Ciencia en Español: Sharing Science With Oakland’s Spanish-speaking Community

December 14, 2023

Picture a multigenerational audience of kids, parents, and grandparents exploring innovative science concepts together. They engage in hands-on activities, ponder how and why various science theories work and learn from expert scientists from one of the world’s top universities. No, these folks aren’t spending the day at The Lawrence. They’re attending a Science at Cal event at the César E. Chávez Branch of the Oakland Public Library. And the kicker? It’s all happening in Spanish!

Caminos has been a big success because it is so different from any of the programs we usually provide.”

Senior Librarian Xochitl Gavidia, César E. Chávez Branch Manager

Caminos de la Ciencia is an event series from Science at Cal, part of The Lawrence that focuses on sharing cutting-edge research at UC Berkeley with broad and diverse audiences. More than just a science lecture, these events bring together a vibrant community of Spanish-speaking science enthusiasts to learn from immigrant and international UC Berkeley scientists and their unique paths to STEM careers. Presenters are encouraged to share their background and how they got interested in science, providing attendees with an example of success in the STEM fields.

Next summer, Science at Cal is expanding its Caminos events to incorporate elements that will make the presentations even more accessible, engaging, and relatable to the Spanish-speaking patrons of the Oakland Public Library. Presenters will receive training on how best to communicate how their work is relevant to the public. Working with The Lawrence’s expert educators, they will develop new hands-on activities that explain their research to curious minds of all ages. This more interactive iteration of Caminos events is funded by a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Sciences (IMLS).

Caminos started in 2018 and quickly found a home at the César E. Chávez Branch of the Oakland Public Library. As the first public library in the nation with a mission to serve Spanish-speaking patrons with an abundance of materials in Spanish, they are the perfect partner to reach this community. The César E. Chávez Branch boasts the largest Spanish-language collection in the Oakland Public Library system, and the majority of their patrons speak Spanish.

“I think it is very important to offer a wide variety of programs here in Spanish,” said Senior Librarian Xochitl Gavidia, who manages the César E. Chávez Branch. “Caminos has been a big success because it is so different from any of the programs we usually provide. I am thrilled to have such robust programming here, and Caminos definitely plays a large role in helping our branch events stand out.”

With the addition of hands-on activities, Science at Cal hopes to attract an even broader audience to the events and encourage dialogue between parents, grandparents, and kids. The activities provide an opportunity for the multigenerational audience to relate to science and learn together as a family. Plus, the development of the interactive component serves as a professional development opportunity for presenters, giving them new tools to explain their research in the future.

Dra. Francesca Burgos shares her research on moving small objects using light at a Caminos event.

“I think it is a great idea,” said frequent Caminos attendee Daria Nyberg of adding a hands-on element to the events. “Interactive materials would bring more children the same age as my son and daughter to the events. Hands-on is always the best way to learn about a subject, especially science!”

Scientists excel at publishing and sharing their work with fellow scientists but are not always experts at explaining their research to people with no background in science. Science communications training will help the Caminos speakers adjust how they talk and present data to fit the audience to which they are speaking. The ultimate goal is to make the presentations more inclusive and digestible for all attendees.

“The way that scientists talk to each other about science is not necessarily the best way to communicate with the public,” said Dione Rossiter, executive director of Science at Cal. “Science communication training helps with removing jargon and words that have different meanings to scientists, and adding stories, references, and analogies that help people understand and relate to science.”

New Caminos events will begin this summer at the Oakland Public Library, César E. Chávez Branch, and be held monthly thereafter, with occasional holiday breaks. ¡No podemos esperar a verte allí!

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