If you know me personally, you know how much value I place in doing outreach and science communication. So much so that I guest posted on Tina Lasisi’s blog to talk about my experience working at the Center for Precollegiate Education and Training (CPET), a science outreach center at the University of Florida.
This blog post will be my “Part 2” of the outreach series, specifically focused on some of the outreach efforts I have helped develop within the Department of Anthropology at Penn State, alongside some phenomenal graduate students. Fun pictures to come!
To backtrack a bit, I want to discuss my experience applying to graduate school for a moment, because it directly pertains to my passion for outreach.
When I was applying to grad programs, I was constantly reminded of the fact that most universities didn’t want to hear that you don’t have plans to pursue a career in academia. Having worked at CPET for two years, I absolutely knew that a career involving outreach was the only thing for me. I also knew that if, for whatever reason, I didn’t get into grad school, I could always continue my tenure at my current job.
So, to hell with it. I made it very clear in my personal statements that outreach was going to be an important part of my education and that I did not foresee a future for myself, whether in graduate school or beyond, that did not include this aspect of my passions.
Lucky for me, both institutions where I applied valued outreach as much as I do. In fact, not much longer after I arrived at Penn State, my adviser added a new section to his website to highlight all the outreach activities led by our lab.
Needless to say, I am lucky enough to be in a department that not only encourages graduate students to engage in outreach activities, but actively funds these opportunities. WIN.
While I realize this may not be the case for many graduate students, I wanted to discuss some of the activities I have been able to run this last academic year that would be easy and fun for any graduate student to participate in. And totally worth the time and effort.
For starters, I help found the Anthropology Graduate Student Association’s Outreach Committee. Through this committee, I have engaged in a variety of outreach activities that have definitely been some of the top moments for me in grad school so far.
Mystery Magnification Workshop: Magnifying Your World
Some of you may know this about me, but for those who do not, I currently run an outreach initiative titled Mystery Magnification.
Every Friday, I take a photo of a magnified item and post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My followers then spend the day (or the next 5 minutes, however long it takes) guessing as to what the item may be. Through this initiative, I can actively engage my followers in a little dose of science every week.
I’ve been running Mystery Magnification for almost two years now, and every single item has been guessed correctly by a follower on one platform or another. They are all rock stars.
Shortly after the formation of the Outreach Committee, the Graduate Women in Science Association sent out a call for session proposals for a one-day Girl Scout Workshop…
naturally, I jumped on the opportunity.
For this proposal, I generated a Mystery Magnification workshop where I would teach my students about microscopy and its importance in scientific investigations, while also teaching them how to use a variety of microscopes and allow them to generate their very own images of magnified items! The proposal was accepted and we were in business!
Below are some images from the workshop, along with magnifications generated by the girl scouts! Tina and Saige, two grad students in the department and members of the Outreach Committee, came out to show support and help me run the workshop. Definitely one of the highlights of my grad career!
Because I am stationed in a department where faculty and students see the value in outreach, I also learn about many opportunities within the community to talk about anthropology to young kids.
Kirk French, one of our professors, reached out to me about tabling during an elementary school science fair to talk to students about the different branches of anthropology and get them excited about science. A few other grad students in the department, Lily, Nick and Sean, also came along to help!
It went wonderfully because, really, WHO DOESN’T LIKE SKULLS?
Another amazing opportunity came up when Tim Ryan, another professor in our department, approached me about helping him and his student Lily teach human evolution to local middle schoolers. Since I am in the process of writing up my own curriculum for teaching human evolution (which I will discuss below), I also jumped on this opportunity!
The students were amazing, as always. Although the subject of human evolution can be controversial, we approached each class by showing them fossil evidence of our ancestors and allowed the students to reach their own conclusions. Overall, the classes went spectacularly!
As mentioned above, I am currently writing up a curriculum I developed while working at CPET centered on human evolution (and to be honest, I should probably be working on that right now instead…haha).
This curriculum is my absolute baby. It was the first unit I ever developed and was one of my first projects when I joined the CPET team.
I’ve presented the curriculum at the National Science Teacher Association 2017 Conference as a workshop for 80 teachers. Such a blast meeting the wonderful teachers that educate our future scientists!
I WAS ON THAT LIKE SYRUP ON PANCAKES, Y’ALL.
I emailed Briana Pobiner shortly after and expressed my interest in presenting. And to my surprise, the AAPA Education Committee invited me to present my curriculum!
Fast forward to April, I arrive in Austin, Texas for the 2018 AAPAs armed with my research poster and all the curriculum materials. The day of the workshop, I got there early and brought all my things, ready to teach all about human evolution!
Unfortunately, all the teachers that were supposed to attend cancelled. My heart sank.
The members of the Education Committee still wanted to hear all about my unit.
In fact, they wanted me to go ahead and present it anyway. To them.
Mind you, the individuals in this committee are some of the top science communication and outreach people within biological anthropology. Briana Pobiner, the head of the committee, works for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in their Human Origins Program…
I was starstruck.
And here I am. Little ole me, first year graduate student, attempting to teach professionals in my own field about my unit and why it’s cool. So, I passed out all my materials and opened up all my boxes of casts and started…
They loved it.
I was speechless.
Although I didn’t get to present my unit to local teachers in Austin, this experience has been one of my favorites thus far in my journey to do all the outreach things!
Community Education Extended Learning (CEEL) Program
Lastly and most recently, the Outreach Committee has been involved in the CEEL program within State College. Basically, every Wednesday for an hour after the class day is over, we go to a local elementary school and teach students about anthropology.
Our themes have ranged from generating letters to people in other countries to learn about different cultures to making DNA out of candy! I modified the Candy DNA activity from CPET and tailored it for younger students. I also made step-by-step slides for the kids to follow along. See below!
There are so many ways we can do outreach as graduate students. These are just some examples of what you could do in your local community. It’s easy, fun, and so rewarding!
If you couldn’t tell already, I absolutely love outreach. I love engaging with students, learning from them, and becoming a better educator. If this post isn’t a testament to that, I don’t know what is.
Until next time,