Science literacy is the artery through which the solutions of tomorrow’s problems flow.
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Sometimes as scientists, we become engrossed in the research we love and can forget the importance and excitement of science education, in all of its forms. Solving the complex environmental problems of the 21st century will require a scientifically literate society, as well as a new generation of innovative scientists. It is just as important to inspire students to consider STEM as a possible career path as it is to make sure those that follow other passions understand how science works.
Moreover, effective conservation requires community support, which often comes with understanding the importance and scientific rationale of the actions people are being asked to take (especially if they are costly or challenging). For example, people living on coasts near sea turtle nesting grounds support ‘lights out’ rules when they understand their importance for sea turtle survival. These public initiatives and legislation came about from scientific studies determining that sea turtle hatchlings use the moonlight to guide them into the ocean, and lights can disorient them to crawl in the wrong direction; lights can also disrupt female sea turtle nesting. Communicating with and educating the public and policy makers about the science was a critical component of developing and implementing this effective conservation practice.
As a conservation group, science communication, education and outreach go hand in hand with our research activities. This comes in many forms, such as mentoring high school students through open inquiry research in the NSF GK-12 Coastal, Atmospheric, and Marine Environmental Observing Studies (CAMEOS) program at Bodega Marine Laboratory, collaborating with management agencies to communicate our research findings to the public, or mentoring K-12 teachers through hands on research experiences to adapt into their curricula through the Cal Poly STAR program. We are looking forward to soon building new education and outreach partnerships in Massachusetts and the greater New England area! If you have an idea or interest in working with us, please contact us.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that participating in science education & outreach is a two-way street for scientists…we benefit just as much if not more than the students and teachers (e.g., improving our science communication, rekindling our excitement and passion for science, gaining professional skills, etc.). As the recent US National Education Standards emphasize the importance of inquiry-based learning for students, scientists are especially well poised to mentor students through projects based on the inherently inquiry-based scientific process…we live it every day! From casual volunteering in communities or local schools, to advising public awareness initiatives, there are so many ways for scientists to get involved. While not every scientist can commit to long-term science education or outreach projects, for those interested in dipping their toes in the water, it’s important to know that there is an entire community full of resources for support. For more information and resources, check out our BioScience paper “A Scientist’s Guide to Achieve ‘Broader Impacts’ through K-12 STEM Collaboration”.