Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Grants fuel science outreach by NCSE fellows

NCSE Graduate Student Outreach Fellow Rachel Larson

Creating effective moments in science outreach requires a lot of work behind the scenes.

That’s why, as part of the NCSE Graduate Student Outreach Fellowship, our fellows receive training in strategic planning, program evaluation and grant writing. While these components might not seem as important as practicing direct outreach skills, they are crucial for preparing the next generation of science communication leaders to create and evaluate outreach that is inclusive and responsive to the community needs. Grant writing in particular is often an important part of academia, but students are usually given little, if any, formal training in that skill. So while many graduate students start the fellowship having written grants, they need help applying their skills in a new context. NCSE teaches our fellows to write outreach grants that answer four major questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What’s a solution to the problem?
  3. How specifically will your work solve the problem?
  4. How will you determine whether your solution is effective?

We also help the fellows develop their ability to search for appropriate grant opportunities and assess programmatic fit, and prepare them for pre-submission communication with program officers and foundations. After receiving training through in-class exercises, each fellow writes and submits a grant to fund his or her outreach efforts during their fellow- ship year and beyond.

Our second cohort of fellows, all based at the University of Iowa, received grants this summer to further science outreach within the state. Briante Najev, an ecologist in the biology department, has been using the NCSE activity EcoStax to help children in eastern Iowa understand systems thinking as it relates to climate change.

Briante Najev

Najev facilitates a livestream EcoStax activity.

After COVID-19 made in-person outreach virtually impossible, she received a grant from the British Ecological Society to create online science engagement opportunities. During her livestream event on July 25, 2020, she was joined by many people—largely patrons of libraries in eastern Iowa—for an online EcoStax experience. During this time she also collected data for a research project about effective engagement strategies, which she will present at academic conferences later this year. Najev used additional grant dollars to develop dozens of EcoStax kits that local libraries can give to families that want to explore ecosystems further.

Rachel Larson, a geography doctoral student, received a $3,500 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Con- servation Education Program to develop a class- room game about human interactions with wildlife in urban areas. Larson studies human–wildlife interactions and wanted to help students understand the impact of policy and climate change science on humans and their backyard wildlife. As part of the fellowship, NCSE provides training in how science games can effectively help participants understand systems thinking; Larson was inspired to develop a game that showed all the conflicting priorities of urban wildlife management. In this game, which she likens to Frogger, players help animals safely navigate an urban environment, helping them find food and shelter and analyzing the different needs of different species. Her board game will be distributed by NCSE to both outreach partners and classrooms across the country.

NCSE is excited to be able to work with fellows who are interested in developing their science communication skills by crafting and evaluating interactive and engaging experiences.

Kate Carter
Short Bio

Kate Carter is Director of Community Science Education at NCSE.