Science Online has become my favorite annual conference to attend, by far. Where else can I be simultaneously surrounded by, tutored, and refreshed by hundreds of folks who are equally geeked about science, technology, outreach, quality education, and social justice and equality as I am? And I love, nay exhilarated by the fact that these comrades are like me, but unlike me in so many beautiful, complex and different ways. It warms my heart and feeds my soul. It really does.
I was honored, again, that The Blogfather Bora Z, asked me moderate a session on Broadening Participation of Underrepresented Populations in Online Science Communication & Communities. There was plenty of discussion and sharing among the participants, which I suppose was near 30 or so (I’m bad a mental math).
Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org aggregated the notes from the session (which I was typing on the spot). The notes include a list of Action Items generated from the discussion. It also has a video from the session, thanks to Tim Skellet, as well as a Storify summary of tweets related to the session that occurred both before, during, and after. In fact the tweets continue. Search the hashtags #scio12 #diversity to get the scoop.
The notes give you an idea of the issues we broached. And truth be told, I believe we could have spent another hour exploring some of the topics more fully. But there were some very good take home messages, for the people in the room and anyone else in the science, education, and communication worlds that could make the goal of bringing more people into the fold a reality.
1. Regarding blogging, we can each work to create more reader-friendly blog posts. For example, add more detailed captions for photos. Some people may be google images and this search activity could bring newer audiences to your blog. Plus, with more people from urban communities using mobile devices to access the internet, make sure your page is optimized for such viewing.
2. Real life connections still matter, and perhaps more than ever. Mentoring young scholars – whether they become scientists/engineers or not is an important if not pivotal piece in the broadening participation jigsaw puzzles. Plus, it’s important that we maintain real contact with people who may not read blogs very much. We still can be that key resource to them, personally, and their sole connection to science and innovation.
3. The highlight of the session was the incomparable and wise, Dr. Cynthia Coleman (Musings on Native Science). Through her very engaging (and almost hypnotic) story-telling style she eloquently illustrated the imperative of comprehending cultural norms for different communities. Many communities such as Native peoples of America have multi-generational traditions for passing on knowledge or us, oral history/story-telling traditions to explain natural phenomena or new discoveries. And something that really touched the entire audience is that for Native Americans, science isn’t a separate way of knowing. Science is embedded/intertwined/enmeshed in everything. It is a part of the spiritual traditions and rituals of the people. And I was heartened to learn that the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is recognizing Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK in its programming. Which opened up the conversation and a member of the USDA Forest Service Eastern Forest & Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center reached out to members of the audience to partner with communicating with different audiences.
4. Finally, Gabe Lyon of Project Exploration really drove home a very important point: There is NO a single way to access STEM. The metaphor of the pipeline may not be the best because all of our solutions to ‘plug up’ or fix the ‘leaky pipeline’ are deficit models. We’ve got to work with people, all people where they are and help them find or rather navigate this twisty-turny maze to access STEM.
From this perspective, it gives everyone a chance to work At any point of time any or all of us might be called upon to be a
Map spelling out the way, the rewards, and the potential pitfalls to pursuing STEM;
Beacon shining light on new opportunities to students, blog readers, a family member or neighbor child;
Signpost pointing someone in the right direction for financial aid, academic support, or even social services so that they can stay on course;
Cheerleader who celebrates every victory – a test passed, a presentation given, a lab project completed - and who offers unselfish obnoxious applause to persevere when a student falls short of victory;
Shelter offering students retreat when they encounter pitfalls or nasty antagonists along the way, because surely they will; or an
Ally welding your weapon to slay a dragon too ferocious or lending your strength to build bridges across moats too wide for a student to handle alone.
We’ve all got work to do. What will you do to broaden participation of under-represented communities in science and science communication?