Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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.

Tiffy Nguyen

Current Position: Professor of Biology at San Jose City College
Degree: Master’s Degree in Biological Sciences
Advisor:  Kimberly Tanner, Ph.D.
Advise what you are up to now…
Tiffy is instructing full-time as the lead Human Anatomy professor at San Jose City College, where she also serves as the Human Anatomy Lab and Cadaver Room coordinator. 

Harrison, CD, Nguyen, TA, Seidel, SB, Escobedo, AM, Hartman, C, Lam, K, Liang, KS, Martens, M, Acker, GN, Akana, SF, Balukjian, B, Benton, HP, Blair, JR, Boaz, SM, Boyer, KE, Bram, JB, Burrus, LW, Byrd, DT, Caporale, N, Carpenter, EJ, Chan, YM, Chen, L, Chovnick, A, Chu, DS, Clarkson, BK, Cooper, SE, Creech, CJ, de la Torre, JR, Denetclaw, WF, Duncan, K, Edwards, AS, Erickson, K, Fuse, M, Gorga, JJ, Govindan, B, Green, LJ, Hankamp, PZ, Harris, HE, He, ZH, Ingalls, SB, Ingmire, PD, Jacobs, JR, Kamakea, M, Kimpo, RR, Knight, JD, Krause, SK, Krueger,Terrye, LE, Light, L, Lund, L, Márquez-Magaña, LM, McCarthy, BK, McPheron, L, Miller-Sims, VC, Moffatt, CA, Muick, PC, Nagami, PH, Nusse, G, Okimura, KM, Pasion, SG, Patterson, R, Pennings, PS, Riggs, B, Romeo, JM, Roy, SW, Russo-Tait, T, Schultheis, LM, Sengupta, L, Spicer, GS, Swei, A, Wade, JM, Willsie, JK, Kelley, LA, Owens, MT, Trujillo, G, Domingo, C, Schinske, JN, and Tanner, KD. Investigating Instructor Talk in Novel Contexts: Widespread Use, Unexpected Categories, and an Emergent Sampling Strategy. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(3), ar47. (2019) pdf

María Jose Pastor-Infantas



I am still trying to find my current project, but I know that I want to work with K-12 educators and provide them insight on how to build a more conducive, exciting, and equitable science classroom. 

About me

I was raised in San Diego, CA and came to San Francisco State University for my Bachelor’s. As a freshman, I was determined to pursue a career in animal behavior, but then found my passion for education and entomology. In 2014, I was a mentor of a pilot biology mentoring program called B.U.M.P., where first year students were paired with higher level undergraduate students. That same year, I also joined the “Zombee laboratory” and examined the parasitism preferences of the parasitoid fly, Apocephalus borealis. After I graduated in 2015, I was involved in multiple after school K-12 programs where I created science clubs and experiments based on active hands-on learning models and techniques. While at these programs, I found myself assisting some K-12 teachers by teaching them how to replicate and implement these science activities in their own classrooms. Now, I have returned to S.F. State to join SEPAL, so I can further my knowledge and be a better advocate for K-12 educators!

Investigating Instructor Talk in Novel Contexts: Widespread Use, Unexpected Categories, and an Emergent Sampling Strategy

Kimberly D. Tanner, along with thirty-seven faculty, staff and students featured, identifies the importance of teaching methods in classrooms and how this “Instructor Talk” greatly impacts the students’ capacity to retain knowledge lectured.

Tanner challenges the notion of only providing information for students that strictly follow the material of the lecture, insisting that it is also important to leave room for encouraging the student in order to better promote intellectual growth.

Click here to read more about it on the San Francisco State University website and here to read the published article!