SICB Annual Meeting 2018
January 3-7, 2018
San Francisco, CA

Symposium: Science in the Public Eye: Leveraging Partnerships

This symposium offers scientists the opportunity to consider a powerful way to connect with the public, one that multiplies and amplifies their outreach efforts. An extensive network of informal educators in museums, protected lands, and zoos can capture/galvanize the public’s interest in scientific research. The speakers will describe relevant, inspiring, and doable projects, cases, and models.

The symposium speakers will describe the role of visualizations, professional development, exchange of stories, and agreements that support collaborations between scientists and informal educators like park rangers successful in making cutting-edge scientific research on public lands visible and interactive for their visitors.

The goals of the symposium sessions are to:

  1. Highlight the expectations, expertise, and artifacts that need to be brought to the table for effective partnerships.
  2. Describe partnership opportunities
  3. Equip academic advisors and mentors with additional strategies for guiding peers or grad students at their institutions in establishing partnerships with the potential for success.

Sponsors include, the iSWOOP Project, Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. iSWOOP is a collaboration of TERC, a STEM teaching and learning think-tank in Cambridge, MA and Winston-Salem State University as well as the Center for Design Innovation. The following divisions of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Research have generously supported the symposium:
Division of Animal Behavior
Division of Comparative Biomechanics
Division of Comparative Endocrinology
Division of Ecoimmunology and Disease Ecology
DNB (Division of Neurobiology)
Division of Vertebrate Morphology


  • Louise Allen, Winston Salem State University
  • Nickolay Hristov, Center for Design Innovation
  • Martha Merson, TERC


Martha Merson, TERC
Introduction – Science in the Public Eye 
There is an urgent need for credible, trusted voices that communicate science in a way that resonates with the public.  This introduction sets the stage for levering partnerships as we look at the skills, strengths, and credibility informal educators such as park rangers, environmental educators, and designers bring to the endeavor of communicating science to public audiences and explore what it takes for scientists to work productively with informal educators

Tim Watkins, National Park Service
Science Outreach and Engagement in National Parks. 
The United States and its territories contain over 400 national parks and other protected areas managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Collectively, these sites attract over 300 million visits per year which makes the NPS one of the largest informal education institutions in the country. This presentation explores lessons the NPS and its partners have learned about effective practices and impact of scientists' involvement in public outreach and engagement. It also identifies what still needs to be learned. Examples from parks will illustrate the diverse ways in which scientists, park staff, and partners customize outreach opportunities according to their different strengths, interests, and capacity. The presentation aims to provoke interest and new ideas among session participants for making science part of the park visitor's experience. 

Louise Allen, Winston-Salem State University
Beyond the Brown Bag: Designing Effective Professional Development
Allen, wildlife biologist,
explores opportunities for scientists to establish mutually beneficial relationships with informal educators to increase the broader impacts of their work. The session provides specific techniques and ideas that will support productive ways to collaborate with informal educators and promote the visibility of scientific research to public audiences.

Monae Verbeke and Scott Pattison, Institute for Learning Innovation
Meeting in the Middle: Connecting Your Science Research with the Public's Interests
Identifying strategies that generate increased individual interest may make all the difference in successfully influencing immediate and long-term public engagement with your research science. In this session, we will share insights from an on-going study on the communication of scientific research by national park interpreters and its relationship to visitor interests.  The discussion will present the drivers of visitors’ interest, as well as the communication techniques that appear to influence visitor interest.

Kristina Yu, Angela Amendariz, Denise King, Joyce Ma, Exploratorium: The Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception
“I have a GREAT idea for an exhibit!” - Adapting  scientific research for informal environments
Collaborating with scientific researchers is an essential practice for informal science educators.  However, adapting scientific findings and practices into compelling learning experiences for the public is a challenging and nuanced undertaking.  In this session, former research scientists turned museum professionals will discuss examples from the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco.  Through a series of case studies, discover how methodologies, technologies, and scientific findings were (or were not) successfully adapted for use by museum visitors. 

Katherine Gill, Tributary Land Design
Betsy Towns, Center for Design Innovation & University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Play to Learn, Learn to Play: The role design plays in creating spaces for learning
Gill and Towns will share stories about the design, build and development of projects from an adventure play zone at the NC Zoo to a district-wide outdoor learning lab. This session is for those who have wondered how to shape others’ ability to ask questions and investigate a problem, and see the consequences of structure and function in the natural world.

Juniper Harrower, University of Santa Cruz
Seeking Symbiosis: Linking art and science through symbiotic interactions 
Harrower takes the larger points of collaboration, partnerships, and symbiosis back into the plant world where she studies and then bases paintings on interactions among moths, fungi, and Joshua trees. Harrower discusses her efforts to use art to move microscopic interactions into the public eye.

Carol Strohecker, College of Design, University of Minnesota
Nickolay Hristov, Center for Design Innovation & Winston-Salem State University 
Designing for Broad Communication of Scientific Phenomena
Strohecker and Hristov present methods and rationale for creating imagery to prompt and support conversations among members of the public, the science community, and informal educators. Through imagery that is intentional in its use of color, relative size, and context, the authors share examples of results of scientific investigations used to advance outreach as well as research. 

Julia Parrish, University of Washington & COASST (Coastal Observation & Seabird Survey Team)
Elevating the Science in Citizen Science: Five Steps to Rigorous Public Involvement in Scientific Research

Citizen science is a growing phenomena.  This session uses the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a citizen science project focused on beached birds and marine debris, to highlight five steps to bona fide science in citizen science. 

Shauna Marquardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
On the Cutting Edge of Research to Conserve At-Risk Species
Marquardt is brokering new relationships with scientists and managers to research innovative techniques to monitor bats and butterflies. Collaboration among federal and academic scientists that transcends taxonomic and technological silos offers opportunities to address ecological challenges in novel ways and, through partnership with science communication specialists, facilitates new models for public outreach.

Martin Storksdieck, Oregon State University
Broader Impacts Plans It’s All About You(r Strengths) 
From a day of inspiration to a plan of action, science communication researcher Storksdieck lays out a path forward for tailoring an outreach plan to individual scientists' strengths and interests.


Images courtesy of: Lebar, Pfundstein, Towns, and Watkins