Changing Perspectives: A Visit to Santa Cruz

Michelle Barboza visits Soquel High School. Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Laura Beach
Michelle Barboza visits Soquel High School. Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Laura Beach

In July, the teachers of the GABI RET came to Panama to visit the PCP PIRE interns. For two weeks, the cohort joined us in the field, in the lab, and after hours, getting a chance to participate in all aspects of paleontology in and out of the canal.

In our All Hands Meeting the following month, the educators explained that one of the most important things they took away from the program was the effect it had on their view of science. Instead of encountering a stuffy old men in lab coats, they met interns covered in mud. Instead of boards covered with esoteric equations, they entered labs lined with 20 million year old fossils. Lab coats and equations have a place in science, but the GABI RET participants found that so too does dirt and sweat. By participating in research with us, they experienced science not as a collection of facts, but as an outlook, as a process, as an action. As their perspectives began to change, they saw that science is a process of discovery, and discovery is a process of journey, rather than an end. From our circle of picnic tables on a green Nebraska plain, participants shared their new understanding – science is not explored in a straight narrow line, science involves unexpected results, science is fluid, open, curiosity.

These sentiments struck me, for though I am now involved in research and preparing an undergraduate thesis, I never imagined I would be working towards a STEM degree. Luckily for me, a GE class in my second year of studies changed my course. I am an avid hiker and outdoorsman, so I decided to take a geology class. My experience in the class led me to leave behind my business administration double major, two years in the making, with no regret. Before this fateful twist however, science had been an uncomfortable thought – when I attempted to approach the subject, it had been a mountain, a class to be avoided, and above all, a closed black box.

Michelle Barboza doing field work in Nebraska during the PCP PIRE All Hands meeting.
Michelle Barboza doing field work in Nebraska during the PCP PIRE All Hands meeting.

Talking to the teachers in Panama and at our All Hands Meeting, I realized that this outlook is not only common, but prevalent. It became clear to me that there was a divide between active science and science in the public eye, and that bridging this gap was just as important, if not more important, than the investigations we were conducting behind closed doors.

In November, I went to Santa Cruz to visit the teachers of GABI RET and, most importantly, their students. My goal – to open the doors. It was my goal to have them rethink their definition of science, just as our teachers had, just I had. I was very happy to share my story with students, which they told me surprised and encouraged them. Students who held reservations about pursuing a career in science said they were inspired nonetheless, learning that one could take their interests and turn them into their studies (and even a career!) was novel and exciting. As the visits progressed and the trip continued, I saw that my talks could result in changing perspectives not only regarding science as a field of study, but learning itself. With each class I met, with each student whose interest was piqued, science came a step closer to being unearthed.

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