Archive for the ‘News’ Category

News from Marion Wood

San Francisco State University Biology and SEPAL PALS alumna, Marion Wood has been accepted to study medicine by a great distance at Far Eastern University in the Philippines where she currently lives with her family and relatives. Marion graduated from SFSU with a BS in Physiology in December of 2019, a perfect fit for someone who wants to study medicine. She was most notable for being one of the sixteen students who pioneered the current Peer Assistants for Learning Science (PALS), a course intended to reinforce biology students with desires to teach science in the future by working with current teachers and staff in biology such as BIO 230. Marion couldn’t have been in this position without her fellow physiology partner, Jennifer Breckler.

Marion’s journey at SFSU is over, but now she will pursue her new endeavors in medicine at her home country in the Philippines.

News from Analisa Brown

SEPAL Research Alumni and previously studied her Masters in Marine Biology at SFSU, our very own Analisa Brown has accepted to pursue her doctoral studies in Science Education at UC Davis. Not only Analisa has dedicated herself in the sciences, she has also dedicated herself to further improve educational experiences for black students in biology classes at SFSU and helping undergraduates through college advising for the METRO program.

News from Carlos Damas

Congratulations to our former Bio 230 student and M.D. candidate for UCSF, Carlos Damas. You probably recognize him during the first couple of lectures in Bio 230 in the intro slides, as well for his “Top Ten List of Why Folks Should Wear Their Bio 230 Bag Tag”. It has already been ten years since Carlos once sat in a theater full of his own fellow biology students getting ready to learn introductory biology. Now he is heading towards his dream goal in helping children with medical needs in our very own city of San Francisco for UCSF. If Carlos can accomplish his dreams, so can we.

News from Dr. Sara Brownell

photo Sara Brownell

One of our esteemed SEPAL Postdoc alums – Dr. Sara Brownell – was just awarded the prestigious 2020 LGBTQ+ Educator of the Year award from a national organization. Sara is an Associate Professor of Biology at Arizona State University and has a thriving biology education research laboratory there.

Her research focuses on strategies into making undergraduate classrooms more inclusive and secure for students of all backgrounds to further help them on their career in the sciences.

You can read more about her award and herself here.

Mallory Rice


Mallory Rice

About me

I grew up between Sonoma County and very rural Mendocino County, and I loved the redwoods and rugged, rocky coastlines of northern California so much I stayed there to pursue my undergraduate degree in biology at Sonoma State University. Afterwards, I moved down to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to earn my PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology. While at UCSB, I pursued research investigating how human impacts to coastal ecosystems (i.e., land-based pollution, seawater warming) mediated the effects of biotic processes on the mortality and physiology of foundation species. My interest in equity in biology education really stems from my experience as a low-income, first-generation college going student, and the challenges I faced navigating higher education. Strong mentors invested in my success, and being a mentor for undergraduate students at UCSB, fostered my interest in understanding how we can 1) improve access points to biology in higher education and 2) reduce the barriers nontraditional students face to succeed in biology. 

On weekends you can find me baking new desserts and breads from scratch, cooking Italian foods, hiking, and exploring San Francisco. 

Research Interest 

I am very excited to be joining the SEPAL team. I am interested in exploring the utility of peer learning assistants and exploring tools that can be used in biology education classrooms to reduce the achievement gaps between students. I’m also interested in investigating the influence of instructor talk on student motivation and performance in biology classrooms. 

Advice for Others: 

Build your community! Build a science community to help lift you up when science becomes frustrating. Build your “non-science” community as well! Whether that is fellow artists, runners, birders to hike with, or in my case, weightlifters, find your non-science passion and build a wonderful community within that space. This helps build a healthy work-life balance in your life and provides you with really insightful perspectives that we often don’t find within academia.

News from Dara Tolchin!

We are proud to announce that SEPAL alumna, Dara Tolchin, has a new position in the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine program!

Tolchin received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a Physiology concentration from San Francisco State University then went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Biology at Drexel University.

News from Aileen Castro!

We are proud to announce that SEPAL alumna, Aileen Castro, has a new position at MyoKardia as a Research Associate!

Castro received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a Physiology concentration from San Francisco State University. She has a prominent history of working in the hospital and health care industry, while also demonstrating substantial research experience.

News from Kathryn Barretto Husain!

We are proud to announce that SEPAL alumna, Kathryn Hussain, has recently been offered a tenure-track Biology Professor position at Madera Community College Center. She has accepted the position!

After receiving her MS Biology, Hussain has gone on to lecture BIOL230, Introductory Biology I; BIOL101, Human Biology; BIOL211, Microbiology and Public Health Laboratory at San Francisco State University.

Dax Ovid

Dax Ovid, PhD


Research Interest

At SEPAL, I am studying how students respond to classroom experiences. These classroom experiences include non-content Instructor Talk, Scientist Spotlights, and more. My research contributes inclusive and culturally-responsive practices for both biology and data science in higher education.

About Me
I grew up in Sacramento, California and also lived in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. With an appreciation for the natural world and a curiosity about birds, I chose to study Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, where I pursued research in avian reproductive neuroendocrinology and focused on the role of melatonin in seasonal reproductive timing. My graduate and postdoctoral career extended to studies in mammals and amphibia. 
Beyond my interest in biological research was my fascination with the culture and pedagogy of science. I took courses in Data and Ethics, Curriculum Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and Critical Race Theory and saw the bridge between efforts in different academic disciplines and in the sciences to support equitable and inclusive representation and engagement. 
While taking courses in different departments, I noticed how identity and personal characteristics were both central in my social science courses. In biology, human experiences of race, sex, gender, ethnicity, ability, and sexuality seemed to never come up in the classroom. References to humans felt like references that were constrained to a norm that did not represent the variance of the human population, unless a professor went out of the way to make such a connection. The more I learned about the history and sociology of science, the more I imagined connecting these ideas to the science we were learning.

New Publication Alert!

Researchers have identified patterns of intuitive thinking that are commonly used to understand and reason about the biological world. These cognitive construals (anthropic, teleological, and essentialist thinking), while useful in everyday life, have also been associated with misconceptions about biological science. Although construal-based thinking is pervasive among students, we know little about the prevalence of construal-consistent language in the university science classroom. In the current research, we characterized the degree to which construal-consistent language is present in biology students’ learning environments. To do so, we coded transcripts of instructor’s speech in 90 undergraduate biology classes for the presence of construal-consistent language. Classes were drawn from two universities with very different student demographic profiles and represented 18 different courses aimed at nonmajors and lower- and upper-division biology majors. Results revealed construal-consistent language in all 90 sampled classes. Anthropic language was more frequent than teleological or essentialist language, and frequency of construal-consistent language was surprisingly consistent across instructor and course level. Moreover, results were surprisingly consistent across the two universities. These findings suggest that construal-consistent language is pervasive in the undergraduate classroom and highlight the need to understand how such language may facilitate and/or interfere with students learning biological science.

Click here to read more about this publication.

Betz, Nicole, et al. “Cognitive Construal-Consistent Instructor Language in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 18.4 (2019): ar63.