Science is in every aspect of life, therefore it should not be taught solely through a western lens which is usually integrated in every course. By teaching our bilingual students in their primary language it creates a welcoming and approachable environment for future generations to RISE UP!
-from the Ciencia Para Todos website
In 2019, a small group of bilingual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) students at HSU noticed a startling lack of diversity among their classmates and instructors and asked, “How can we change this?” According to Christian Trujillo, the isolation he and his fellow students felt at not seeing other students or instructors who looked like them or shared their culture led them to found Ciencia Para Todos to bring environmental science education to young Spanish-speaking students and to change the dynamic of the scientific community. Trujillo says he and fellow founders, Odalis Avalos and Diana Martinez, were finding it difficult to bring the scientific knowledge that they were excited to be learning in college back to their communities not only because of the language barrier, but also because of a cultural barrier. “The way we were being taught was based on white, middle class and upper-middle class knowledge,” says Trujillo. He and his fellow founders recognized that this was a barrier to getting young students of color excited about science and higher education in general and set out to change that.
The goal of Ciencia Para Todos is to create a fun, safe, interactive space for young students to discover the scientist within. Through programs like El Increible Viaje Del Agua (The Incredible Journey of Water) and El Superpoder de Secoyas (The Superpowers of Redwoods), members of Ciencia Para Todos have not only introduced bilingual students to the wonders of science, but have also shown them that their language is beautiful and important. Trujillo says one of the most gratifying things about the work is seeing students get excited about speaking their language and learning new words. “Many of these students don’t associate Spanish with science. Especially kids who don’t get to explore opportunities in Spanish. Their parents benefit too, as they learn about these concepts with their kids.”
An unexpected impact of Ciencia Para Todos is that many members have now gone into translational work, something that Trujillo says they didn’t set out to do. Through sharing their scientific passions in Spanish, they’ve discovered a love for bilingual education. Ciencia Para Todos is currently working on becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit, but the journey hasn’t been without challenges. Trujillo says they struggled at first to get support from HSU, with only the cultural centers (El Centro Académico, Indigenous Natural Resource Science and Engineering Program or INRSEP, and Promotorx Transformative Educators) and HSU Vice President Dr. Jason Meriwether backing them. That has changed, now that the school sees how serious they are. They also struggled with language barriers within the Spanish language. There are multiple dialects of Spanish, so the team had to decide what would work best for the local Spanish-speaking population, which is largely from Central America and Mexico. “We struggled with how to hone the materials and use the most generalized word, and how to turn scientific knowledge into general, understandable terms.”
Jose Juan Rodriguez, who joined Ciencia Para Todos during the pandemic and hasn’t been able to visit classrooms, has been working on their next big project, a book for aspiring young scientists which they are hoping to publish by next semester. Inspired by “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” which is about a young Malawian boy who teaches himself how to build a wind turbine and bring electricity to his village, the goal of the book, as Rodriguez says, “is to let students know that they are scientists and they can change the world.” ¡Soy un científico!, which will be available to students for free, focuses on water (el agua) and the sun (el sol), why they are important, and how they are impacted by and impact climate change. With “shout outs to solar and renewable energy” the goal is to make these concepts accessible while also addressing imposter syndrome and letting kids know they are capable of doing big things. They are working with HSU professor Lonny Grafman on the book to make scientific concepts accessible and to inspire and awaken the scientists in young, bilingual students.
The long-term goal, according to Rodriguez and Trujillo, is to not only bring more Spanish-speaking and bilingual students into STEM programs and influence how those disciplines are taught, but also to foster more international collaboration between non English-speaking scientists, to take the language barrier away and contribute to a global scientific community. “We want others who feel their language isn’t represented in science to be inspired,” says Rodriguez. “Day by day, step by step, we will get better. We can make the world better by sharing knowledge and making education more inclusive. You shouldn’t have to wait until college to find the scientist in you.”
Trujillo adds, “We want people to know that there is more than one way of thinking when it comes to education and science, and we need to be open to hearing that. Since the beginning of time, there have been scientists. Traditional Ecological Knowledge, natural medicine, ways of scientific knowledge from our ancestors. Academia is important, but we have to make it more accessible. This isn’t something we should have to do, but we are doing it.”
To learn more about the work the student leaders are doing, visit hsucienciapt.wixsite.com/original or find them on Instagram @cienciaparatodos_hsu.