UCLA’s Institute for Planets and Exoplanets: Structuring an Education and Public Outreach Program from the Ground Up
Monday, 15 December 2014
Geoscience education and public outreach efforts (EPO), both formal and informal, are critical to increasing science literacy amongst members of the public and securing the next generation of geoscientists. At UCLA, the Institute for Planets and Exoplanets (iPLEX) has developed a multifaceted program to administer meaningful and original hands-on education and outreach to the public, teachers/professors, and students. To build the program, we first developed a virtual “home base” using Wordpress. With the needs of our community in mind, we structured the website to serve three categories of individuals: the public, teachers/professors, and volunteers. To serve the public, we have developed a series of informal education events (e.g., Exploring Your Universe) that bring thousands of science enthusiasts to campus. For those unable to participate in hands-on demonstrations or for those who would like to see them again, informational videos were developed and made available on our online Physical Demonstrations Digital Library (PDDL). The PDDL contains a second set of videos that are tutorial in nature and specifically designed with teachers, TAs and professors in mind. In addition, we have produced a publicly available annual newsletter written at the level of the informed public that details exciting and current planetary research at UCLA. Another facet of the program, designed with teachers in mind is our application-based private outreach event system in which teachers may choose to have volunteers come to their school with interactive demos or to come to UCLA to speak with scientists and tour laboratories. The final branch of the iPLEX EPO and education program caters to volunteers and includes an online “hub” where volunteers can register for events, download demonstration information packets, and discuss tips with other volunteers. We have recently developed a “Science Education, Outreach, and Communication” course to be integrated into UCLA’s undergraduate geology curriculum that will serve twofold to train new volunteers and educate young scientists on how to communicate their field to the public. Feedback from participants indicates an overall increase in geoscience EPO participation and satisfaction from the public, teachers, and volunteers alike since iPLEX’s program was emplaced.