September 2011

Students on front lines of public engagement

Many participants are educators who want to stay current with cutting-edge science to bring back to their classrooms, provide their students with examples of early-career researchers and receive professional-development credits.

High school biology teacher Mary Ann Scheiner uses SITN's newsletter in her classes. "Most of my students don't really know what scientific research is. It's great when I can find something to catch their interest – and they realize that they could be doing something like that in just a few more years," Scheiner says.

Lecture attendee James Yakura lauds the graduate students' motivation and enthusiasm: "The lectures are timely and understandable by anyone who has an interest in the topic, the instructors are knowledgeable and radiate excitement for their work, and the times are convenient to those of us with day jobs."

Initiative rewarded

Throughout the opening Carnival Day of the 2009 Cambridge Science Festival, an all-ages audience filed by and stood in line to meet and greet a "zoo" of the major invertebrate model research organisms -- including bacterial biofilms, plants, yeast, slime mold, worms, fruit flies, zebrafish larvae and mammalian cells -- and their scientist "zoo handlers" at the Science in the News Model Organism Zoo. 

SITN offers volunteers autonomy to start new initiatives with the organization's support, explains co-director Slenn, who developed Science by the Pint, the SITN science café, at which scientists give brief introductions to their research and answer attendees' questions about their work and the life of a scientist while mingling at a bar.

Middle school biology teacher Mike Hansen says he attends Science by the Pint to "stay abreast with what is happening on the front lines of science."

The events "allow me to be connected with researchers who I can hold up as exemplars to my students, as well as providing an excuse for a good pint or two," Hansen says. "The information I get at these get-togethers deepens my knowledge and provides relevancy to material that is part of my curriculum – and it's a fun time."

Slenn's interest in reaching out to a broader, adult audience comes from personal experience.

"I come from a town of blue-collar workers, teachers and a few businessmen, and I wanted to share the excitement of science with people who may not enjoy the lecture format," she says. "Talking to the public about my work reminds me of what excited me in the first place and helps me focus on big picture implications of my research."

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