Paying it Forward: Inspiring the Next Generation

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By Shaila Kotadia (@shpostrapheaila)

Scientists presenting in a classroom can result in lifelong inspiration. During an outreach visit, my colleague, Carley Corrado, demonstrated the awe one could invoke in students. She visited a classroom of 2nd graders and organized an activity to blow up a balloon, stick it in liquid nitrogen, and then pulled it out. Simple enough, but what would happen to the balloon? More importantly, what did the elementary students think would happen? The students all predicted the balloon would pop in the liquid nitrogen and covered their ears in anticipation. Instead, it shrank. When the balloon was pulled out of the cold temperature, it began to grow again and the students stared screaming and could not believe their eyes. They had to touch the balloon to make sure it was real. Afterwards, Carley asked what the students wanted to be when they grew up. In unison, they answered “A scientist!”

A few years before this inspirational moment, Carley and I met one day under the warm California sun. We were both selected as outreach officers of the Women in Science and Engineering organization at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There were opportunities to conduct educational outreach at our current institution but none deeply connected to our respective departments and none aligned with our vision to inspire students in the classroom. Thus, we set out to lead our own outreach project. There were no constraints; just two people who wanted to change the lives of students by showing them the wonderments of science.

Outreach volunteers Keelan Guiley and Carley Corrado with 5th grade Earth Science  students at Sacred Heart School in Saratoga, CA

Outreach volunteers Keelan Guiley and Carley Corrado with 5th grade Earth Science students at Sacred Heart School in Saratoga, CA

I was motivated by my first outreach experience in graduate school. After another friend and I spoke about our projects and how basic research helps to lead to cures to diseases, one student, wide-eyed and about 12 years old, asked if his whole family was going to get cancer because they were overweight. In that moment, I realized the difference I could make by entering a classroom and just talking about what I do for a living. Carley had been motivated to pursue a scientific career because of the mentors she met along her path to becoming a scientist. She had tremendous gratitude for the advice she had been given. Thus, she wanted to give back and lend her knowledge to inspire a student to find their path like she had.

We set off on our journey, brainstorming ideas for school visits, gathering volunteers, connecting with teachers. Eventually we made it into a few classrooms and tested our set-up. After many visits over several years, our outreach program evolved into a short presentation by each scientist volunteer followed by questions about anything, both professional and personal, from the students and then hands-on activities that promoted inquiry. Through our visits, like the example above, we noticed how we could inspire students to love science as much as we did.

I was also pleasantly surprise by an unintended consequence from our program in that not only did we inspire the young students but also our peers. I was fortunate to have an undergraduate student that I mentored in the lab go on a visit with me. Later, she took on the role as an outreach leader. It was amazing to see her flourish and listen to her stories about her own excitement of running a visit and the excitement the students expressed. It was even better when she moved on to her next position and said she hoped to continue the outreach efforts at her new institution. It was like re-experiencing my first visit to students in graduate school and remembering how it feels to inspire others.

The Guerilla in the Room

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This month’s issue of ASBMB Today features a column about Guerilla Science, a unique organization that brings science to diverse audiences by mixing STEM topics with art and culture. Back in October, ASBMB helped co-sponsor the collective’s most recent event, the “Enlightenment Party,” a scientifically-themed costume party that brought the 17th century to life for San Francisco residents. Students from the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at San Francisco State University, along with faculty advisor Teaster Baird Jr., were front and center as cast members running the Plague game, during which party attendees were surreptitiously infected with “plague” (actually UV ink), before being diagnosed and “cured” by the scientists. Check out pictures from the event here.

SFSU UAN chapter- Enlightenment party

Dr. Baird reflects on his chapter’s participation in the winter edition of the ASBMB UAN newsletter Enzymatic. Click here to read: Enlightenment Party review by Teaster Baird Jr.

Can’t get enough? Here’s a link to even MORE pictures from the event (you can see the ASBMB crew in photos 330-346): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rocketqueen/sets/72157636774349534/

Read the column in ASBMB Today: http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201401/EnlightenmentParty/

Announcing the 2014 Outreach Seed Grant Winners!

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Our main goal on the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee is to get ASBMB members involved with public outreach activities. As a first (admittedly big) step in that direction, this month, the first round of awards from our Outreach Seed Grant Program were handed out. Individuals were able to apply for up to $2000 annually for three years to help fund novel or nascent science outreach programs needing modest financial support in order to get up and running.

From a highly competitive pool, 6 winners were selected:

Robert Ekman (Rockville Science Center)

Community Partnerships for Science Outreach through an Expanded Undergraduate Affiliate Network of the ASBMB

Bob EkmanThe Rockville (MD) Science Center, where Ekman serves as President, will partner with student members of the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at the Universities at Shady Grove to expand upon an ongoing science café series that targets local high school students. The group will also found a new café series at the local Senior Center to bring science to elderly local residents.

Teresa Evans (University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio)

Teen Meetings Outside the Box (TeenMOB)

Teresa EvansBuilding off an existing mentorship/outreach program developed by Evans, Trainee Meetings Outside the Box (TMOB), TeenMOB will work to develop a young adult science café in the San Antonio community. High school student members of TeenMOB will help organize local events for their classmates, relying on mentorship and advice from graduate student members of TMOB.

Edwin Li (St. Joseph’s University)

Science on the Hill

Edwin Li (new)Li will partner with Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation, a community-centered non-profit based in West Philadelphia, to start “Science on the Hill,” a science café series that will expand local outreach efforts beyond those currently focused on downtown Philadelphia.

Ana Maldonado and Kelly Hallstrom (University of Massachusetts Medical School)

Science Café Woo

Kelly Hallstrom and Ana MaldonadoScience Café Woo, a science café program recently started by Maldonado and Hallstrom in Worcester, MA, will expand its outreach programming by hosting a number of public science events in conjunction with local science institutions, along with a science communication contest for local college students.

Lisa Scheifele (Loyola University Maryland)

Development of a Sustainable Synthetic Biology Workshop and Public Lecture at a Community Laboratory

Lisa ScheifeleScheifele will work with Baltimore UnderGround Science Space (BUGSS), a public synthetic biology laboratory, to increase participation by members of the local community in the “Build-a-Gene” workshop that she teaches. BUGSS will also host a public lecture series on both the applications and ethics of synthetic biology to help engage an even wider audience.

Garner Soltes (Princeton University)

Science by the Cup & A Tall Drink of Science: A Science Café Outreach Series in Central NJ and the Regional Northeast

Garner SoltesSoltes will work with the Princeton University Graduate Molecular Biology Outreach Program to start a science café in central New Jersey, gradually expanding throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Students will serve as organizers, speakers and participants to bring science directly to local community members.

Besides all being strong, creative proposals, these programs also shared a common theme of aiming to deliver science to a particular community audience through a targeted approach. As much as we would like to bring science to everyone everywhere all at once, experience has shown that outreach is best done in a direct, focused manner.

Even more encouraging, proposals were submitted by ASBMB members from all different career stages, ranging from undergraduates to senior faculty. We hope that our awardees serve as inspiration for the greater ASBMB community to similarly get involved with outreach. No matter your level of experience, you too can help spread science in your community!

We are excited to help these programs flourish and watch them grow. Congratulations to all the winners!

For more information about the Outreach Seed Grant program, visit our website www.asbmb.org/publicoutreach.