December 2011

‘Show-Me’ science outreach to adult populations


Hannah Alexander is an adjunct associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. For more on Alexander's work see

Science & Me 
At the heart of the course are the presentations for real audiences. The presentations are billed under the banner “Science & Me,” a title that, Alexander said, captures the course’s goal: “to highlight the pivotal and irreplaceable part that science plays in our lives on a daily basis.”

The presentations occur in a variety of public venues, including independent-living facilities and a public library. Surprisingly, identifying venues is not a challenge, according to Alexander. “Groups are elated to have us, particularly the assisted-living facilities.”

The titles of past presentations illustrate the variety and range of topics: “The aging brain: what to remember about memory loss,” “The physics of flushing – how science is improving the most commonly used seat in our house, “The science behind the sounds of music,” “My family’s genes: Do I have to be a chip off the old block?” and “Critters in my back yard: Why do deer keep eating my flowers?”

Class time after each public presentation is dedicated to debriefing. Students share their experiences, the reception they received, and the range and types of questions asked. “It’s an iterative process,” said Alexander. “Each student gives their presentation several times and refines it for clarity, interest and impact.”

To date, 27 graduate students from nine departments have gone through the course and given 103 presentations. This year the program has been expanded and is being offered at Westminster College in neighboring Fulton, Mo.

Learning firsthand 
Jennifer Hamel is a fifth-year doctoral student in biological sciences at MU. She was among the first cohort of students to take the course with Alexander. The opportunity to give lectures to older audiences drew her to the course, she said.

“I was intrigued. I had done some outreach with children in the past but never with older adults. They are a really different audience and have to be approached in a very different way,” said Hamel.

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