Today at Berkeley Lab

Lab Scientists Seek to Educate, Inspire Top Mexican Students Visiting Berkeley Lab

mexico visit

About 60 top university students from Mexico visited Berkeley Lab last week as part of a program aimed at promoting the formation of a new generation of Mexican leaders. Their visit was hosted by Javier Ceja-Navarro (far right), a Project Scientist in Earth Sciences who grew up in Mexico.

“The Talentum program is something unique happening in Mexico,” Ceja-Navarro said. “Students from all around the country were called to participate in a selection process that was looking to select the best of best. And all this without considering the student’s socio-economic background.”

Talentum-Universidad, a pilot program of CIDE (the Center for Economic Research and Training), seeks to give a diverse group of outstanding students the opportunity to participate in an experience leading to the development of a successful academic and professional career. Students were selected after a rigorous application process.

“Talentum is the opportunity that I could only dream of when I was a student back in Mexico,” Ceja-Navarro said. “There are great things happening at Berkeley Lab, and I believe that the participants were truly inspired by this exposure to cutting-edge science and a multicultural environment.”

Jens Birkholzer, the deputy director of the Earth Sciences Division, welcomed the students with an overview of Berkeley Lab, followed by a talk on the Microbes to Biomes Initiative by Eoin Brodie.

Ceja-Navarro, speaking in Spanish, spoke about his own research on insects and biotechnology but first recounted his personal path to science, from the village where he grew up in Nayarit state on Mexico’s west coast to studying chemical engineering to getting a Ph.D. and becoming a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, where he first met Brodie. He encouraged students to set a goal and “go for it.”

Afterwards, among the many questions, one student stood up to state that she was also from Nayarit and that the presentation was very inspirational for her. At the break, the students flocked to Ceja-Navarro like a rock star.

Other scientists who made short presentations were Talia Jewell, Patrick Dobson, and Abelardo Arellano.

In addition to visiting Berkeley Lab, the students were placed in teams and given a social challenge to work on. During their weeklong stay in the Bay Area, they also visited Silicon Valley and Stanford University to meet with local entrepreneurs and professors, who provided them feedback on their proposals and prototypes.

Ceja-Navarro praised programs like Talentum for opening doors to motivated students. “It is hard for a student in Mexico to pursue a career in science,” he said. “Most people don’t get to learn about the opportunities that the Mexican Government offers to all students with the desire to study, help that most Mexicans need in order to be able to have access to education, even a public one. I am a product of public education and enormous efforts from my family, myself, and of course from government institutions which funded part of my education.”

View more photos here.

Go here to watch a video about Ceja-Navarro’s research.

— By Julie Chao