In response to recent conversations about increasing diversity in the sciences, graduate students in the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology have begun spearheading efforts to learn about and discuss diversity as well as work to make science more readily available to a wider audience, especially underserved communities. As a part of these efforts, graduate students and faculty have been working to increase the department’s engagement with the local community to bring scientific research directly to students through partnerships with local schools.
Each graduate student and faculty member has designed activities and presentations about their work that are meant to engage K-12 students. Descriptions and contact information related to these activities and presentations were put together into an Earth Science Outreach Program website. For each opportunity, a graduate student or faculty member has committed to visiting classrooms to lead the activity, bringing interesting materials and their own unique experiences. Presentations are free and can be adapted to suit the needs of specific curricula, teachers, and classes.
The group is excited to start working with teachers and is ready to adapt to virtual or in person settings as current COVID-19 conditions change.
The University of Cincinnati’s Science Policy Ambassadors are excited to host a series of talks this semester. Below is the schedule with links to the virtual talks, along with the speakers who will be presenting. Descriptions will be available shortly before each talk. Follow @SPAUCS for updates!
Tuesday, February 2nd at 5:30pm: Naomi Charalambakis, PhD (FASEB)
Naomi Charalambakis, PhD, is a Senior Science Policy Analyst for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of 29 scientific societies collectively representing over 130,000 individual biological and biomedical researchers. In this role, she leads efforts of FASEB’s Animals in Research and Education working group, developing policy statements, tracking congressional legislation and agency directives related to animal use in federal research, and creating resources for the lab animal community.
Monday, March 1st at 5:00pm: Sheeva Azma, MS (Former Legislative Intern)
A freelance science writer since 2013, Azma recently founded her own science writing company, Fancy Comma, LLC (www.fancycomma.com). She has also advocated for science on Capitol Hill and has served as a legislative intern in a House office. Sheeva’s work has been published in The Motley Fool, The Xylom, The Kim Komando Show, and LifeWire.
Tuesday, March 23rd at 5:00pm: Cameron L. Tracy, PhD (Kendall Global Security Fellow)
Cameron Tracy on nuclear arms control and the interface between science and security policy. His current research involves analysis and modeling of the flight conditions of hypersonic weapons in order to determine their effects on global strategic stability.
Monday, April 12 at 4:00pm : Matt Robson, PhD (Assistant Professor at UC College of Medicine)
Dr. Jacquart will be presenting a poster titled “Roles for Philosophers of Science in Public Engagement with Science.” Her presentation is a part of the thematic section, “Outreach, Teaching, and Policy,” which begins at 1:00 p.m. EST. Each section will feature live breakout sessions s with the presenters. Other sections include:
The Workings of Science (12 p.m. EST)
Philosophy of Biology (12p.m. EST)
Social Science and Societies (1p.m. EST)
Models and Modelling (1 p.m. EST)
Physical Sciences (1 p.m. EST)
Values and Ethics in Science (2p.m. EST)
Cognitive Science, Neuroscience and Mind (2p.m. EST)
Causation and Explanation (2 p.m. EST)
The Poster Forum will continue the next two Fridays (Jan 29 and Feb 5). Visit the Philosophy of Science Association’s website for more details and the registration link.
For over 50 years, the Cincinnati Nature Center (CNC) has aimed to inspire people, especially children, to enter nature and explore. Children have innate fascination and curiosity surrounding nature; CNC has a history of fostering this fascination and of getting children and adults alike “into the woods.” In 2020, students in our course Public Engagement with Science partnered with CNC to lead and judge a virtual poster contest, challenging K-12 students to create materials about planting native. This week, the Public Programs Manager Jason Neumann shared part of CNC’s story with the Center for Public Engagement with Science.
The Cincinnati Nature Center came to be as people were becoming more aware of environmental issues; Silent Spring had recently been published, and new parks and nature centers were being founded. CNC is made up of two locations, Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm and Trails, with two different stories. Prior to their donation, both sites were mostly farmland. Rowe Woods was the original semi-wooded site for CNC, named for and founded by Stanley Rowe. Rowe was involved in his community and was an advocate for nature and education. He and a core group wanted to found a nature center. They purchased land owned by the Krippendorf family who wanted to sell the land but avoid it being developed. From the beginning, Rowe meant for CNC to captivate children’s curiosity. Schools came there for field trips, founding members led educational hikes, and people bought memberships to hike the trails.
Long Branch Farm and Trails was donated to CNC in 1972 by owners who wanted it to be used to teach people about where their food comes from. Like Rowe Woods, it has hosted a lot of field trips over the years. It operated as an educational farm with domestic animals until 2005. When school curricula changed in the early 2000’s to no longer include agriculture, fewer school groups visited the site.
Since then, Long Branch Farm and Trails has been more focused on native plants, converting old farm fields to pollinator habitat, and removal of invasive species. More recently, native perennial edibles plants such as pawpaw, persimmon, passionfruit, a variety of berries, black walnuts, and sumac have been added with future visitor engagement in mind. Mr. Neumann started a small foraging group that eventually grew to 500 members who hike at Long Branch Farm and Trails and learn to harvest these plants. They teach the slogan “right plant, right part, right time, right preparation” in reference to foraging safely. Mr. Neumann says that a food-based interaction with the natural world can inspire people by giving them deeper interactions with the natural world. Being able to recognize plants and animals on a trail; being able to recognize, sustainably harvest, then eat part of a plant adds yet another level to being outside. This can even include beer and wine! Currently some of the Long Branch Farm and Trails produce is taken to a local brewery and the resulting brews are served as story-laden beverages at member events. CNC is planning to scale this up in partnership with HighGrain Brewery to make things out of plants such as elderflowers.
Much of CNC’s story that Mr. Neumann recounted involved more recent events, since he began work at CNC 25 years ago. Although people still join CNC for access to the hikes at both Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm and Trails, other programs and opportunities have continued to be developed.
Even with new programming, the core goals of CNC have hardly changed. Its mission still centers around encouraging children’s curiosity and getting people into nature, as well as being responsible stewards of their sites. In 2011, they opened one of the first “Nature PlayScapes” for children. Not just a playground, the space is filled with natural materials for open-ended play and is intended to be a place where children can build and dig, providing them ways to explore nature that are not always available in a city. Their efforts inspired other groups in the region to create similar spaces, including in local parks and schools.
CNC focuses on meeting people where they are and helping them learn. Their focus has shifted from purely natural history focus to applications of natural history knowledge, which appeals to more people. Cincinnati Nature Center staff create public programs, including the foraging group at Long Branch Farm and Trails, weekend children’s programs and a teen interest group. The teen interest group is designed for adolescents who enjoy nature and gives them a community of like-minded peers. They hike, work at Long Branch Farm, get involved in science summits, and do other projects.
In response to COVID-19, CNC began using reservations to control numbers and keep visitors and staff healthy. Even with the new system, CNC’s membership “skyrocketed” as people have sought safe diversions during the pandemic. Mr. Neumann is excited for the new creative opportunities that CNC has to serve members’ interests, both now during the pandemic and in the coming years.
Dr. Miller is an evolutionary paleontologist and paleoecologist. His research has focused on mass extinctions and their impacts on global biodiversity, environmental gradients, and anthropogenic effects on modern coastal communities. Dr. Miller differs from a lot of paleontologists in that his passion did not stem from a childhood interest in dinosaurs or other fossils. He grew up in New York City, and with the exception of the American Museum of Natural History, there are not a lot of fossils to be found there. Dr. Miller found became interested in geology while living among geology majors in college. He took a course in geology to learn more about what his peers were talking about, ultimately leading to him pursuing majors in geology and biology. During his studies, he was inspired by a professor who introduced him to using fossils as data to study biodiversity and mass extinctions, which is when he first became passionate about paleontology.
In 2007, Dr. Miller was elected as a Fellow of the Paleontological Society for, among other work, being instrumental in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). This website is a compilation of fossil data, where they were found, the publication that described them, and where they can be found now. It is used by paleontologists with an interest in “big data”- the use of multiple collections to piece together an understanding of broad trends in space and time. However, this database is open source, and is also used by instructors to give their students experience processing data.
Since then, Dr. Miller has served as the President of the Paleontological Society; he is currently finishing his term as Past President. In this position, he has strived to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has encouraged the scientific community to acknowledge our previous shortcomings in these areas. He is co-chair of the Society’s ethics committee, dedicated to ensuring that Society is inviting, safe, and inclusive for all participants in its activities. He and his colleagues are working to improve opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds to enter all fields of science. The Society has been developing financial opportunities for underrepresented minorities, and Society representatives now regularly attend meetings focused on minority inclusion in science, such as the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). They also work to increase education and outreach that specifically targets underrepresented audiences.
Dr. Miller also addressed outreach and community involvement in science in his role as Head of the Geology Department and as A&S Senior Associate Dean. When the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) closed for renovations a few years ago, he was a part of a group that worked to bring some of the exhibits to the University of Cincinnati campus. Along with this, they scheduled programs such as a panel on global climate change that drew in community members in Cincinnati. CMC exhibits were also set up at the airport, and the teams behind this and the University exhibits held a townhall at a conference for museum professionals about their experiences setting these up. These exhibits being in different environments effectively brought the museum to people who might not normally visit, resulting in more engagement than may normally be possible.
Dr. Miller also has had the opportunity to engage in debates about evolution and creation. He thinks that engaging people of all backgrounds and belief systems is important without being perceived as condescending. As part of the 2009 North American Paleontology Convention hosted at UC, Miller, who was chair of the organizing committee, took 75 paleontologists to visit the Creation Museum to give them a firsthand look at what and how ideas were being communicated there. Members of the group found the visit to be eye-opening, with respect to how professionally ideas were presented from a strictly technical standpoint, even though those ideas diverged from accepted science. Responding to dissent is important, but scientists do not always communicate well, and doing so well with humility and respect is crucial. Every year while teaching an introductory-level course on the history and evolution of life , he spent a week on the creationism-versus-evolution question, including inviting a representative from the Creation Museum to speak to the class at the end of the semester ; this was followed by extensive, in-class discussion . While Dr. Miller does not think that direct debates with creationists are helpful or productive, he does encourage scientists be aware of and understand the bases of other views. Through the study and discussion of creationism, he hoped that students would come to understand what information was being taken out of context. He also encouraged them to listen, rather than making wholesale judgements about what others think; everyone’s beliefs and ideas have multiple dimensions and need to be taken seriously.
As an emeritus professor, Dr. Miller is continuing to work with the Paleontological Society and University. Besides his work on the Center’s Advisory Board, he is also helping to develop a Digital Futures Consultant program for new and young faculty at the University of Cincinnati. He’s also becoming more politically involved; in the most recent election, he served as a poll watcher and on a “Protect the Vote” hotline for people who had questions about how to vote.
Dr. Miller’s message is one of encouragement. He wants people to keep their minds open to other people and opportunities around them, especially those outside of the classroom. Had it not been for the experiences he had in college, especially those that focused on working with data , he likely would have taken a different path. In recruiting diverse participants to paleontology and geology, he advocates speaking about the diverse opportunities there are for people who want to work in these areas. “Field work and adventures in the out of doors can be off-putting, at least initially, to people who grow up in urban settings, for example, and yet we do other things that aren’t field work, such as working on computers and in geochemistry labs.” Paleontology and geology are not just for those who enjoy field work and dinosaurs; these fields, and science in general, are diverse and have something for everyone.
What happens when you open the world of science to children? This week, we highlight the efforts of a UC Center for Public Engagement with Science affiliate Dr. Carlie Trott, who told us about her work with K-12 students. Dr. Trott has ongoing projects with youth in multiple communities that address sustainability, climate change, and climate justice. She partners with community groups to engage children in science, incorporating the arts and letting the children’s interests drive the direction that each program takes.
Dr. Trott’s first project was with 10-12-year-old students in partnership with three local Boys and Girls Clubs in Colorado during her PhD program. The children signed up for the program voluntarily, and started by learning about science, but ultimately began planting trees and a community garden. They also advocated for action to be taken on climate change in their own communities as an event. Historic fires, droughts, and floods were happening in their region in the years leading up to the program, and the children made the connection between the science they were learning and its impact on their lives. Climate change was not just an abstract idea; it was happening around them, and they could see it in their daily lives. The air smelled like a campfire, and the air quality impacted whether they could go outside. Because of this, climate science turned out to be the connection that built bridges to make science more approachable (Trott & Weinberg, 2020). Trott’s contact at the Boys and Girls Clubs indicated that the students were more excited about their projects than they had been about any other program, maybe except for sports.
The same events that helped her students connect to science inspired Dr. Trott’s future efforts. Previously, she had been working on a project understanding women’s experiences in atmospheric science. She had already been inspired by climate science and diversity research. But when historic environmental tragedies occurred during her Ph. D program, and it became clear that fires, hurricanes, and droughts were getting progressively worse and would impact some of the most impoverished communities first, Dr. Trott wanted to use her work to make a change.
Dr. Trott’s later projects have built on the concepts she used at the Boys and Girls Clubs, incorporating art, science, and students’ passions. Community groups began reaching out to her after that project about spearheading similar projects elsewhere. In Jacmel, Haiti, Jakmel Ekspresyon (JE) Arts Center worked with her to set up a course in arts and sciences that is currently on its third cycle. Part of this program has students take pictures and measure water quality, and help their community learn which water sources are safe to use. Their students are also advocating for improvements to infrastructure to better provide safe water, as well as helping educate their community about how to be safe in the current situation. Because their passion is obvious to the adults in their communities, the messages that students in these programs decide to advocate for are generally well received and their efforts are supported. Similarly, Dr. Trott is collaborating with a disaster organization in Thailand that is preparing to train schoolteachers to run a program similar to the one in Colorado. After learning about climate change, students will be encouraged to connect what they have learned to real life through photography, and then build and design ways to influence their communities. Because she publishes in open access journals whenever possible, similar groups learned about her work and have reached out about doing the same in Kenya, the Philippines, England, and here in Cincinnati. She is part of a grant submitted to NSF to start her “Science, Camera, Action!” program here, where students observe and photograph their world and design ways to address a problem they see.
When the pandemic ends, Dr. Trott plans to travel to where other programs are ongoing. She will assess their success by surveying students before and after they start, as well as holding “focus groups,” talking to the students about their experiences as a group. She learns more from what they say in response to open-ended questions than close-ended survey items because the young people lead the conversation. Sometimes, she is surprised by what they leave the program with. One group told her that they were upset that adults were not actively trying to make the changes that they had started advocating for. Even though this was not the message that Dr. Trott had intended to teach them, the interaction of the science they were learning with their lives when they went home each day led to their own ideas.
Dr. Trott also plans to start interviewing youth climate advocates for a new study, especially those fighting for climate justice. They want to help the countries that are being impacted the worst, despite contributing the least to the problems and lacking the resources to adapt easily. In the last few years, we have seen more youth taking ownership of issues and speaking up for change for their futures. Children care, they see what is at stake, and they are not distracted by the same priorities and issues that adults are. Dr. Trott hopes to better understand where these youth are becoming aware of these issues, and what has led to them becoming increasingly active.
Dr. Trott hopes that, by introducing students to topics that may not otherwise be discussed until later in their science classrooms, she will capture their curiosity as well as their desire to do something and encourage some of them to ultimately pursue science as a career. She has found that when students’ passions drive their projects, they are motivated to get involved. Around 4th to 6th grade, to the surprise of many adults, students are able to understand emotionally and intellectually challenging topics such as climate change. This is about the age that children develop the ability to think more abstractly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed and disheartened, they are in a stage of life where they want to help. And by introducing them to these topics early, we can prevent them from feeling hopeless as they learn more. In addition to exposing them to science, students are empowered with coping strategies before becoming teenagers.
Dr. Trott’s work to expose students to science and art encourages curiosity, action, and hope. Young students have the passion to act and the ability to understand the problems that they see around them. By understanding their perception of the world and further empowering them to act, we give them the opportunity to reshape their communities, to hope because they know they can drive change, and to create their futures.
The Science Policy Ambassadors, a new student group at the University of Cincinnati, will be hosting an online social on Monday, November 9th at 5 pm.
Affiliated with the Union of Concerned Scientists, this student group aims to provide graduate and undergraduate students opportunities to learn and engage in science policy, and ultimately help them gain experience as advocates for science. The Science Policy Ambassadors aim to help build a network of these opportunities, to create resources for students with an interest in these careers, and promote the opportunities that already exist.
This student group is open to all majors, and hosts six to seven speakers each semester. You can follow them @SPAUCS to get involved, and RSVP for the social hour here.
We are excited to welcome Dr. Ryan Feigenbaum as the Center for Public Engagement with Science’s new Program Director. Dr. Feigenbaum will also serve as the new Executive Director of the Philosophy of Science Association (see PSA announcement here). He combines experience in digital media, web development, and digital humanities with expertise in the history and philosophy of the life sciences. His writing encompasses everything from best practices for the visual aspects of online communication to digital exhibits that explore the intersections of history, science, and art.
Dr. Feigenbaum’s efforts in public engagement include a digital exhibit called “Poetic Botany,” created for the New York Botanical Garden. In this exhibit, Dr. Feigenbaum explores the biology of each of nine plant species, incorporating art and poetry from people who were inspired by these plants, as well as the stories of these artists and scientists. The end result has the potential to reach a broader audience than a physical exhibit would, and appeals to people with a variety of interests.
Dr. Feigenbaum has also written about seemingly less exciting organisms, such as algae. In “Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany,” he recounts how scientists discovered and improved our understanding of algae. He begins with the early classification of algae and perceptions of it as unremarkable, and then he walks his readers through the observations of its biology that led to it being more appreciated and sought out by more scientists, and even referenced in literature. He ends with a quote encouraging us to “look again” as something that once failed to capture our imaginations; perhaps this encouragement is useful elsewhere as well.
With his abiding interest in communicating science and philosophy to a broad audience, and helping others do so, Dr. Feigenbaum will be a tremendous asset for the Center for Public Engagement with Science.
Science comes from curiosity, and many institutions have been fostering that curiosity in our community for decades. In the case of the Cincinnati Observatory, these efforts have been ongoing for over 175 years! This week, we had the privilege of hearing more about these early efforts from Kelsey Stryffe, Docent and Administrative Assistant at the Observatory.
In the 1840’s, Professor Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel at Cincinnati College lectured on physics, math and astronomy. Although these lectures were intended for his students, the professor was so engaging and charismatic that his students frequently invited their families. His audience continued to expand until they no longer fit within the walls of any lecture hall available on campus at the time. Eventually, they moved to other locations to handle the crowds, such as Wesley Chapel in downtown Cincinnati.
Mitchel saw this interest, and in it saw an opportunity. He began raising money, door to door; for about the equivalent of a month’s salary, families could buy shares in what would become a public observatory. This sounds like a lot, especially because funding can be hard to come by in science! But people were already so excited about astronomy that they were willing to support this endeavor. Soon he raised the funds to build the observatory on Mt. Adams, and purchase a telescope. From the day the observatory opened, it was available to the public.
Mitchel did not come to Cincinnati specifically to build a research observatory, happening to provide the community with an incredible opportunity. Mitchel grew up in Lebanon, outside of Cincinnati. The people here were his community, and his intention was to stay here to teach science.
Although he sometimes struggled to do research in between everyone who wanted to look into space, Mitchel had built “the Birthplace of American Astronomy.” This was the first telescope in North America, and at our latitude; therefore, it gave scientists what was at the time a new and unique vantage point to see into space. Mitchel was able to describe the sky from here, vastly adding to knowledge that had been acquired by scientists overseas. From this telescope, he described orbits and patterns. It was also used to discover a binary star and describe a region of Mars that would be named “the Mountains of Mitchel” in the professor’s honor.
As Cincinnati’s industries grew, the city’s air became more polluted from the amount of coal being burned. It created a tar-like smoke in the atmosphere, blocking the observatory’s view of space. Eventually, the building and telescope would have to move to Mt. Lookout, which was outside of the city at the time, to continue to be able to see the sky. However, before that happened, Mitchel moved to New York to get away from the pollution, and established another observatory there. He would go on to fight in the Civil War as a Major General, and would pass away from Yellow Fever while serving in South Carolina.
However, Mitchel’s legacy of educating and engaging the community in astronomy lives on through the observatory. Even through the light pollution, the telescopes at the Cincinnati Observatory can see to the edges of our solar system, and even to our neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. While this is more limited than most modern research telescopes, it is still a special opportunity for members of the public, and it continues to be open. Since it reopened in the 1990’s, the staff and volunteers at the observatory have worked hard to provide K-12 teaching materials affordably. They have been hosting classes about star gazing and space online since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, offer a program that allows members to borrow telescopes, and work with the Stonelick Star Gazers, a group of amateur astronomers, to have stargazes at Stonelick State Park.
The Cincinnati Observatory is currently open by reservation on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. As we get back to normal after COVID-19, watch their website for these hours to expand. In the meantime, watch their social media for events and things to watch for from your own backyard. You can read more about their history here.
Practical lessons from experience design, pedagogy, and social justice
This virtual presentation is taking place in the middle of a pandemic while school children around the country are Zooming into their classrooms – there is no better time to talk about opportunities to break some unquestioned classroom norms. This talk is about designing meaningful outreach, and how to think about what meaningful means for you and – more importantly – for the people you’re engaging with. I want to share a few real life examples of creative and powerful outreach programs at different scales that can inspire your own designs, and talk through some frameworks you can use to bring your ideas to life.
Samantha Finkelstein earned her PhD from Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction program in 2017. She has focused much of her work on supporting the needs of marginalized communities, especially youth. She’s spent time in classrooms, and worked on projects that involved web interfaces, conversational agents, mobile platforms, and immersive and augmented virtual reality systems.