Márquez-Magaña Addresses March for Science SF Crowd

by Camille Mojica Rey

SF BUILD Lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña, PhD, was among local science leaders invited to speak at a kick-off rally for the March for Science San Francisco on April 21st at Justin Herman Plaza. The peaceful rally and march that followed drew tens of thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts. The event was one of 500 planned around the world to celebrate Earth Day and motivated by a commonly held belief that governments in the U.S. and around the world are moving away from evidence-based policies, and increasingly de-valuing science.

Despite the political catalyst, however, the speakers adhered to a celebratory, non-partisan, and inclusive tone. “As I look onto this amazing crowd of individuals I can’t help but think of the motto of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) that embraces science, culture, and community,” said Márquez-Magaña, SFSU Professor of Biology, as she opened her remarks. “It’s clear to me that we are all here because we value the practice of science and an inclusive culture that best benefits all of our communities.”

March for Science - San Francisco, a non-partisan group, sponsored the Earth Day event to support communication, funding, policy, literacy, and diversity in the sciences. The group’s aim was to celebrate public discovery, understanding, and distribution of scientific knowledge as crucial to the freedom, success, health, and safety of life on this planet. Other kick-off rally speakers included Adam Savage, inventor and host of TV’s MythBusters, Dr. D.J. Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist; Eric Valor, founder of SciOpen Research Group; Kathy Setian, retired project manager at EPA; and plant geneticist, Dr. Pamela Ronald, PhD. The emcee for the event was Kishore Hari, director of the Bay Area Science Festival.

During her speech, Márquez-Magaña shared an anecdote with the crowd that taught her, even as a young child, that inclusivity was key to the interpretation of data. She painted a picture of herself as a kindergartener wearing a homemade dress on the first day of school and proud of the fact that she was already serving as an interpreter to her immigrant parents. “It was these thoughts of pride, and feelings of becoming a stronger part of my parent’s new country, that occupied my thoughts that day on the playground when a classmate interrupted them to say, ‘It’s too bad you speak two languages, it makes you so dumb.’” Márquez-Magaña elicited cheers when she told the audience her internal reaction to this comment. “For a millisecond I felt the same shame that my yellow plaid dress with faux fur collar caused me, but in the next millisecond I thought, ‘Two is bigger than one. Maybe I’m not the dumb one.’” She pointed out that, years later, science would show the advantages of bilingualism.

Márquez-Magaña also went on to list the benefits of inclusive science as shown by modern research. “I think these are some of the reasons many of us are marching today. I also think that we all know, at some level, that the practice of inclusive science and critical thinking can build bridges between communities for mutual benefit. For example, if I had known enough to practice inclusion at the time, I might have asked my classmate on the playground to help me improve my English and offered to help her learn Spanish so that we could mutually benefit from greater ways of knowing about our shared world.”

Márquez-Magaña concluded her remarks by telling the crowd that she hoped the days’ events in San Francisco and around the world would lead to “greater recognition of the need to work not only across scientific silos, but also for those of us who are practicing scientists to work with our communities and political leaders to inform the decisions that affect us all.” Inclusive science is necessary if we are to solve the world’s complex problems, she reminded those gathered for the Earth Day Celebration. “After all we are all in this together because we share the same Earth.”

After the rally, protestors clogged San Francisco’s streets, marching and waving witty signs, like “Fight Truth Decay,” and “Geology Rocks.” At one point, the line of marchers stretched two miles down Market Street, from the Ferry Building to City Hall. Once arriving at Civic Center Plaza, marchers were treated to a science fair that stretched into the evening.

Márquez-Magaña said later that participating in the event “reconfirmed my feeling that the general public does want inclusive science, and it increased my understanding of the many barriers we still have to overcome to get there.”

Read the transcript to Dr. Marquez-Magana's speach HERE.


March 2, 2017


SF BUILD Scholars Prepared For Challenges Of Graduate Programs

by Camille Mojica Rey

     This spring, the first cohort of SF BUILD Scholars received letters of acceptance to top graduate programs across the country. Being accepted into graduate school is a milestone in the lives of these SFSU students and great news for SF BUILD faculty and staff at SFSU and UCSF who have been working to prepare these students for the next step in their biomedical science careers.


“We are really excited,” says Carmen Domingo, SFSU professor of biology and core co-leader of student training for SF BUILD. “It’s validating that the program that we set up is supporting their career goals. They are getting to the level where they are competitive and being admitted to the best programs.”


Juan Castillo, one of the recent graduates of the SF BUILD Scholars program, earned a degree in chemistry from SFSU in August 2016. Castillo spent the fall continuing the research he began during the program and applying to a number of graduate programs nationwide. He received multiple offers, including one from his first choice, UC Davis. Castillo credits SF BUILD with giving him the research opportunities and mentorship he needed to be a competitive candidate. “I want to go into academic research someday, improve health in communities and do that using analytical chemistry,” he says. “The program showed me how I can do that.”


Ensuring Success

SF BUILD not only prepares students like Castillo to conduct professional level research in the biomedical sciences, but it takes a unique approach to ensuring success in a field that lacks diversity. Students receive education about stereotype threat, a phenomenon that occurs when a person from an underrepresented group experiences concern over confirming a negative stereotype of that group. This can impact their performance in high-stake situations, such as in science and math courses, and possibly lead to an early exit from the career pipeline. Castillo and his fellow scholars will be heading to graduate school armed with knowledge of stereotype threat, as well as tools to combat it.


“We hope that what we have taught our scholars about stereotype threat will allow them to navigate their graduate programs where they are likely to feel very isolated,” Domingo says. SF BUILD Scholars will be able to understand those circumstances in a different way than those who haven’t had this training, she explains.


In addition to teaching about stereotype threat, SF BUILD also works to affirm the scholars’ desire to give back to their communities. Losing the feeling that what they do matters has been shown to be another reason students from underrepresented groups leave the path leading towards careers in science.


For his part, Castillo says he was inspired by the work he did under Leticia Márquez-Magaña, SF BUILD’s director, SFSU professor of biology, and the head of the Health Equity Research (HER) Lab. “I was introduced to this project measuring the stress hormone, cortisol, in human hair to document the effects of chronic stress on marginalized communities like my own,” Castillo says. He was born in San Francisco and raised in nearby San Rafael by a single mother. Although his older siblings had chosen to go to college, he had not done so at the time of his mother’s death, instead working in bicycle shops and in construction. It was his mother’s passing that inspired Castillo to attend SFSU.


Castillo had already been working in the lab of Peter Palmer, SFSU professor of chemistry, when he was accepted into the SF BUILD Scholars program. In the HER Lab, Castillo worked on optimizing methods for sample preparation and the measurement of cortisol using mass spectrometry. He continued working with Palmer as a co-mentor. “The time I spent with both of my research mentors was invaluable to me.”


Program Ambassadors

Castillo is currently writing up his findings, which he presented at the national meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native American Scientists (SACNAS). Now, as an incoming graduate student studying analytical chemistry at UC Davis, he hopes to continue measuring and studying biological molecules and addressing research questions that will improve health in communities. “I want to be a super mentor and a role model to kids in minority communities and that was one thing that was missing when I was a child. I think I can make a difference in helping people to do that.”


It’s that kind of commitment that gives SF BUILD faculty the assurance that what they are doing will have a ripple effect throughout the biological sciences. “These students are like our ambassadors,” Domingo explains. Not only will their experiences influence the kinds of research projects they will do, but they will educate and inspire their peers, as well as their own future students to also apply basic science to the well-being of minority communities. “By increasing the diversity of the people that ask questions, we impact the scientific community.” 

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