Fellows Focus: Laurie Luckritz

Graduate Student Outreach Fellow Laurie Luckritz

Laurie Luckritz grew up in a religious household where she was taught not to believe in evolution—which makes the fact that she is now a graduate student in biology at the University of Central Missouri all the more noteworthy. She is one of six graduate students who make up our first cohort of Graduate Student Outreach Fellows seeking to improve their science communication skills in the service of community outreach. The Fellowship provides a framework in which Fellows can improve their skills by practicing engagement techniques, participating in outreach events, developing curriculum, and conducting informal science research. I had the opportunity to catch up with her recently and asked her a few questions about her work connected to NCSE.

How did you become involved in the NCSE Graduate Student Outreach Fellowship program?
I became interested in NCSE through my passion for studying evolution. I wanted to grow a program in my community where I could talk about evolution with others and I stumbled upon NCSE and realized that it does exactly what I love. Learning how to reach my audience and getting engaged with them is exactly what the Graduate Fellowship helps me do, and it’s a great experience.

Do you recall the moment when you knew you wanted to pursue science outreach?
Yes! I know the exact moment! I was finishing my undergraduate degree in anthropology at the time and we were learning about macroevolution. At the time, I was still reluctant to accept it since it wasn’t what I was raised to believe. I had been bothered about the concept of macroevolution ever since I learned about it. I went to my professor’s office after class and talked with her about it. We talked about how macroevolution can occur on the bacterial level in a matter of days. It clicked in that moment and I remember getting goose bumps.
Can you describe what you do in the Fellowship, and how you hope to grow through your involvement in the program?
In the Fellowship, I recruit volunteers for our events, increase my local affiliate’s social media presence, and build activity kits. Kate Carter [NCSE Director of Community Science Outreach] has helped me develop my grant-writing abilities, giving me insight on funding in a way I’ve never been exposed to before. We just learned about identifying our audience—having that aspect of public relations is crucial for obtaining volunteers and participants. I’ve wanted to get real-world experience and outreach opportunities, but most importantly grow beyond the scope of what I’m used to, and this fellowship helps with all of that and more!

Why is science communication important to your community?
In my educational experiences, I’ve learned all kinds of things about science, but science communication is a totally different aspect that I’ve never encountered before. I find that science communication in my area is unheard of and we’re sought out by other non-profits because we’re the only ones doing what we’re doing.

My biggest message to participants in our activities is that everyone is a scientist, they just don’t know it yet.

What did you learn along the way about kit development or spearheading your own individualized project?
Finding materials isn’t as easy as you think. You have to get creative!

How have you grown your volunteer base?
I’ve grown my volunteer base by having recruitment booths on campus and letting supporters know that they can sign up for our listserve to receive updates. I always include the diversity of topics we cover and how they can spend as much time with us as they’d like. [She has had over 20 local volunteers help with activities.]

What have you learned about community organizing?
I’ve learned that you need to think creatively about how your organization can collaborate. Local businesses love to collaborate, and by getting creative and throwing the ideas out there, you build relationships and opportunities. Grabbing event pamphlets, asking businesses for news, and simply being out there shows that you care.

How have your experiences expanded your own personal view of what a scientist is?
My largest area of growth has been how I communicate with others. I used to use large words to feel smart and validate my own education, but now I never use complicated jargon. I always try to relate the material to something we all can understand because what other people feel about themselves when it comes to science is more important than your own insecurities about whether they believe in your abilities. My biggest message to participants in our activities is that everyone is a scientist, they just don’t know it yet. Experiencing the hesitance of the public that doesn’t believe in topics like evolution and climate change drives my passion into letting them know that they’re heard and don’t need to be afraid.

NCSE Program Coordinator Emma Doctors
Short Bio

Emma Doctors is Program Coordinator at NCSE.