Outreach Event: Yakima Valley Science and Engineering Festival

On March 8, the UW Student Chapter of SACNAS participated in the first ever Yakima Valley Science and Engineering Festival.  The event, sponsored by the University of Washington, Educational Service District 105 and Heritage University, brought 2100 K-12 students and community members to interact with hands-on STEM activities from over 70 exhibitors.  It was an amazing day where chapter members Katrina Claw, Daniel Hernandez and I all walked away completely energized and hoarse from so many positive interactions with Yakima Valley community members.

The UW Student Chapter of SACNAS was approached by UW Genome Sciences to participate in event, I was immediately interested in helping. This was a great opportunity to bring the science of SoundCitizen and the community of the chapter to the large populations of of Hispanic/Latino and Native American youth in the rural Yakima Valley.  While there is a wealth of opportunities for students in the Seattle metropolitan area to connect with STEM professionals, opportunities for rural youth are few and far between.

An email from an event organizer recounted “Exhibitors/presenters included Boeing’s Museum of Flight, Pacific Science Center, OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), (OHSU) Oregon’s Health and Science University’s “Let’s Get Healthy” exhibit, University of Washington’s GENOME Project, ESD 105’s STEM Showcase and many other community based booths. There were also representatives from higher education schools such as the University of Washington, Heritage University, Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, Yakima Valley Community College, YV Tech & Washington State University MESA program.” We repeatedly heard from event participants that there had never been anything like this around Yakima and organizers are receiving emails asking about next year’s event, indicating how excited the community was about this opportunity,

As a representative of SoundCitizen from UW Tacoma, I brought an interactive watershed model to demonstrate how vanilla ends up in ocean water. It was fun to talk to youth and see their surprised looks when they learned about the difference between natural and artificial vanilla, how common vanilla is in the environment and how chemicals they use in everyday products end up in marine systems.  One middle school girl told me, “I thought this science festival was going to be kinda boring, but this is really interesting!”

This event was also an opportunity to roll out an exciting new interactive outreach activity for the UW SACNAS Chapter – Match A Scientist.  Youth tried to match pictures of chapter members with a description of what they research.  It was a really fun and surprisingly engaging activity.  Kids would look at photos and say “Look, she’s Mexican!” and “Look, he’s Native!” It was a fun, engaging way for students to see who is doing science and the kinds of science being done at UW! As one middle school student said when they saw the pictures of chapter members, “They’re all scientists?!?!”  Yes we are and you can be one, too!

Amanda Bruner is a Program Coordinator at the University of Washington Tacoma.  Her current positions with SoundCitizen and the Math-Science-Leadership Program are focused on broadening public participation in STEM and bridging university research to local youth and communities.

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Guest Blog: I am STEM – the festival edition

In science festivals and large exhibition-style events (like the Yakima Valley Science Festival), it’s important to have a hands-on activity that immediately engages people.  After dozens of booths and activities, you hope the youth who visit your booth for 1-3 minutes will walk away with a lasting, positive message, curiosity or kernel of knowledge.  While I’m comfortable in these kinds of fair settings my work with SoundCitizen, thinking through how to create an interactive activity that would be fun and best represent the UW Student Chapter of SACNAS was an intriguing challenge.  What activity in 1-3 minutes could best benefit the youth we interact with?

One of the powerful opportunities that student chapters present is the ability to provide diverse role models for youth. After working with learning scientists to build a science program that connects youth from groups that are underrepresented in the sciences with mentors from similar groups, I learned there isn’t a lot of academic research done yet about how interacting with a minority mentor may influence a minority youth’s building of a positive science-linked identity.  However, the knowledge that we need to connect younger SACNISTAs with SACNISTAs that are further along in their academic career is one of the driving themes at the annual National Conference.  Having STEM mentors and role models that reflect your ethnicity and cultural values makes STEM careers more accessible and broadens the picture of who youth see as scientists.

Match A Scientist

The resulting activity we used at the Yakima Valley Science and Engineering Festival to talk to youth about the UW SACNAS Student Chapter in a hands-on way is the game “Match A Scientist.”  I Googled this term and found a great classroom activity with famous scientists, but I wanted youth to interact with the scientists in the chapter in the festival setting.

When youth walked up to the booth, they saw the gameboard and cards with pictures of chapter members.  How the game was introduced changed throughout the day, but generally the introduction went something like this:

Youth at the festival matching chapter member pictures to a description of their research.

“Hello. We are students who study science at the University of Washington and we’re all part of a society called SACNAS.  These are pictures of scientists who are part of our chapter and we all study science, and in this game you match the person to the kind of science they study.  Would you like to guess what this person (picks up a card with a picture) might study?”

Sometimes we would give hints and there really wasn’t a way for students to intuit who would do what, but it provided a great opportunity for students to quickly be exposed to the diversity of people who are scientists and the diversity of what scientists study.  As one middle school student said when they saw the pictures of chapter members, “They’re all scientists?!?!”  Can you guess who studies what?

Setting up this activity for your chapter

At a chapter meeting, chapter members filled out the following survey:

1. Name
2. Department or major
3. Ethnicity
4. What you study (general, as if explaining it to a 4th grader)

I then took head shots of the members (so photos would be uniform).  This resulted in a wonderfully diverse matrix of faces, ethnicities and research disciplines.

I made a posterboard foam gameboard (I have a weakness for glitter!) and made the game so that pictures and descriptions are interchangeable by attaching them with poster tack so that in the future new or different members can be included in the game.  If you’re not as crafty or have limited time, the game would be just as successful if the information and pictures are mounted on large index cards.  One important lesson we learned is that students really enjoyed trying to guess what the members who were present at the event studied.  It also helps to entice students to win candy if they guess (but we gave it to everyone who tried!).

The result was a simple, but engaging activity that quickly gave students and adults present what was often a surprising look into the diversity of research and scientists at UW!

Amanda Bruner is a Program Coordinator at the University of Washington Tacoma.  Her current positions with SoundCitizen and the Math-Science-Leadership Program are focused on broadening public participation in STEM and bridging university research to local youth and communities.

Guest Blog: Productive Group Planning

I spend a lot of my time collaborating with different groups, planning opportunities for communities to interact with scientists, and I’ve developed a slightly frightening habit in the last few months of enthusiastically blurting out, “Let’s use a logic model to plan our next event!”  Logic models have become indispensable tools in my professional work because they require articulation of project goals, objectives, activities, resources and expected outcomes. Read on and be prepared to publicly declare your nerd love of this handy planning tool.

 What is a logic model?

Many versions of logic models exist and they’re used for a variety of purposes, but generally they’re tools that identify why you’re doing a project, what you’re doing and what you expect to get out of it.  For the rest of this post I’ll share their use in the context of planning an event or activity, and from the viewpoint of a scientist who has cannibalized parts of the process that have best fit my needs in project planning with collaborators.

Why use logic models?

Efficiency

If you’re planning with a group, I highly suggest creating a draft logic model before your first meeting, especially if logic models are new to the group.  This can be done on Google documents and shared with other members of the planning group.  Then members can review the draft and make comments (using different colored font helps track changes) or come to the meeting prepared to discuss the draft.  I’ve found this process creates a structure for dialogue that prevents becoming mired in a brainstorm of activities and sets up the group to make decisions more efficiently.

Enhancing collaboration

Effective collaborations require identifying the needs and interests of all involved individuals and organizations, and where interests overlap.  Identifying partner motivations is not always easy, especially when organizations with different cultures are interacting.  Logic models provide a tool for participants to clearly articulate their interests and a way to identify overlapping motivations by crafting large-picture goals and objectives as a group.

Anchoring ideas

Often, people have lots of good ideas for activities to do for events or projects and planning conversations get mired in discussions of possible activities. Decisions about what activities we choose to do for a project result from balancing constraints of available resources and what we’re trying to accomplish.  Logic models provide a concrete framework to identify these factors, making decisions about prioritizing or editing activities much easier, especially if the project expands and needs to be called back to a manageable size.

Maximizing benefits

While we hope that our projects go well, how will we know that our event or program was successful? What evidence will we use for grant proposals or reports to demonstrate success?  Using logic models ensures that you will know what information you want to collect to document success and help you effectively articulate the impacts of your project.

A logic model for scientists

After a year of helping to plan programs and events as part of my position at SoundCitizen, I finally realized I needed a better set of tools to be able to assess if a project was a success (program evaluation!).  I spent a morning with professional evaluator Dr. Andrea Anderson and Dr. Tansy Clay.  Andi patiently explained the theory of logic models and their use in planning and evaluation to two unpracticed scientists.  The result of that training was this tool – a Logic model for scientists.

How to use “Logic Model for Scientists”

Example of the ‘Logic Model for Scientists’

Goals

The first section you should tackle are the goals. The point of this part of the model is to place your program or event in the large picture – as Andi explained them, the goals are the “lofty humdingers.”  The grandiose impacts or changes you hope your actions will accomplish.  I’m not going to lie – the first time I did this part of the model and even in subsequent use, leading a group through discussing this part feels really odd (especially with scientists) but as the planning moves forward the goals provide critical touchstones that allow you to keep perspective and make decisions based on common goals.

Objectives

Next, you should identify your objectives. Objectives are the smaller, more specific and measurable goals that will help you achieve your lofty goals.  What’s the difference between a goal and objective?  While goals are broad and can’t really be validated, objectives are more narrow and concrete.  Many agencies and management professionals employ SMART criteria when creating objectives. This means the objectives are:

Specific
M
easurable
A
chievable
R
ealistic
T
ime-bound

Figuring out how to create good SMART objectives isn’t easy the first few times, but I guarantee once you’ve had some practice, these objectives are life-savers in keeping planning and group discussions focused and productive.   If you’re interested in learning more about setting SMART objectives, here is a handout with diagnostic questions that will give you more information about setting productive objectives.

Activities & Resources

Once your goals and objectives are outlined, you’re ready to start brainstorming the activities that will support accomplishing your objectives.  You will likely find yourself going back and forth between identifying activities and considering the resources you have on-hand to accomplish them.  I have approached this part of the model by brainstorming possible activities, then editing based on available resources and by evaluating which activities best support accomplishing my objectives.

Outcomes

The outcomes section helps you develop what evidence are you going to look at to determine if you accomplished what you set out to do.  Outcomes are extremely valuable for documenting the impact of your activity or event, understanding how you will evaluate what went well and reflecting how things could be changed in future efforts to better accomplish objectives.  While it may not always be an appropriate use of your time and energy to create an extensive list with short, mid and long-term outcomes it’s worth spending some time considering outcomes to maximize the benefit from the energy you put into the project.


Amanda Bruner is a Research Scientist & Outreach Coordinator at the University of Washington.  Her current position with SoundCitizen is focused on broadening public participation in environmental research.

Guest Blog: Quantitative Advocacy

Advocacy & Statistics

Many times in graduate school and now in my position as a research scientist, I have found myself in the position of defending the importance of efforts towards broadening who is participating in STEM fields.  Conversations about diversity are much easier with other SACNISTAs – there are shared experiences and a natural empathy to the challenges of being underrepresented in an academic department.  The same conversation with another academic can invoke feelings of frustration, comments and questions that make me wonder if we’re even on the same planet.

In spite of the frustration, I decided that if I wanted to improve my advocacy skills and help change campus culture it was important to not avoid those conversations. I found through trial and error that if I’m talking to quantitative scientists about why we should be making efforts towards diversity, I should speak in numbers.  I don’t mean to paint all academics with a broad brushstroke, but having quantitative evidence infuses advocacy for diversity efforts with the kind of rigor that other academics recognize.  It’s speaking the language of the institution so you can start breaking down skepticism and move conversations beyond the need to defend why you spend time and energy towards increasing diversity.

Helpful resources

The National Science Foundation has an interactive website with statistics for women, minorities and persons with disabilities in science and engineering.  The site takes some navigating, but there is a wealth of up-to-date information – one nice feature is that they include descriptions the U.S. demographics on the site.  This allows you to illustrate visually how underrepresented some groups are in science and engineering.  There are limitations to the data sets.  For example, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and multiple-race are grouped as ‘other’ in employed scientists and engineers from 2006.


Quantitative descriptions of what schools in our communities look like have also been valuable in my work bridging the university and K-12 education efforts.  UW academics are often stunned by how diverse Seattle Public Schools are, especially when compared with the university’s student body.  Two sites that are particularly helpful in capturing the differences include the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and UW Diversity.

For the purposes of talking about SACNAS as a tool for enhancing diversity for groups beyond Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans, statistics from the 2011 conference are great tools for demonstrating how the SACNAS National Conference draws a diverse audience.

Challenges using social science

Digging into the statistics does take time and my training is not as a social scientist. I’m trained as a natural scientist and when I speak about diversity, I’m usually talking to other natural scientists about social science. My presentations of quantitative data are often the first time the audience has seen any kind of data connected to assertions about diversity in STEM.  Because I’m using data to illustrate broad points, I have found that it’s sufficient to my audience to be transparent about what I did with my data and why even though I’m sure some of it would make a rigorous social scientist cringe.

There are cases where you want to compare data from sources that don’t represent the same year, race/ethnicity categories, etc., but keep in mind that you can still use imperfect comparisons to make broad claims.  In the first figure above, I want to compare U.S. population and employed scientists and engineers from the same year but I didn’t want to use the archived U.S. population data from the NSF site because it added Native Americans to the category of ‘other’.  The US Census Bureau has population data from 2006, but the site is much harder to navigate than NSF. Since it’s reasonable to assume the U.S. population demographics wouldn’t shift radically between 2006-2008, I used data sets from two different years.

It’s also important to be aware that for some demographic data, population totals won’t add up to 100%.  In some data sets, ‘Hispanic’ is an ethnicity that is separate from race and people under this label are counted in more than one category.

There are many tools and strengths that SACNISTAs bring to the table when we’re advocating for diversity in STEM.  Quantitative data are valuable additions to our advocacy toolbox.

Amanda Bruner is a Research Scientist & Outreach Coordinator at the University of Washington.  Her current position with SoundCitizen is focused on broadening public participation in environmental research.