In 2015, CSI3 offered Janet Mejia—a teacher-candidate in the NOYCE program—the opportunity to participate in a research internship with Dr. Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, a professor in the Department of Biology at Cal State University Dominguez Hills.
Mejia was one of several CSI3 teacher-candidates who assisted in the research of Hawaiian sea coral. Students in our STAR (STEM Teachers in Advanced Residency) Program participated too. Noemi Rodriguez, coordinator of NOYCE and MSTI (Math & Science Teacher Initiative), links teacher-candidates to research opportunities so that they can bring their experiences to the classroom.
The main focus of the investigation was to examine the gametogenic cycle in bleached corals and un-bleached corals of Montipera capitata. Samples were collected from habitats throughout Hawaii. In the study, the research team led by Dr. Padilla-Gamiño explored how corals survived polluted waters, maintained health and reproductive success when they encountered additional stressors such as abnormal temperatures. This data contributes to understanding how global warming affects reef builders that are vital to oceanic ecosystems.
In a Q&A with Ms. Mejia, we asked her about a journey that she describes as an “opportunity of a lifetime that I would have never thought I’d have a chance to do.”
CSI3. You said that Dr. Padilla explained that the work was important? Why was it important and how did you come to the conclusion of its importance while doing the research?
Janet. Dr. Padilla-Gamino told us about her research and goals when we met and she was very passionate about her research. I already had previous knowledge about global warming but I did not know the temperature details on the water in Hawaii. By reading some of her previous journals I gathered key details of how coral are being affected by rising water temperatures. While analyzing the coral cells and measuring them, we saw some differences in sizes and we were able to connect some assumptions and have answers to some of our questions.
CSI3. How long was the research?
Janet. The research started in August 2015 and ended in May 2016. The samples we analyzed were collected in Hawaii (July 2015) and brought to our lab.
CSI3. What did you learn about the research process?
Janet. It was a great experience where I was able to connect all my knowledge that I have learned through my Biology major and actually put it [in]to practice. This was a real issue with real samples and important information that needed to be brought to the light. I was able to see how hard researchers work and how long it takes to gather just a small piece of data.
CSI3. How will this experience help you in the classroom?
Janet. This opportunity was a great tool for me to use in my classroom. My experience has given me a focus on why scientific research is so important, and how teaching science is so crucial for our society. I will be able to [incorporate] my research in my class and share those experiences with my students. Students will be able to see that teachers can do research as well and bring that type of environment into a class. I can [integrate] marine biology into my life science class and lab techniques combined with safety into any science classroom.
CSI3. What skills did you gain or develop?
Janet. I was able to grow in many ways. I became more precise manipulating my hands and paying close attention to detail. I learned to collaborate with other lab partners by setting up times to collect and transfer samples in and out of lab and working with schedules. I was able to develop a mentor relationship with Dr. Padilla-Gamino which I never experienced from a professor. She would give me advice and feedback on what I needed to change or correct and also offer praise and support. I have gained a lot of experience making microscope slides (Histology), staining, coverslipping and using Image J software to measure cells. I got more comfortable using excel and making graphs and working with data (standard deviation, error bars). Interpreting data was also discussed and learning what to do with our information.
CSI3. How did you grow personally?
Janet. This experience has been a great way for me to grow personally since it made me more motivated to seek out research opportunities and grow connections. By being involved, I was able to collaborate with other students and faculty and make networking connections that I can use in the future to bring to my class. I am also more comfortable presenting in front of an audience since I had the opportunity to present our research in the STEM conference. Overall, it has given me a confidence boost to pursue challenges that I once thought were out of reach.
CSI3. What is advice that you can give to future STEM teachers?
Janet. STEM teachers are so important to our society; it bridges the gap between scientific professionals and K-12 educators. We hold scientists so high that students feel they can’t relate. By saying this, I would advise STEM teachers to find common ground with students and show them all their experiences and projects [that demonstrate] their passion for the subjects [that they instruct]. The teacher might not be a researcher, but they can inspire a student to become one.
CSI3. How does the NOYCE scholars program help you in your career goals?
Janet. I am very thankful to the NOYCE program and the journey I have experienced with such a program. It has taught me to persevere and offered support in classes that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to pass and it has given me the confidence that I can do it! My career goals are much higher than I envisioned because of the staff and resources that they provide, like seminars and counseling. They have been able to guide me step by step and offered help throughout the way from beginning to the end. It is a great program and I hope they continue to help students along the way.