Member Spotlight - 2021 Conference Co-Chair Claudio Vargas

Get to know 2021 Conference Co-Chair Jenny Chien.
CASE is excited to introduce you to our wonderful 2021 Conference Co-Chairs.

Special Member Spotlight
Meet 2021 Conference Co-Chair: Claudio Vargas

Tell us a little bit about yourself
Though I retired from Oakland Unified School District a couple of years ago, it has been difficult for me to leave the teaching profession, especially as a teacher who loves to teach science - once a teacher, always a teacher. Because of my inability to get away from the teaching (and learning) of science, I’m currently working as an educational consultant with Sci-Lingual Education, a consulting group that my wife and I started to support the teaching of science to language learners.

I began my career many years ago as a scientist. During my 2nd year in medical school, I was forced to leave my country because of changing social-political realities and ended up in the US. Here I spent many years working in research, first at the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Minnesota and then at the School of Pharmacy, at the University of California in San Francisco. About 20 years ago I realized that I wanted to do something different with my life and went from pharmaceutical research at UCSF to teaching Kindergarten at OUSD – one of my best decisions!

I taught K-5 in East Oakland for about 10 years, went to work at Lawrence Hall of Science as director of the Bay Area Science Project for another 10, then returned to OUSD as the district elementary science coordinator. I’ve enjoyed working with adult educators as much as I have enjoyed working with young learners, and I still do.

I’ve worked with and presented at CSTA/CASE conferences for many years and hope to continue working with this awesome organization for many more, until I actually retire.

What do you hope to achieve as a conference chair?
I hope that we will be able to organize an exciting, productive, and invigorating conference! The CASE Conference is a place where science educators from around the state, and during these virtual times, around the nation and world, come together to learn, share, and get inspired. I hope for a conference that can facilitate the growth of all those in attendance, ourselves included, so that we can continue to provide access to high-quality science education to all our students, whether they pursue a scientific career or not. At this critical time in our history, when decisions are being made that will have a global impact for decades to come, every child must be provided with the tools to become scientifically literate, to learn how to make informed decisions, and to be critical consumers of scientific and technological information related to their lives and the lives of others.

I also hope that the conference can serve as a forum where science educators can share their experiences and learning from the past months to help support us all in our work.

What was your highlight of the 2020 Conference?
I appreciated the enthusiasm of conference participants, both presenters and attendees, who displayed an amazing capacity to adapt to difficult and changing circumstances in such a positive way. A virtual setting is not as rewarding as being there in person, but everyone rose to the occasion and made the best of hard circumstances. I thought the CASE staff did an outstanding job managing the technology and providing support so that everything would go smoothly – and it did! The speakers were also a highlight, many of whom brought a needed equity perspective to the work.

What are you most excited about for the 2021 conference?
I’m excited that science educators will have another opportunity to come together once again to counter our current isolation and to re-energize our passion – teaching science. I’m looking forward to learning from science educators as they share the unique and innovative ways in which they have confronted current science instructional realities and how they plan to meet the challenges ahead. This will help inspire us all to keep science instruction on the front burner, especially at the TK-5 level.

Do you have any fun/funny conference experiences you would like to share?
Not at this time...

What is your favorite movie or book? Why?
I don’t think I have a favorite book or movie. I recently watched “The Queen’s Gambit” and enjoyed it. I liked the way the movie showed and broke down gender barriers in the chess world, and I also like to play the game. I’m looking forward to watching the movie “Knock Down The House” about AOC. I just finished reading the book “The Samurai’s Garden” by Gail Tsukiyama. It’s about the 1937 war between Japan and China through the eyes and life of a Chinese young man living in Japan. While the topic was deep and troubling, the writing was light and graceful. I also enjoy reading science fiction.

If you were to write an autobiography, what title would you choose for it and why?
I might title it “Adapting to a Changing World” or something to that effect. I’ve had two instances where my world was turned upside-down: one was eons ago in my country of origin when a military coup overthrew the government, forcing me to leave the country and to adapt to life here in the US; and the other was the pandemic, forcing everyone to adapt to sheltering in place. The good news is that we humans seem to have the capacity to adapt to difficult and changing circumstances in positive ways, as I mentioned earlier.

What is the best thing about working with Jenny so far?
I appreciate how easy it is to work with Jenny. She always has a positive attitude towards the work and is ready and able to tackle any issue that comes up. Jenny is a quick thinker who comes up with excellent ideas and has lots of initiative, and always takes responsibility for following through, making the work easier for me. For this particular conference, I also appreciate how tech-savvy she is! It’s a pleasure working with her.