by Mary Bergan, OLLI member

Natalia Caporale loves science, and she loves teaching.

A native of Argentina, with roots in Spain and Italy, Natalia is the child of chemists, and has always been a serious student of science. By the time she left high school, she knew she wanted to focus on physiology, in particular the nervous system. She began her studies at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) in medicine and biology, but soon determined that she wanted to expand her scope to include not just humans but also a broader spectrum of animals and behaviors.

In Argentina’s higher education system, a six-year course of study leads to a degree. While at UBA, she was teaching assistant in molecular physiology. She also attended undergraduate summer research programs in neuroscience at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory at the tip of Long Island and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Natalia says she chose to come to the U.S. for her doctorate to become exposed to research and education in different environments. "I am fascinated by how different countries educate their young and old, and wanted to learn more." Accepted at fifteen top universities, she picked Berkeley because she was attracted to its fledgling Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute with its small, flexible program and "amazing" support staff. Berkeley also offered the advantages of an urban area in a city with a "smaller town feeling" reminiscent of life at home in Argentina.

While pursuing her doctorate and related research, Natalia also made a mark as a graduate student instructor (GSI). She was noted for pizza-fueled, late-night study sessions--garnering awards as Outstanding GSI in 2003 and Unsung Hero GSI in 2005.  She also mentored over fifteen undergraduates.

There was time for romance, though it appears Natalia didn’t have to look far to find it. One of her four housemates in her first home in Berkeley became her husband; they met when she got off the plane from Buenos Aires. A native Midwesterner, he now puts his degrees in molecular cell biology to work in a biotech firm.

Natalia’s research and teaching focus on the biological and physiological bases of behavior. Among her many related interests are social behaviors in humans and animals, risk behaviors in adolescents, and the learning of new tasks and skills by adults. She currently teaches courses at San Francisco State University, UC Extension, and OLLI, and relishes working with students who bring with them a range of interests and life experiences.

With new scientific discoveries being reported every day and science playing an ever more important role in our lives, Natalia believes it is important that people have solid information about science to inform both civic and personal decision-making. She finds OLLI students eager to learn new knowledge and skills, and with a wealth of experience to build on and share. She likes that OLLI students can learn a lot through well-presented classes that don’t require formal matriculation and sequencing.

"I love to teach," Natalia told me."Teaching is a privilege and a pleasure."  Her enthusiasm for both her subject and her craft was evident in our brief conversation. She wants "to continue to work in adult science education, and to help develop programs that will provide opportunities for people of different backgrounds, ages, and interests to learn about biology and science (and hopefully in that way about themselves)."

Natalia Caporale’s class this spring is Animal Behavior: Getting to Know Those We Share the Planet With. Despite our tendency to anthropomorphize animals, especially those with which we share our spaces, Natalia reminds us that animals are different from humans. "Many fascinating behaviors don’t exist in humans." I predict that Natalia will make exploring the differences and the similarities a fascinating way to start our Monday mornings at OLLI.