CALC Director Embraces New Role

New CALC Director Natacha Cesar-DavisMeet Natacha Cesar-Davis, Saint Mary’s new director of the Caminos a Las Ciencias (CALC) program. Cesar-Davis joined the SMC community in February of this year, and although her physical time on campus was cut short due to COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order, she has embraced her role digitally and is helping students achieve and excel, especially those who come from underserved communities and are first-generation collegians.

“As the CALC director, I’m focused on programming for faculty and students. I work largely with Latinx students to help them achieve their academic goals, and I work with the faculty to help them develop pedagogical practices and course revisions that they can implement in their classrooms to make everyone feel comfortable, especially the students being served by the CALC program,” said Cesar-Davis.

Specifically, the CALC program includes Science, Engineering, Technology, Math (STEM)  Center tutoring; the Pathways to Science speaker series; GRE preparation courses; internships and summer research advising; science-related conference assistance; and textbook assistance. The CALC program also supports the Women in Science and Engineering organization. “The CALC program provides an opportunity to ensure that our spaces are equitable so all students are successful, not just the traditional student, where pursuing higher education is considered the norm,” said Cesar-Davis. “When I found myself a first-generation student at Boston College, there were so many resources that I wish I had available to me. I needed help, and there really wasn’t a place for me to go to get the support I needed.” Cesar-Davis shared that having that experience as a person of color and a first-generation college student, she understands how important it is to be able to help students navigate spaces that no one in their family has ever navigated. “I’m happy to be in a position to help the College’s Latinx and other students get the resources and support they need to be successful.”

Cesar-Davis has a special affinity for this type of work because of her cultural background and her passion for education. “I’m half Haitian and half Argentine, and I was born and raised in Argentina until the age of 10; then we immigrated to Boston,” said Cesar-Davis. After graduating from Boston College with a degree in Art History and History, she began her professional career in higher education, having worked at Brandeis University as an academic advisor and academic coordinator of junior and senior year programming; Northeastern University as a student-success specialist; Bunker Hill Community College as assistant professor of Behavioral Sciences; and a research analyst at the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Simultaneous to working at UCLA, Cesar-Davis earned her a MA in Higher Education/Higher Education Administration, and continued straight through to where she is currently a PhD candidate in Higher Education and Organizational Change. Her doctorate is being awarded this year. “My academic training in higher education and my years of practical experience at colleges and universities, along with my personal experience as a first-generation student of color, make the CALC director position an ideal job for me,” said Cesar-Davis. “I get to help students realize their potential and dreams of being in STEM fields where we need more Latinx people and people of color. The CALC program gives them access through grant funding to attend conferences, hear from professionals in the field who look like them, and be exposed to different careers in the sciences,” said Cesar-Davis.

This summer, most of the CALC programing will continue via Zoom. This summer’s planning includes virtual poolside science chats with industry professionals. “We did that recently for epidemiology and pharmacology. It went extremely well, and I’m looking forward to our upcoming poolside chats,” said Cesar-Davis. “We are also continuing to encourage our faculty, especially our Chemistry and Physics faculty, to do course revisions for improved classroom equity. CALC has funds earmarked for designated faculty to attend conferences, to help them revise their courses, and to help them make instruction more inclusive for students.

Cesar-Davis is also excited that the grant includes a provision to establish partnerships and articulation agreements between Saint Mary’s and community colleges. “This provides an excellent opportunity to introduce community college students to Saint Mary’s and all of the wonderful things that are happening at the College,” said Cesar-Davis. “It’s a great away to get them excited about Saint Mary’s, and especially the science majors and the support we provide. We want to ignite their interest to transfer to Saint Mary’s, where we can ensure that they will be welcomed, nurtured, and effectively guided in the pursuit of their academic goals.”

During the summer, the STEM Center is being renovated and expanded to serve more students. “The STEM Center will be located in the same building, and our renovation will create more working space for students to gather and feel comfortable, which is an important goal of CALC,” said Cesar-Davis. “We want to keep the energy going, so when our students return to in-person classes in the fall, the enhanced STEM Center will be the perfect reward and a wonderful way to say welcome back.”