmine Nation,

Cal Poly Bailey College English and Spanish Insignia

Read this article in Spanish.
Lea este artículo en español.


Cal Poly:

  • BEACoN Scholarships through the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion
  • William and Linda Frost Fund Summer Undergraduate Research Program Fellowships
  • Research Scholarly and Creative Activities Grants
  • Teacher-Scholar Mini Grant
  • Center for Expressive Technologies Seed Grant
  • CESAME/Math Science Teacher Initiatives
  • The Access, Community and Equity (ACE) Program

External to Cal Poly:

  • UC-Links (UC Berkeley School of Education)
  • University of California Office of the President
  • California Academic Partnership Program (California State University system)

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