The Center for Translational Science Education – Outreach through the Prism of Research

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No matter the subject, students find it hard to focus on material that is abstract and can’t be applied to their daily lives. The Center for Translational Science Education (CTSE) at Tufts University has designed the Great Diseases program to make the link between health and basic science very clear to high school students. In addition to explaining the science behind these diseases, the material in the Great Diseases program emphasizes ways that science can inform our choices so we can live healthier lives. This program is divided into four Great Disease modules; infectious diseases, neurological disorders, metabolic diseases, and cancer. These four groups cover most illnesses imaginable, and cover the diseases any given person is most likely to suffer from during her/his lifetime. Each module includes at least one in-class demonstration led by a volunteer scientist, and the material from all four modules can cover a full academic year. Teachers can use as many or as few of the modules as they’d like for free, and they work with scientists on CTSE staff to better understanding the material.

Teachers learning about brain anatomy.

Teachers learning about brain anatomy.

You would think that an institute focused on creating engaging high school curricula would be staffed by people with formal education backgrounds. This is an area where the CTSE differs from other outreach groups. Dr. Berri Jacque, Research Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the CTSE, says what distinguishes their program is that the CTSE does “outreach through the prism of research.” The CTSE is staffed by scientists and postdoctoral fellows who use their research skills to evaluate their programs, publish their work, and then use their findings to improve their programs.

The CTSE developed the Great Diseases program with teachers from the Boston Public School system, and it has been used by teachers in Boston and beyond. One teacher, when asked about the program, said “I was originally skeptical, but I was so impressed with how effective it was that I am very eager to use this approach in my biology class.” The CTSE showed in their Academic Medicine paper that thousands of students have demonstrably improved understanding of the Great Diseases material, and that most teachers find this program very valuable. The CTSE is currently working on ways to assess if students make healthier choices after taking Great Disease classes.

Now that the material for the Great Diseases program is complete, the CTSE is focused on expanding their program around the country, keeping their material up to date with the newest scientific discoveries, and supporting teachers using the Great Diseases modules. These are all areas where scientists can volunteer. Why should you get involved?

A teacher learning about brain anatomy

A teacher learning about brain anatomy

“I think it’s so important for scientists, and particularly younger scientists, to get broader training in what they’re doing,” says Dr. Jacque. He tells scientists generally interested in volunteering to “think really critically about the ways you can make a real impact. Teachers are really great, as far as thinking about targeting who you’re going to spend your time with, because they interact with so many students in their career. Anything they can learn from you impacts far more people than you could ever impact with a couple classroom visits.” The CTSE will coordinate one-on-one video chats between teachers and scientist volunteers who can support them while they cover the Great Diseases material. The material from this program is not usually taught at a high school level, and most teachers are “really hungry to have that interaction with a scientist and to learn more about the science world.” Scientists from all over the country can help this way after a short training period with Dr. Jacque, giving you a great way to have a huge impact while only investing a few hours of your time.

To learn more about the CTSE and how you can get involved, read our article and contact Dr. Berri Jacque [berri.jacque@tufts.edu].

Fresh Brewed Science – Science by the Cup

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Mr. Waldman leading a tour through his coffee roastery.

Mr. Waldman leading a tour through his coffee roastery.

When you say “science outreach,” most people think of working with K-12 students. Reaching adults is just as important, since adults decide how much our society values science, but this can be much more difficult. Even adults who bring their children to science fairs and care about STEM engagement can find it hard to relate to demonstrations and lessons designed for kids. Science by the Cup, an outreach initiative run by the Princeton Graduate Molecular Biology Outreach Program and supported by an ASBMB Outreach Seed Grant, is targeted specifically for adults to address this outreach gap.

One way that Science by the Cup differs from a science cafe, another event class typically aimed at adults, is that Science by the Cup events are not led by scientists. Rather, they are led by an expert with a specialized skill that requires knowledge of the underlying science. The first Science by the Cup event was a tour of Rojo’s Roastery, a small batch coffee maker in Princeton, NJ, that was led by its founder J. David Waldman. Mr. Waldman discussed the chemicals behind coffee’s flavor and aroma, as well as how coffee beans are harvested and processed. Graduate student volunteers complemented the tour by discussing how taste receptors function, the genetic basis of flavor, and subjectivity and bias.

A 1956 gas-fired Probat roaster producing fresh roasted coffee beans.

A 1956 gas-fired Probat roaster producing fresh roasted coffee beans.

The second Science by the Cup event was a tour of a brewery and a discussion of the biology of fermentation, leading to a discussion of the technology behind genetically modified yeast and other organisms and the ethics behind this work. Science by the Cup has been very successful and plans to continue holding events to showcase local experts and the science behind their skills.

Mr. Garner Soltes, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton and organizer of Science by the Cup, wrote about this program for ASBMB Today. To read his article and learn more about this program, click here.

An Update on ASBMB Seed Grant Recipients

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In 2013, ASBMB instituted an Outreach Seed Grant Program, intended to “help fund novel, innovative science outreach programs that require modest financial support in order to get up and running.” Six different individuals received awards of up to $2000 annually, for a period of three years.

One year later, the recipients have reported back to us on the progress they made over the previous year, describing the events and activities that they sponsored and showing how their programs have encouraged greater participation with science within their local communities. Below are brief summaries of each of their programs:

Bob Ekman (Rockville Science Center):

The Rockville Science Center used ASBMB funding to build upon their existing science café program. Working with the city of Rockville (MD), the Center founded a monthly café event at the Rockville Senior Center specifically for senior citizens. In addition, the Center collaborated with students from the Universities at Shady Grove and Montgomery College to develop a young adult science café, targeted towards local high school students.

Teresa Evans (University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio):

Dr. Evans used ASBMB funds to found Teen Meetings Outside the Box (Teen MOB), a young adult-focused spin-off of the high successful Trainee Meetings Outside the Box mentoring/outreach program at UTHSCSA. In collaboration with the San Antonio Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy, TeenMOB was able to sponsor Science Night, a graduate student-run interactive event that featured booths highlighting various health and science-related topics for local high school students and their families.

Kelly Hallstrom and Ana Maldonado (University of Massachusetts, Worcester):

Science Cafe Woo organizers at Touch TomorrowScience Café Woo, a science café program founded in 2013, used funding from ASBMB to greatly expand their programming. In addition to increasing the attendance at their monthly science café series held at EcoTarium, the local science museum, organizers Kelly Hallstrom and Ana Maldonado were able to develop a number of science exhibits that showcased science for the greater Worcester (MA) community. These included the Science + You exhibition at EcoTarium and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s annual Touch Tomorrow event. Further events are planned for 2015, starting with “You’re the Expert,” a science-themed comedy podcast.

Edwin Li (St. Joseph’s University):

Science on the Hill flyerDr. Li used funding from ASBMB to institute “Science on the Hill,” a science café series in West Philadelphia. The program hosted four events in 2014, covering topics such as climate change and microbial infections. 2015 will see an expansion in the size and scope of the program.

 

Lisa Scheifele (Loyala University):

Funds from ASBMB sponsored ten memberships to the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS), a community laboratory open to members of the public. The new members were then able to participate in both a public lecture from Dr. John Glass of the J. Craig Venter institute, and the “Build-A-Gene” course, a “hands-on course to create your own synthetic DNA” taught by Dr. Scheifele.

Garner Soltes (Princeton University):

Working with the Princeton Graduate Molbio Outreach Program, Mr. Soltes was able to use ASBMB funding to institute a number of events, including a science pub quiz and tasting tours that focused on the science of brewing coffee and beer. ASBMB-sponsored activities at public events, such as the Princeton Harvest & Music Festival, had the added benefit of including participants not just from the greater Princeton area, but also from as far away as Philadelphia.

ASBMB is proud to be a sponsor of all of these programs, and looks forward to their continued development in future years.

The Public Outreach Committee is currently looking to build upon this success by further developing the ASBMB outreach network through additional events and funding opportunities. Take a look at our website to see how you can get involved!

ASBMB UAN Chapters Awarded Funds to do Outreach

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To paraphrase, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, all outreach is local. In that vein, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee has undertaken a number of initiatives to promote and organize science outreach activities in local communities across the country.

The most recent venture was a novel partnership with the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network, a chapter-based consortium of over 90 institutions. Participation in science outreach is a requirement for individual UAN chapters, so the partnership was a natural fit. But to really spice the pot, the Public Outreach Committee worked with the UAN to develop a grant program that would allow individual chapters to apply for up to $500 to facilitate student participation in outreach activities.

Ultimately, chapters at seven schools were approved for funding this year. Some are continuing programming that they have been part of previously, while some are starting programs anew:

  • HENDRIX COLLEGE: Will bring student presentations and biology tutoring sessions to underserved students at Wonderview High School.
  • THE UNIVERSITY OF TAMPA: Will conduct molecular biology experiments alongside students from Tampa Preparatory High School. (Chapter link)
  • THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO: Will use amino acid builder kits to teach fundamental concepts in biochemistry to local middle school students from underserved communities.

While this program is only one part of a broader effort to involve ASBMB members in science outreach, the dedication and passion of our undergraduate members are encouraging indicators for success. Even better, participation in these activities will instill an interest in outreach that will (hopefully) endure throughout their careers, wherever they end up.

Read more about the program here.

Scaling the Summit

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Broader Impacts. The mere mention of these two words provokes intense reactions from scientists. For some, they are a burdensome requirement unilaterally imposed on the research community by the National Science Foundation; others see Broader Impacts as a necessary attempt by the agency to justify use of taxpayer money to fund the scientific enterprise. One thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that integration of Broader Impacts within the grant funding process has been difficult, suffering from vague guidelines and inconsistent implementation.

Broader Impacts Summit 2014

In an attempt to strengthen collaboration, scholarship and policy related to Broader Impacts, leaders from the field converged last week on the NSF’s backyard of Arlington, VA for the 2014 Broader Impacts Summit. Featuring three days of presentations, panel discussions and informal conversations, the Summit hosted a mixture of Broader Impacts professionals from universities, informal science institutions, and professional organizations alongside NSF staff.

Two major themes ran throughout the meeting: what does a successful Broader Impacts program look like, and how can the different types of Broader Impacts activities and proposals be properly evaluated? A major frustration for those involved with Broader Impacts has been the massive confusion as to what type of activity actually constitutes Broader Impacts. Keynote speakers Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark and Freeman Hrabowski, President at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, both defined their vision of successful Broader Impacts as being achieved through the seamless integration of scientific research within local community structures. Providing grist to this mill, several presenters gave examples of how their individual programs were doing just that, ranging from the K-12 community outreach program run by the Yale Pathways to Science program to state-wide engaged scholarship activities at Iowa State University, while also explaining how such programs could be used to motivate scientist participation and engage broader communities.

Unfortunately, the NSF itself has been reluctant to provide too prescriptive a framework as to what they consider Broader Impacts to be, concerned that including explicit standards and definitions would hamper the process by excluding activities that happen to fall outside of these borders. Sadly, this reticence continued at the Summit, with agency administrators from top to bottom refusing to do more than call on the community to develop guidelines on its own, on the assumption that a bottom-up approach would be most equitable.

BIIS14 Session

Beyond creating confusion over what to include in Broader Impacts proposals, such lack of guidance also was also seen be conference attendees to be harming attempts at proper evaluation. To help improve the evaluation process, attendees debated how reviewers on grant panels could be adequately prepared so as to be able to properly evaluate the Broader Impacts portion of proposals. Individual panelists from the community were able to point to resources and strategies that they used in their evaluation efforts, though these relied on a wide range of metrics, suggesting that a unified evaluative framework is still lacking.

The grass-roots, piecemeal manner in which individual Broader Impacts programs have developed and grown is simultaneously both the source of inspiration for the Summit, and one of the overarching issues that the Summit was aiming to rectify. By bringing together leaders and program organizers from across the country, the Summit is a fantastic first step towards allowing the community to collectively move forward to address the issues that have been raised.  BIONICTo continue with the development of this process, conference organizer Susan Renoe from the University of Missouri happily announced that a Regional Coordination Network proposal had been approved for NSF funding starting in 2015. The RCN grant will allow for support of future summits along with providing more opportunities to bring together different stakeholders, expanding the pool of participants, and furthering development and dissemination of Broader Impacts resources.

There is still a mountain left to climb in terms of improving the Broader Impacts framework; at least now the community has left base camp.

For a sample of Twitter activity during the Summit, visit: https://storify.com/TheGeoffHunt/biis14

 

Paying it Forward: Inspiring the Next Generation

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By Shaila Kotadia (@shpostrapheaila)

Scientists presenting in a classroom can result in lifelong inspiration. During an outreach visit, my colleague, Carley Corrado, demonstrated the awe one could invoke in students. She visited a classroom of 2nd graders and organized an activity to blow up a balloon, stick it in liquid nitrogen, and then pulled it out. Simple enough, but what would happen to the balloon? More importantly, what did the elementary students think would happen? The students all predicted the balloon would pop in the liquid nitrogen and covered their ears in anticipation. Instead, it shrank. When the balloon was pulled out of the cold temperature, it began to grow again and the students stared screaming and could not believe their eyes. They had to touch the balloon to make sure it was real. Afterwards, Carley asked what the students wanted to be when they grew up. In unison, they answered “A scientist!”

A few years before this inspirational moment, Carley and I met one day under the warm California sun. We were both selected as outreach officers of the Women in Science and Engineering organization at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There were opportunities to conduct educational outreach at our current institution but none deeply connected to our respective departments and none aligned with our vision to inspire students in the classroom. Thus, we set out to lead our own outreach project. There were no constraints; just two people who wanted to change the lives of students by showing them the wonderments of science.

Outreach volunteers Keelan Guiley and Carley Corrado with 5th grade Earth Science  students at Sacred Heart School in Saratoga, CA

Outreach volunteers Keelan Guiley and Carley Corrado with 5th grade Earth Science students at Sacred Heart School in Saratoga, CA

I was motivated by my first outreach experience in graduate school. After another friend and I spoke about our projects and how basic research helps to lead to cures to diseases, one student, wide-eyed and about 12 years old, asked if his whole family was going to get cancer because they were overweight. In that moment, I realized the difference I could make by entering a classroom and just talking about what I do for a living. Carley had been motivated to pursue a scientific career because of the mentors she met along her path to becoming a scientist. She had tremendous gratitude for the advice she had been given. Thus, she wanted to give back and lend her knowledge to inspire a student to find their path like she had.

We set off on our journey, brainstorming ideas for school visits, gathering volunteers, connecting with teachers. Eventually we made it into a few classrooms and tested our set-up. After many visits over several years, our outreach program evolved into a short presentation by each scientist volunteer followed by questions about anything, both professional and personal, from the students and then hands-on activities that promoted inquiry. Through our visits, like the example above, we noticed how we could inspire students to love science as much as we did.

I was also pleasantly surprise by an unintended consequence from our program in that not only did we inspire the young students but also our peers. I was fortunate to have an undergraduate student that I mentored in the lab go on a visit with me. Later, she took on the role as an outreach leader. It was amazing to see her flourish and listen to her stories about her own excitement of running a visit and the excitement the students expressed. It was even better when she moved on to her next position and said she hoped to continue the outreach efforts at her new institution. It was like re-experiencing my first visit to students in graduate school and remembering how it feels to inspire others.

The Guerilla in the Room

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This month’s issue of ASBMB Today features a column about Guerilla Science, a unique organization that brings science to diverse audiences by mixing STEM topics with art and culture. Back in October, ASBMB helped co-sponsor the collective’s most recent event, the “Enlightenment Party,” a scientifically-themed costume party that brought the 17th century to life for San Francisco residents. Students from the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at San Francisco State University, along with faculty advisor Teaster Baird Jr., were front and center as cast members running the Plague game, during which party attendees were surreptitiously infected with “plague” (actually UV ink), before being diagnosed and “cured” by the scientists. Check out pictures from the event here.

SFSU UAN chapter- Enlightenment party

Dr. Baird reflects on his chapter’s participation in the winter edition of the ASBMB UAN newsletter Enzymatic. Click here to read: Enlightenment Party review by Teaster Baird Jr.

Can’t get enough? Here’s a link to even MORE pictures from the event (you can see the ASBMB crew in photos 330-346): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rocketqueen/sets/72157636774349534/

Read the column in ASBMB Today: http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201401/EnlightenmentParty/

Announcing the 2014 Outreach Seed Grant Winners!

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Our main goal on the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee is to get ASBMB members involved with public outreach activities. As a first (admittedly big) step in that direction, this month, the first round of awards from our Outreach Seed Grant Program were handed out. Individuals were able to apply for up to $2000 annually for three years to help fund novel or nascent science outreach programs needing modest financial support in order to get up and running.

From a highly competitive pool, 6 winners were selected:

Robert Ekman (Rockville Science Center)

Community Partnerships for Science Outreach through an Expanded Undergraduate Affiliate Network of the ASBMB

Bob EkmanThe Rockville (MD) Science Center, where Ekman serves as President, will partner with student members of the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at the Universities at Shady Grove to expand upon an ongoing science café series that targets local high school students. The group will also found a new café series at the local Senior Center to bring science to elderly local residents.

Teresa Evans (University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio)

Teen Meetings Outside the Box (TeenMOB)

Teresa EvansBuilding off an existing mentorship/outreach program developed by Evans, Trainee Meetings Outside the Box (TMOB), TeenMOB will work to develop a young adult science café in the San Antonio community. High school student members of TeenMOB will help organize local events for their classmates, relying on mentorship and advice from graduate student members of TMOB.

Edwin Li (St. Joseph’s University)

Science on the Hill

Edwin Li (new)Li will partner with Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation, a community-centered non-profit based in West Philadelphia, to start “Science on the Hill,” a science café series that will expand local outreach efforts beyond those currently focused on downtown Philadelphia.

Ana Maldonado and Kelly Hallstrom (University of Massachusetts Medical School)

Science Café Woo

Kelly Hallstrom and Ana MaldonadoScience Café Woo, a science café program recently started by Maldonado and Hallstrom in Worcester, MA, will expand its outreach programming by hosting a number of public science events in conjunction with local science institutions, along with a science communication contest for local college students.

Lisa Scheifele (Loyola University Maryland)

Development of a Sustainable Synthetic Biology Workshop and Public Lecture at a Community Laboratory

Lisa ScheifeleScheifele will work with Baltimore UnderGround Science Space (BUGSS), a public synthetic biology laboratory, to increase participation by members of the local community in the “Build-a-Gene” workshop that she teaches. BUGSS will also host a public lecture series on both the applications and ethics of synthetic biology to help engage an even wider audience.

Garner Soltes (Princeton University)

Science by the Cup & A Tall Drink of Science: A Science Café Outreach Series in Central NJ and the Regional Northeast

Garner SoltesSoltes will work with the Princeton University Graduate Molecular Biology Outreach Program to start a science café in central New Jersey, gradually expanding throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Students will serve as organizers, speakers and participants to bring science directly to local community members.

Besides all being strong, creative proposals, these programs also shared a common theme of aiming to deliver science to a particular community audience through a targeted approach. As much as we would like to bring science to everyone everywhere all at once, experience has shown that outreach is best done in a direct, focused manner.

Even more encouraging, proposals were submitted by ASBMB members from all different career stages, ranging from undergraduates to senior faculty. We hope that our awardees serve as inspiration for the greater ASBMB community to similarly get involved with outreach. No matter your level of experience, you too can help spread science in your community!

We are excited to help these programs flourish and watch them grow. Congratulations to all the winners!

For more information about the Outreach Seed Grant program, visit our website www.asbmb.org/publicoutreach.