College of Science

Department of Applied Environmental Science

Science teaching through the arts: Bringing state-of-the-art environmental health education to youth in agricultural communities

Our community education mural in Salinas, combining scientific data with arts
Photo by: NIH Grant Team
Health in Our Community Mural in Salinas, combining scientific data with arts to translate key findings, in collaboration with Hijos del Sol. Thanks to support from California Breast Cancer Research Program and National Institutes of Health.

What environmental stressors are we exposed to?

How do we protect ourselves and our communities?

A coalition of scientists, educators, and artists are working with students to answer questions about the relationship between the environment and human health. We are focused on students in the Salinas Valley and surrounding communities.

During three consecutive years focusing on plastics, climate change and agricultural practices, we will:

  • Create a hands-on science research project
  • Interpret the science through art projects
  • Create workshops for teachers aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In the fifth year, we will create an exhibition of the arts created in response to the science projects.

Would you like be a participating teacher? Let’s get our youth excited about science careers!

Please contact: April Lillard (

Project Objectives:

  1. To improve STEAM education in Monterey County.
  2. Increase teacher understanding of Next Generation Science Standards and environmental health knowledge and make this knowledge accessible to rural, agricultural populations.
  3. Investigate immersive STEAM learning opportunities in formal and out-of-classroom settings to increase interest in biomedical research careers among underserved youth.

Geographic Area: Salinas Valley, CA and Monterey County

Participants: 30 teachers per year with ~ 30 students per class for 3 years, ~90 total teachers and up to 3,000-4,000 total students

Tools: Next Generation Science Standards infused with scientific literature, project based learning, multimedia, participatory research, and arts-based inquiry

Community Partners: Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey County Office of Education and local arts groups in Salinas, CA including Artists Ink and Baktun 12

Principal Investigator: Daniel Fernandez (CSUMB)

Co-Principal Investigator: Enid Ryce (CSUMB)

Collaborators: Asa Bradman (UCM); Brenda Eskenazi (CSUMB); Corin Slown (CSUMB)

Funders: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Contact: April Lillard (


Few school curricula clarify the relationship between the environment and human health. Still fewer actively engage students in hands-on project-based learning paired with arts-based inquiry to investigate and address environmental health issues in their local communities. There is often a gap between abstract knowledge, aptitude for creative problem-solving, and work-force expectations. As California is quickly becoming a majority Latinx state, disparities in the numbers of Latinx youth entering science professions continue.

This program is a step towards serving children from agricultural communities and improving access to well-paying and secure jobs in scientific fields. Our initiative is a leap towards a larger, stronger and more diversified STEM workforce, fostering future stewards of planetary health.

Associated activities and information will be adapted for use by the Monterey Bay Aquarium teacher trainings, made available to California State University Monterey Bay teacher education programs, and will be distributed to educators through CSUMB, the Aquarium, the Monterey County Office of Education, the California Office of Migrant Education, and added to NIH web resources that reach thousands of educators nationally.