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Graduate students inspire young scientists at Feria de Educación 2018

UCLA students introduced hands-on experiments related to nanotechnology in both Spanish and English to thousands of attendees at the Feria de Educación at CSUN.

Penny Jennings and Nikki Lin | November 2, 2018

Graduate student Fidel Ruiz Robles (Zink group) explains how nanotechnology can help improve solar cells to young visitors at the Feria de Educacion 2018. (Image credit: Elaine Morita/CNSI)

Annually, the California State University Chancellor’s Office in partnership with Univision hosts thousands of Spanish-speaking students and their families to take part in Feria de Educación or “Education Fair,” a community-oriented education event that provides college preparatory services, learning opportunities, and fun-filled family activities to the Latino community.

Graduate students from the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry who volunteered their time are also instructors for a year-round workshop series for K-12 educators, led by Professor Sarah Tolbert, a professor of chemistry & biochemistry and of materials science and engineering at UCLA, and Dr. Rita Blaik, Education Director at the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). The workshop offers free training and kits to bring nanoscience into the classroom that meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Graduate students Morgan Howe (Garcia-Garibay group) (right) and Roselyn Rodrigues (Liu Group) (left) explain the concepts of biopolymer expansion and superhydrophobic surface droplet formation, respectively. (Image credit: Elaine Morita/CNSI)

For nearly a decade, Tolbert has collaborated with a dedicated group of UCLA researchers to create academic courses, workshops, professional development and training opportunities that engage the educators of today and students who will become the scientists of tomorrow.

Spanish-speaking students from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry who volunteered at the October 20, 2018 event at California State University Northridge (CSUN) shared some of their experiences:

Graduate student Madeline Gelb (Maynard group) shows the phenomenon of Tyndall scattering and its similarities to light scattering in the air during sunsets. (Image credit: Elaine Morita/CNSI)

“I was able to help students and parents that would normally be unable to communicate or learn due to language barriers or cultural differences,” said Omar Leon Ruiz, a materials chemistry graduate student in Tolbert’s group. “I wanted to help my community at UCLA be able to connect to those that usually don’t have the possibility to be involved or engaged in such events. My experience at the event helped me to develop more as a teacher/professor, which is what I am pursuing as my future career.”

Jesus Alberto Iniguez, a materials and nanoscience chemistry graduate student in Professor Chong Liu’s group, shared why he chose to commit his time to the program, “I volunteered because I wanted to demonstrate nanoscience experiments and explain the science to Spanish speaking students and parents who might not understand English too well. I grew up 15 minutes away from CSUN, so I felt it was necessary for me to participate. My hope was to be an example for the youth of my community and demonstrate the importance of diversifying the sciences. The added value for me was knowing that I might have inspired a young mind to pursue a scientific career. It gives me great joy and honor knowing I attend a school so focused on giving back to communities like mine through science.”

This program also offers multidisciplinary education and training opportunities that supplement and enhance traditional degree programs and classroom curricula, to prepare a new generation of leaders.

“CNSI has a mission to educate people of all ages about nanoscience – not just researchers,” said Blaik. “Feria de Educación is a great opportunity for us because it lets us reach a significant portion of the public that is largely underserved and has a hard time accessing resources on STEM education.”