Opportunities for Scientists to Engage the Public & Inspire Students in Science

Friday, 19 December 2014
Richard Gregory Vaughan, USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Flagstaff, AZ, United States, Jillian Worssam, Flagstaff Unified School District, Flagstaff, AZ, United States and Alicia F. Vaughan, BASIS Ed, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Increasingly, research scientists are learning that communicating science to broad, non-specialist audiences, particularly students, is just as important as communicating science to their peers via peer-reviewed scientific publications.

This presentation highlights opportunities that scientists in Flagstaff, AZ have to foster public support of science & inspire students to study STEM disciplines. The goal here is to share ideas, personal experiences, & the rewards, for both students & research professionals, of engaging in science education & public outreach.

Flagstaff, AZ, “America’s First STEM Community,” has a uniquely rich community of organizations engaged in science & engineering research & innovation, including the Flagstaff Arboretum, Coconino Community College, Gore Industries, Lowell Observatory, Museum of Northern Arizona, National Weather Service, National Park Service, National Forest Service, Northern Arizona University, Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, US Geological Survey, US Naval Observatory, & Willow Bend Environmental Education Center. These organizations connect with the Northern Arizona community during the yearly Flagstaff Festival of Science – the third oldest science festival in the world – a 10 day long, free, science festival featuring daily public lectures, open houses, interactive science & technology exhibits, field trips, & in-school speaker programs.

Many research scientists from these organizations participate in these activities, e.g., public lectures, open houses, & in-school speaker programs, & also volunteer as mentors for science & engineering themed clubs in local schools. An example of a novel, innovative program, developed by a local K-12 science teacher, is the “Scientists-in-the-Classroom” mentor program, which pairs all 7th & 8th grade students with a working research scientist for the entire school year. Led by the student & guided by the mentor, they develop a variety of science / technology projects, which the students then present at year’s end.

From the perspective of an active research scientist, such outreach activities take little time & effort (~ 0.05 FTE), but pay large dividends in the long run, in inciting public support for science & inspiring the next generation of scientists & engineers.