Case Study: Grassroots ENGAGE-ment at the University of Washington

Friday, 14 February 2014
Columbus AB (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Rachel M. Mitchell , University of Washington, Seattle, WA
As federal funding and university budgets come under substantial pressure, and science denialism becomes mainstream, public outreach has become of critical importance.  It is an important vehicle for promoting science literacy in the era of anthropogenic global change, and for increasing support for the sciences.  Although the need for science outreach and communication is recognized, at present few programs or courses exist to allow young scientists the opportunity to hone and practice their outreach skills.   

Engage: The Science Speaker Series represents a unique, graduate student-led effort to improve public outreach skills.  Founded in 2009, Engage was created by three science graduate students at the University of Washington.  The students developed a novel, interdisciplinary curriculum to investigate why science outreach often fails, to improve graduate student communication skills, and to help students create dynamic, public-friendly presentations.  The course incorporates elements of story-telling, improvisational arts, and development of analogy, all with a focus on clarity, brevity and accessibility.  This course has been offered to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from a wide variety of sciences since 2010.  Students that have participated in the Engage course present their talks at Town Hall Seattle, and have been invited speakers at a number of venues throughout the city.  Demand for access to the course continues to grow.

The growing success of Engage illustrates the need for similar programs in graduate level science curricula.  We present the impetus for the development of the program, elements of the curriculum covered in the Engage course, and the importance of an interdisciplinary approach.  We will also discuss the challenges inherent to a student-led organization, and the need for faculty, departmental, and institutional support of student-led efforts.