Public Engagement Workshops

Public Engagement Workshop: February 20, 2017

We’re excited to announce a one-day workshop on STEM public engagement! The workshop will take place on February 20, 2017, 10 am to 4 pm (tentatively), at The University of Texas at Austin. Video conferencing will be available for BEACONites at other member institutions. If you are interested in participating (from any institution), click here to sign up. Registration closes on February 1, 2017. Please plan to attend the entire day, as the afternoon session will depend on material presented in the morning. See below for more details, and contact Tessa Solomon-Lane with any questions.

Tessa Solomon-Lane engaging students at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History annual Science at Hand Day 2012

What is public engagement?  Public engagement involves STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals communicating with the non-STEM public about STEM topics, which often fall at the intersection of science and society.  Engagement can take many different forms, from writing a blog post to visiting a K-12 classroom to advising on public policy.

What will happen at the workshop?  We will introduce public engagement, guide participants in creating their own public engagement materials, and connect participants with engagement opportunities.  We will focus on face-to-face public engagement, namely with K12 students, but the materials and skills are widely applicable to other audiences and forms of engagement. We are also pleased to welcome Dr. Anthony Dudo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at UT Austin, who will share some of his research on the science of science communication!

We will demonstrate that preparing to engage the public can be time efficient by having participants create their public engagement materials during the workshop itself.  Our approach involves directly adapting existing scientific materials, such as manuscripts, talks, posters, or grants, which can be further modified for different ages and audiences.








Travis Hagey engaging students at a local elementary science night in Moscow, Idaho

Why is public engagement important?  Many consider disseminating scientific knowledge a fundamental responsibility for every academic scientist.  It is also requirement for many federal funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation.  What many people may not know is that public engagement builds skills that are fundamental to professional success.  Research shows that communicating, consulting, and/or participating with the public enhances communication, teaching, and leadership skills. Public engagement can also enrich scientists’ understanding of their own research and field.

Why are we organizing this workshop?  Public engagement is important for scientists, science, and society, yet the best practices for public engagement are rarely taught.  In fact, engagement may even be discouraged because some see it as a distraction from research.  Our goal is to make public engagement skills and experience a standard part of the scientific training curriculum.  This workshop will contribute to the already impressive culture of public engagement at BEACON (and beyond) by providing training and resources; building a community of public engagers; and demonstrating peer, faculty, and institutional support for public engagement.  BEACON should strive to be a trailblazer in public engagement because it is an NSF Center dedicated to training the very best scientists!

Public Engagement Sandboxes at the BEACON Congress 2016

Tessa Solomon-Lane, with Hans Hofmann (far left) and Travis Hagey (left), at the 2016 BEACON Congress public engagement sandbox discussion

Our first steps towards the long-term goal of integrating public engagement skills and experience into the standard scientific training curriculum were to lead two sandboxes dedicated to public engagement at the 2016 BEACON Congress. The first sandbox brought together experts and novices to discuss the current state of public engagement at BEACON and to strategically plan for its future.  The second sandbox was a hands-on workshop that guided participants in developing their own public engagement experience.  Download the notes from our sandboxes here. You can also learn more about the sandboxes by checking out our blog post BEACONites engage! Engaging with the public about STEM and opportunities for training!

What did participants think about the Sandboxes?  The feedback on our sandboxes was overwhelmingly positive! More than 96% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the goals of the sandbox were met; 85% reported that their thinking about public engagement changed; and 54% made a new contact. We also received a number of comments that we are currently integrating into our full day workshop at UT Austin.

Gathering Data on Public Engagement at BEACON

Another step towards our goal was to learn more about the ways you engage with the public about STEM!  We already know that BEACONites engage in important, creative, and fun ways.  Help us get the data to show it!  We are asking everyone—with or without engagement / outreach experience—to fill out a short survey (< 4 min) by clicking HERE or copying the link:

Tessa Solomon-Lane (UT), Hans Hofmann (UT), Travis Hagey (MSU), and Alexa Warwick (MSU) are working collaboratively on public engagement at BEACON.

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