Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Caitlin Weber, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
The scientific community and the public - particularly those underserved by traditional informal science education (ISE) pathways - need innovative ways to interact. Such audiences might include the elderly, youth in custody, and incarcerated men and women who are physically unable to access ISE facilities, such as museums and zoos. Positive interactions with STEM professionals may encourage broader participation in the sciences by those that are currently underrepresented in STEM fields or who do not regularly connect with STEM professionals. In addition, the public may contribute novel ideas, different ways of knowing, and practical applications for research, allowing the scientist to view his or her work in a broader context. STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP) is a research and public engagement project that integrates three existing ISE models, the Research Ambassador Program, Portal to the Public, and Design Thinking, to facilitate multi-way communication between the scientific community and the public. A first cohort of 20 scientists were trained through STEMAP in 2016. The research team developed procedures for connecting scientists with audiences that share common interests and values. For example, a microbiologist in the program partnered with a professional chef to teach a fermentation cooking class. The chef demonstrated how to make fermented foods while the microbiologist described the role of microbes in fermentation. In 2016, Ambassadors completed a total of 27 events at 15 venues, including a jail, senior living center, and local community council meeting. The research team implemented surveys and interviews, recorded field notes, and collected audience feedback to determine incentives for participation and evaluate whether participation has caused a shift in identity of STEM professionals to STEM communicators. Incentives for participation among Ambassadors included a desire to foster curiosity, generate excitement about science, and improve their own communication skills. In addition, scientists approached STEMAP for assistance in developing a more robust broader impacts statement for grant proposals, suggesting that support on funding applications is an additional incentive. The research team developed an integrated ISE model focused on developing empathy and forming authentic connections with one’s audience, public communication strategies, and program extensibility. This model will be implemented when training the second cohort in 2017.