Susana Oliu, a special education teacher and a College of Education and Integrative Studies alumna, was honored for a second time by The Society for Science & the Public (SSP) for her commitment to training underrepresented students in STEM education.
As a part of the award, Oliu received a grant to help make STEM learning and instruction more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SSP is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing scientific literacy, STEM education and scientific research. Each year, the organization provides funding, training and materials to selected STEM educators who guide a cohort of three or more students to enter their research projects into science research competitions.
“It feels great to have been selected for the second time as an SSP advocate,” said Oliu. “This recognition will allow me to support students at my high school who need to be exposed to STEM research. It means that bit by bit we will be graduating our high school students and increasing the rate of underrepresented students in STEM careers. It also means that students will enroll in STEM programs at the university level and feel confident about the skills they are coming in with and will build on those skills to become future STEM professionals.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from San Francisco State University, Oliu enrolled at CPP to earn her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction and teaching credential in special education. After completing her academic journey, she began teaching high school students with mild to moderate disabilities at Pasadena Unified School District.
According to Oliu, her time at CPP has made a lasting impact on her career.
“CPP prepared me very well in terms of becoming a special education teacher,” said Oliu. “The RICA preparation course that I took while completing my education specialist credential has been one of the foundational courses that I reflect upon every single time that I am writing an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for my students. Reading competence is very important and it is an area where most of our students with disabilities struggle. Therefore, the fact that I am able to pinpoint the pupils’ zone of proximal development as I go through their yearly assessment process is a gateway that helps me plan for instruction in terms of accommodating curriculum for my students with disabilities on a daily basis.”
Another key lesson, she said, was how to make the biggest impact on her students.
“The most invaluable lesson that I learned in my credential/master’s program is that it is important to always put the student first and then the disability,” she said, “And of course the Grid of Nine Adaptations which have been a lifesaver when accommodating general education curriculum for my students with mild to moderate disabilities.”
In the long run, Oliu hopes to be able to sustain a research program at her high school.
“The SSP Advocate Grant Program has really pushed me to learn the STEM research process,” said Oliu. “I have been attending many workshops and training sessions that have helped me understand how to teach my students to conduct research in the high school classroom setting.”
Oliu is currently supporting her general education students in conducting independent research projects with STEM professionals. Students are working on projects that range from developing a model on the viscosity of sickle cell anemia to neurobiology.
“My goal as a teacher is to continue to implement and support STEM research and scientific literacy in our high school,” said Oliu. “I am hopeful that disparities in STEM careers will decline as our students continue to be exposed to scientific research.”
For more information about teacher education programs at CPP, visit www.cpp.edu/ceis/credential-program.