December 2011

‘Show-Me’ science outreach to adult populations

‘Show Me’ more  
In 2010, Alexander initiated a graduate-level certificate of science outreach at the University of Missouri and recruited King, the physicist and a strong advocate for science outreach, to co-chair the program. The purpose of the certificate is straightforward, said Alexander: “to cultivate the sense that public engagement is an ordinary part of the professional life and to recognize students who make efforts to develop in this area.” She said she is confident the program will be a significant asset to future scientists who will be asked to demonstrate  the broader impact of their research.

Alexander has co-authored two articles about the Science Outreach: Public Understanding of Science course, one in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships and one in the Journal of College Science Teaching. Although a successful and productive author of research articles, Alexander has new insights into the difficulties of getting the word out about such programs.

“Many outreach programs do not start as controlled experimentation in science outreach but rather as an initiative by a scientist who believes in talking to the public,” she explained. “As such, they lack formal assessment and evaluation, which are required for scientific publication.”

She has since been encouraging scientific societies and journal editors to consider allotting a small space in their publications in which science-outreach programs can be advertised and shared.

If the recent attacks on federally funded science programs (e.g., the “shrimp on a treadmill” study blasted by AARP) in Congress and in the news are an indication, the need for more science outreach to adults is ever more pressing. 

As King said, “It’s no longer taken as a given that science is a good thing. We have to convince the public that what we’re doing is beneficial.”

feature_science_me_KrollMelody Kroll (krollmm@missouri.edu) is executive staff assistant for the division of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. 

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