Current Master’s Students

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Analisa Brown

Degree: Master’s in Biology, Concentration in Physiology and Behavior
Advisor: Kimberly Tanner, PhD.

About Me

I am originally from the Bay Area and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012 with a BS in Marine Biology. While in undergrad, I was fortunate enough to participate in many research experiences and traveled to Puerto Rico and Canada to present at professional scientific conferences. I set out on my college career with the intentions of becoming a shark biologist and even interned with the Oceans Lab in South Africa which mainly focus on the migration patterns of Great White sharks. After many years of scientific research, I was always drawn to the outreach component of every program and the opportunities to work with disadvantaged youth. I came to SEPAL to pursue a Master’s in Biology with the goal of becoming a community college professor. I will also start up my own marine outreach program teaching Black youth about marine life and ecosystems. In my free time I enjoy traveling the world, building jigsaw puzzles and spending time with my nephew.

Research Interests

My research will investigate the ways in which African America / Black students feel supported and unsupported in the Department of Biology at San Francisco State University. To achieve to goal, I will be speaking with African American / Black students in the Department of Biology directly. I’m interested in what suggestions the students might have for the department to increase the retention and success of African American / Black students in college. With SF State having such a diverse student population and catering to the greater Bay Area, this is a perfect opportunity to investigate the experiences of African American / Black students within the Department of Biology.


Derik Gonzalez

Degree: Master’s in Geoscience, Concentration in Geology
Advisors: Kimberly Tanner, PhD. and Leonard Sklar, PhD.

About Me

I am originally from New Orleans, LA and graduated from the University of Hawai`i at Hilo with a B.S. in geology in 2013. I was exposed to many wonderful geologic phenomena while studying in Hawai`i, like active lava flows and lava tubes. My dedication and passion for geology landed me an internship at UHH in collaboration with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Throughout all my research experience, my fondest memories were always in an instructional-type setting. I began teaching early on, first, as a laboratory assistant at UH Hilo and then as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at SFSU. I was advised by a faculty member in the Earth & Climate Sciences dept. at SFSU to take SCI 750 – Science Teaching for Scientists to enhance my teaching skills. From day one, SCI 750 changed my life by exposing me to the SEPAL lab and the wonderful teaching skills they are known for using. I was ecstatic when I was accepted into the SEPAL lab to work on a joint project with the Earth & Climate Sciences Department. My plan is to finish my Master’s Degree and become a community college instructor to help inspire young adults to become future earth scientists. In my spare time, I love to go hiking, collect rocks and minerals, cook, and spend time with my partner.

Research Interests

I am interested in investigating the visibility of LGBTQ students and faculty in the College of Science and Engineering (CoSE) at SFSU and whether students are aware of LGBTQ faculty within their departments. To explore these questions, I will recruit students and faculty to complete an anonymous survey from all the departments in the CoSE. With San Francisco being one of the largest gay meccas in the world and the recent supreme court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry, this is the perfect time and place to conduct a study of this nature.


Peter Lê

Degree: Master’s in Biology, Concentration in Physiology and Behavior
Advisor: Kimberly Tanner, PhD

About me:

I am originally from Oakland, CA and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2014 with my B.A. in Integrative Biology and a minor in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies. I started teaching when I was 14, but developed a deep interest for both biology and biology education in my high school physiology class. Since then, I have spent my academic life preparing for a career in biology education. I pursued opportunities as a teaching assistant for communications and physiology courses at Laney College, which stimulated my desire to become a community college biology instructor and eventually led me to SEPAL. I also worked as an undergraduate student instructor for Biology 1B at UC Berkeley and an academic instructor for the Upward Bound Math & Science summer program at UC Berkeley. In my spare time, I enjoy listening to music (Shawn Mendes!), catching up on my favorite TV shows, eating out, writing Yelp reviews, shopping at Target, and spending time with my dog.

Research Interests:

I am interested in the intersection of biology education and ethnic studies, particularly for Southeast Asian communities. Thus, my research project aims to understand the relationship between Vietnamese ethnic identity and familial pressure on major choice. To explore this, I will work with Vietnamese students in the Biology and Ethnic Studies majors at SFSU to understand the reasons behind their major choice. As the first university to establish the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies, SFSU, in conjunction with SEPAL, allows me to take an interdisciplinary approach towards improving educational outcomes for Vietnamese students.

Berenice (Alex) Cabrera

Degree: Master’s in Biology, Concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology
Advisor: Kimberly Tanner, PhD.  


About me

I am originally from Salinas, CA and graduated from SFSU with bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Latino/a Studies, as well as a minor in Chemistry. As an undergraduate, I became involved with SEPAL through the Spectrum program, where I had the opportunity to introduce middle school girls to exciting biology topics through engaging, hands-on activities. This experience evoked both a deep interest in science education and a passion for inspiring women and students of color to pursue STEM careers. In my spare time, I enjoy trying new restaurants, checking out local bookstores, and spending time with family and friends.        

Research Interests

My research will focus on uncovering the ideas and experiences that Biology students have during professor office hours in hopes of identifying the most effective teaching and advising methods, as well as those that are generally counterproductive. Faculty members are charged with the responsibility of mentoring students, though they often receive little to no training in this regard. With the help of the Biology students that I intend to work with, my goal is to help faculty members become more effective advisors that are better-equipped to support students pursuing STEM majors and careers.


Benjamin AA Nelson

Degree: Master’s in Biology, Concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology
Advisor: Kimberly Tanner, PhD.
About Me
I am originally from El Cerrito, CA and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2010 with a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. While an undergraduate, I relentlessly explored the massive UCSC campus, taking in the natural history and botany around me.  Eventually I changed my major to biology (from social science) to start to try to answer the questions that kept permeating my thoughts.  I pursued classes that took me outside and realized I loved field biology.  After graduating I explored an interest that I hadn’t been able to before: education.  I began taking students on educational hikes throughout California with Naturalists at Large, then in North Carolina at the Don Lee Center.  I was sold on the power of education and continued my career at San Mateo Outdoor Education where I gained the role of Naturalist and led students on hikes as well as helped beginning teachers improve their teaching skills.  After 4 years I needed a new perspective and challenge and am at SEPAL to pursue a Master’s in Biology to in hopes that I can improve science education and eventually teach at the college level.  In my free time I enjoy playing basketball, going on hikes naturalizing as I go, and trying to find time to play games and make art.
Research Interests
While my research is yet undecided I do have a couple of focuses that I am eager to explore.  One is: what learning outcomes do non-biology students receive from a general education biology class.  My other interest is: what are the learning outcomes of students attending field courses.  I will keep this posted as my ideas and research unfold.