“Science Fiesta!” Combining student-led community outreach with local culture

Travis J. Block, Milos Marinkovic, Jodie Gray, Paul E. Dowell, Charlotte Anthony, Ryan Daly, LaShauna Evans, Chase Fordtran, Elizabeth Hassan, Tara Holmgren, Aaron Horning, Sabrina Martinez-Anz, Rosemary Riggs, Thomas Vanasse, Mikaela Sifuentes, Jonathan M. Berman and Teresa M. Evans, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Science outreach improves science literacy among the public and communication skills of scientists. However, despite the array of well-documented benefits, robust outreach efforts are often absent from communities which stand to benefit the most from these initiatives. Here, we introduce “Science Fiesta,” a graduate student-led outreach initiative which utilizes cultural traditions of South Texas as a vehicle to establish self-sustaining interactions between scientists and their local community. Event assessment surveys indicated that attendees found the event both fun and educational. At the same time, graduate students who organized the event and participated in outreach reported that they strengthened a variety of professional skills important for their future careers. More importantly, the event had a substantial positive impact on enthusiasm for science outreach. Both public attendees and graduate students reported that they were likely to participate in future science outreach events, even though a majority of both groups had not been previously involved in outreach efforts. Science Fiesta is a model for a highly effective graduate student-led outreach initiative that is capable of 1) improving public scientific literacy, 2) reinforcing graduate education and career development and 3) creating a culture of science engagement within local communities.