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Physicist at UC Riverside to Lead Statewide Science Project

Physicist at UC Riverside to Lead Statewide Science Project

As executive director of the California Science Project, Maria Simani plans to improve students’ science test scores; encourage interest in STEM fields

(April 15, 2011)

Maria Simani.  Photo credit: S. Clausen, CNAS.Enlarge

Maria Simani. Photo credit: S. Clausen, CNAS.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Maria C. Simani, a program director at the University of California, Riverside’s ALPHA Center and a physicist by training, has been appointed the executive director of the California Science Project (CSP), effective July 1, 2011.

Administered by the University of California, the CSP is a network of regional sites housed in the departments of science of universities and independent colleges in California, and provides the infrastructure for science professional development across the state. The CSP develops and enhances teachers’ content knowledge and supports teaching practices to improve science learning for students in grades K-12.

“Recent test scores indicate that California’s students perform abysmally in science, especially economically disadvantaged and minority students,” Simani said. “In particular, I am interested in identifying and addressing barriers that create gaps in opportunities for students to access STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education. In many schools I see a lack of advanced science courses and too few students taking them. This directly results in a lack of diversity in the STEM workforce.”

Simani is hopeful that there will be an increase in science test scores for all the student subgroups and an increase in the percentage of these students, women in particular, that decide to major in a STEM field and continue on a STEM career.

At the ALPHA Center, Simani serves as the lead for establishing intersegmental partnerships, leveraging resources between educational segments, including grant writing efforts, and establishing herself across campus as advisor for the design and implementation of professional development in science for secondary school teachers.

Prior to joining UCR, Simani served as an associate research scientist at the Particle Physics Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, analyzing data from the BaBar experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. She also worked at the Sabes Laboratory at UC San Francisco to support the development of experiments aiming at identifying the neural basis of sensory-motor learning and adaption in the brain.

While conducting her research, she became involved as a volunteer scientist for the University of California San Francisco Science and Health Education Partnership and developed several classroom activities for K-2 students in local public schools with the goal of exposing them and their teachers to authentic science learning experiences. This program led Simani to learn about science education and pedagogy in K-12 schools as well as the power that well-prepared teachers have in fostering students’ interest in science.

When Simani succeeds UCLA’s Maria Alicia Lopez Freeman on July 1 as the CSP’s executive director, the project’s headquarters will move from UCLA, its current location, to UC Riverside, specifically the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Simani’s appointment as CSP executive director is for an indefinite period. She will resign her current position at the ALPHA Center at the end of June.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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