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.
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.
Emily is a Ph.D student in the geology department. She is focusing on vertebrate paleontology and stable isotope ecology, and will be studying the impact of a global cooling on a mammal community in Egypt that is about 34 million years old. Emily fell in love with paleoecology because of its interdisciplinary nature, and because she enjoys using the stories of how past plants and animals interacted to teach others about science.
In her spare time she enjoys continuing to teach others science through volunteer work at museums and schools, exploring nature, and doing a variety of crafts. She looks forward to continuing to communicate science to others through this platform as well! Emily hopes to eventually be a curator at a natural science museum, where she can continue both paleontology research and science communication as well as spearhead programs to continue helping local students explore science.
The final meeting for the Public Engagement with Science graduate course just wrapped up. Students from MA and PhD programs in Anthropology, Biology, Geology, Philosophy, Professional Writing, and Sociology explored the theory and practice of engaging with the public about science. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to develop outreach projects with local science engagement organizations.
Watch this space in the coming weeks to learn about their projects with the Cincinnati Nature Center, Mercantile Library, University of Cincinnati Field Station, and Children’s Hospital Center for Pediatric Genomics.
This week we are spotlighting Center Affiliate Dr. Brooke Crowley! As an Associate Professor in the Departments of Geology and Anthropology here at UC, Dr. Crowley investigates ecological interactions among living and recently extinct animals (including humans) using stable isotope biogeochemistry. Dr. Crowley also engages in various public-facing activities that connect directly to our Cincinnati community. Last Fall, she appeared in a Science Around Cincy video. Science Around Cincy, another Center partner, is a great way to connect kids (and adults!) in the area to local scientific endeavors. In that video Dr. Crowley talked about being a “chemistry detective,” studying the past and present animal life of Madagascar. Also in the Fall, Dr. Crowley was interviewed by Cincinnati Public radio about her work tracking jaguars in Belize. In addition, she took part in one of the Science and Nature talks on climate change, co-sponsored by the Center, at the Mercantile Library. Dr. Crowley has a lot of public engagement coming up as well including a presentation on bones at the EICK Global STEM Academy, a climate change talk at the semi-annual Friends of Big Bone meeting, and participating in the redesign of the Ice Age exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. To keep up with all of Dr. Crowley’s activities check out her website at http://www.agoraphotia.com/.