December 2011

‘Show-Me’ science outreach to adult populations

A University of Missouri science-outreach course gives graduate students the skills to present science to the public

For many scientists, outreach means working with the K–12 community or museums. Outreach to the adult public is often neglected, even though we may find ourselves in personal and professional situations where we need to speak to the adult public.

“Adults are generally overlooked in terms of science outreach,” said Gavin King, assistant professor of physics at the University of Missouri. “If you didn’t engage in science as a kid or you’ve gone through life as a nonscientist, then you tend to be ignored by the scientific community as a whole.”

Well, not at the University of Missouri, where a model graduate-level course is giving students the skills, experience and confidence to communicate effectively with the adult public.

Jennifer Hamel, a doctoral student in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, explains her research on parent-offspring communication in insects at the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Gainsville, Fla.  She is using the lessons she learned about presenting research to adult audiences in the Science & Me initiative to explain her own research at different outreach events.  Photo courtesy of John P. Hayes.

The vision 
The course is the brainchild of Hannah Alexander, an adjunct associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.

Alexander credits the impetus for the course to a conversation she had with a woman who proclaimed that she would refuse to immunize her daughter.

“When I asked her why, the woman said ‘my girlfriend says I don’t need to,’” Alexander recounted. “I recall thinking: There is 150 years of science, and there is her girlfriend, and her girlfriend has more weight than science.”

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