VISTA Spotlight – Natalie Hambalek

Natalie.jpgName: Natalie Hambalek

Host Site: California State University, Monterey Bay School of Natural Sciences Internship Program

Alma Mater: Sonoma State University (B.A.), Oregon State University (M.S.)

Major: Biology, Zoology

Background:  I graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. Outside of the classroom, I was involved in many facets of campus which gave me experiences that have been instrumental in shaping my personal and professional lives. As a freshman, I became an active member of the Biology Club, a service-oriented club where I found my tribe of nerds which I am happy to call my lifelong friends. I volunteered at Kid Street Learning Center mentoring at-risk youth for two years. I was a McNair and LSAMP Scholar, starting my path in scientific research and dissemination. I looked forward to the CSSA-sponsored California Higher Education Student Summit (CHESS) every year, where my peers and I headed to Sacramento to lobby State Legislators for bills to increase accessibility and affordability to the CSU System (like the CA DREAM Act). I was a part of National Model United Nations, where I participated in the annual international conference in New York City representing Venezuela. I was also fortunate to have been able to work for the Center for Community Engagement at Sonoma State University for all four years of my undergraduate career. Housed in Academic Affairs, I had a first hand view of the behind the scenes of the University, tasked with helping to implement service-learning courses and strengthen partnerships between the University and the Sonoma County community. Observably, I was what some would call “all over the place”; in the lab, the field, the classroom, the office, the playground, in a CA Assemblywoman’s office —  I loved every minute of it. These experiences not only fostered my growth as an individual, but they nurtured my need to give back and fulfilled my desire to be a part of something bigger.

My need to continue learning in the field of conservation biology led me to move on to graduate school at Oregon State University to study amphibian disease ecology. I loved conducting research and was determined to save the world (and the frogs). Alongside my work in the lab, I frequently volunteered at a local elementary school, helping budding engineers and computer scientists with Lego Robotics and Scratch programs. I served on the Outreach Committee and designed conservation-oriented curriculum for workshops and camps that fostered young women in the sciences, low-income, and talented and gifted students. As Co-President of Women in Science, I coordinated professional development opportunities and organized a seminar series that focused on careers outside the Ivory Tower, bringing in speakers from across the country. I was an OMSI Science Communication Fellow where I got to further develop and share my love for science with people of all ages. A highlight of my graduate career was having the opportunity to lobby Congressmen and women (Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and Jeff Merkley to name a few) in Washington DC for the importance of increased funding for science. Graduate school provided me with technical scientific skills as well as a variety of soft skills that I picked up through my commitments outside of academia. 

IMG_8982.JPGWhy I serve: Once I had made it to college, my perspective was that I had done the unthinkable – “I made it!!”. Reflecting back on my years of service, it is clear to me why I chose to spend so much of my time volunteering with kids. I firmly live by the phrase “The only time you should look down on someone is if you’re helping them up”. Once I knew I had “made it” (meaning, broken my family’s cycle of poverty and achieved a college education), I wanted others to feel the same sense of joy and accomplishment that I did. Service has always been fundamental part of my being and what has ultimately shaped my career trajectory. Serving with CSU STEM VISTA represented a clear next step that symbolized the perfect combination of my personal and professional experiences.

Legacy: In its third year, the Sciences Internship Program (SIP) has its main infrastructure built,  and now I hope my legacy will be beyond maintenance of the program, one with purpose. In a nutshell, my job is to increase opportunity; both visibility of opportunities and creating opportunities from scratch, in the form of internships. As someone who has benefited immensely from opportunity, I have a sincere understanding of how even just one experience outside the classroom can transform a student’s life. My hope is that the administration sees the need to invest in SIP which fosters an important high impact practice so that more students can benefit from our services in the years to come. I hope that I will leave my mark in Natalie2.jpgat least making SIP better and stronger than it already was.

Future Goals/Plans: Even though I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I am confident I will find a path that suits me. After I complete my VISTA year of service I will obtain my multiple subjects teaching credential to teach elementary school. Since gender bias in STEM starts at a young age, I want to be a teacher that fosters students admiration for all things science.


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