This is not a story about dating. In the summer of 2009, the DC COPUS Regional Hub, a loosely knit group of science cheerleaders from associations, federal agencies, local schools and businesses, decided to hold a Meet the Scientist program this past fall.
We’d kicked the idea around earlier in the year and had met with local schools, but the decision to put the event together was made about six weeks before it started. Why bring scientists into our public schools? Throughout five years of elementary school, I saw math and reading homework daily, and only an occasional science project come home. And we all love challenges.
How We Recruited Schools and Scientists
The National Science Teachers’ Association built two surveys for us on Survey Monkey - one for scientists and the other for schools. The scientists’ survey told us what area of science they specialized in, how comfortable they were talking to students and at what level, how to find them and when they were available.
The science teachers (some were schools but most were individual teachers) told us what type of science they were looking for, which class they wanted scientists for, and what their expectations were.
From these two surveys we matched the scientists with local schools and sent both groups letters of introduction to the other. One of our big concerns was we didn’t want to get in the middle of schools coordinating events with scientists because we didn’t have enough people to manage it. Our core group was four people - myself, Ed Rock of NSTA, Bernadette Farrelly of AIBS and Jen Collins who works on science and education for COPUS. We all had other jobs and little time to spare.
Finding Scientist and School Volunteers
We drove potential participants to the survey links in multiple ways:
Contacted Everyone We Could Think Of - The DC COPUS leadership team contacted everyone it knew in scientific societies and associations, as well as other science organizations in our area. We also partnered with the Retired Scientists, Engineers & Technicians (ReSET) program. Executive director John Meagher leads this group, which sends its members into elementary schools for long-term projects.
Reached Out to the Schools - We got in touch with schools in DC and in suburbs within a 50-60 mile radius of the city. We also contacted a couple of district science supervisors and a random sample of school principals and science lead teachers in Montgomery County. The response was excellent.
Used Social Media for Scientist Recruitment - We used Facebook and LinkedIn to recruit as many scientists as we could. For instance, AAAS sent out our notice to fans of its Science Careers page which has several thousand young scientists and graduate students participating. We also put up notices on college and association pages.
Scientists in the Schools
More than 100 scientists and 50 schools (we could have gotten more schools but were afraid we’d run out of scientists) signed on. Each school was assigned two scientists, given their contact information and told to follow-up with them directly.
DC COPUS also connected with local colleges and universities whose scientists were piloting outreach programs with K-12 students. For example, the Johns’ Hopkins Shady Grove Life Sciences Center held its first Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day, for 200 seventh graders that attend Shady Grove Middle School during our Meet the Scientist month.
Training information for the scientists - particularly those going into elementary schools - was supplied by ReSET and the San Diego Science Festival 2009, which held a Nifty Fifty Meet the Scientist program earlier this year.
A follow-up survey with scientists and teachers to evaluate and learn from this test experience is in progress. One lesson we learned is it takes time to connect schools and scientists. Some of the visits are still in the planning phase and will be held early in 2010.
A second Washington, DC event is in the works. The USA Science & Engineering Festival plans to hold a Meet the Scientist event in October of 2010 as part of its outreach activities.
Here are some of the photos and links to presentations.
Barrett Elementary School - Arlington, VA
Takoma Park Middle School Math and Science Magnet - Takoma Park, MD
Johns Hopkins University - Montgomery Campus
(Author Aimee Stern is a member of the COPUS action team and head of Stern Communications, a Washington, DC-based firm specializing in science, health and education.)