What CSEP programs do you participate in?
I participated as a mentor in the INSET, Condor Tech, and Jack Kent Cooke Bridges programs to promote community college student engagement in research.
Why did you decide to participate in CSEP Programs?
While I was an undergraduate student, I found the whole world of scientific research as somewhat of a mystery. I never thought that I, with mediocre grades in the sciences, would one day become a scientist. My mindset about scientific research changed when I got involved with the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (OK-LSAMP) at Oklahoma State University, which supported undergraduate students to pursue research projects with faculty members. Through two years of working on past environmental change along the Texas coast using geological records, I realized that not only was a career in scientific research attainable, but something that I really loved. When I arrived at UCSB as a PhD student, I knew that I wanted to be involved in encouraging students to pursue the sciences and provide them with a better understanding of the process of scientific research.
Tell me about your experience in the programs.
I started my first experience in CSEP programs by working with a student from Santa Barbara City College through the INSET summer research program. She was excited about contributing to an active research project and I was excited to help her along the way. Actually, she worked on the same samples that I had worked on as an undergraduate student back at Oklahoma State University! She transferred to UCSB the following semester and continued working in our lab until she completed a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences. The next summer I worked with groups of community college students through the Condor Tech and Jack Kent Cooke Bridges programs. I witnessed students with different backgrounds and career aspirations learn and work together on research projects, and importantly get excited about research and use their experience that summer to change and build on how they perceive problems and the world in general.
When participating in the programs, was there anything that surprised you?
Throughout my experience mentoring community college students, I solidified my view that anyone can do research and contribute in a meaningful way to posing scientific questions and explanations. I worked with students pursuing, for example, careers in business and nursing who flourished in the research environment and begin to perceive science in a different way. All it takes is motivation and a drive to learn about something new.
What are you proudest moments from these programs?
My most proud moments were when I saw the students present their posters and presentations at the end of the research experience. I got to see them when they realized how much they had learned and grown by working on research projects. It was great to see the smiles on their faces and of their family members and friends who were there to support them.
What was the most rewarding part of mentoring students?
The most rewarding part is watching students learn through the process of research. Traditional classroom environments often don’t allow students to actively participate and limit how much students can guide their own educational experience. This is almost opposite of conducting research, where students must be engaged and are encouraged to discuss, explore, and process knowledge in a different way. The students that I have worked with through CSEP programs were eager to learn and left the experience with new perspectives on research and how research is important for society.
How did your experience in CSEP programs prepare you for your current position?
My career path would have been vastly different had I not be a part of a mentoring program as an undergraduate student. The experience I have had with CSEP programs has made me realize that mentoring and reaching out to the next generation of STEM students is not only something that I want to do, but something that I feel obligated to do. As I pursue a faculty position, I look forward to a long career of mentoring students and encouraging them to explore and test ideas. The experience I have gained via CSEP has taught me so much about how different students learn and interact in the research environment, that is invaluable experience for me as I continue to mentor students through teaching and research projects.
What is your future plans?
I am interviewing for assistant professor positions at universities this winter and spring, and hope to continue to pursue research on past environmental changes, specifically sea level and glacier variability in geological records.
What did you want to be when you were younger? Is that still an interest of yours?
My first recollection of what I wanted to be was in early elementary school when I wanted to be an entomologist, but then I realized that I had a (now mild) fear of flying insects! By the time I entered university, I decided on elementary education. Changing my major to geology at the beginning of my junior year was certainly a big surprise for my family, but I knew that my future career could include scientific research and teaching. Now I am on track to do both!
Any wisdom you would like to impart on aspiring graduate students in the sciences?
I firmly believe that hard work and motivation can get you anywhere. To be successful, you have to surround yourself with people who support you and your decisions, and steer clear of people who tell you that you are not capable of doing something or are unreasonably negative. A great part of graduate school is building a community with your peers, who can be a great source of support.
What do you like to do for fun?
Most of the things that I do for fun center around travelling and relaxing. I love exploring different cultures, sites, and foods. I do yoga and find that it is helpful in momentarily forgetting all the big (and small) things going on in my life, community, and the world. I enjoy time with my family, friends, dogs, and a good book.