Science Outreach to Urban Audiences

I am nearing completion of my dissertation, studying animal behavior and beginning to survey my career options. I love research. I love teaching. But as an African-American and a female, I am also concerned about the diversity issues in science and academia. What’s happening with the pipeline? And what role do I play now that I see a the light at the end of the tunnel? But to be honest, the flow from the pipeline is more akin to a trickle and not a steady stream. Don’t get me wrong, I think the scientific and academic communities have been quite open and accessible, for the most part. But I contend that public outreach to the general public, and especially to communities of color, haven’t been very effective because most of the programs are passive.

Leaving the door open and the light on is great. But we’ve got to be more proactive and reduce people’s reluctance/avoidance of science and attract them to science.

So, in steps me…
I am very interested in scientific outreach, specifically enhancing scientific literacy. I think this would be especially useful in urban areas working with teens, young adults, and African-Americans.

Sharing science with others is my favorite part of the process. (Okay, formulating hypotheses runs a very close race). But what is the best way to share science with urban audiences?

Informal education through zoos, botanic gardens, conservation organization, natural resources agencies, and even continuing education programs are a great start.
But, my ultimate goal is to create, produce, and market a science program for urban audiences.

The back story goes like this: I was sharing my funny, exciting, and close-call stories about life as a scientists with friends at a party – you know, field stories, lab accidents, classrooms gone wild, etc. I had so many people laughing and intriqued about what I (we as scientists) do that one of my good friends mentioned that I should host my own Science Television show – a ‘hood’ version of “The Crocodile Hunter” if you will. Grad school and research continued. Around the same time I was also working as a resource scientist at (very) urban high school in the St. Louis, Missouri. Although I served as a role model to other African-American students and taught and shared science with these great students, there was still so much to do. Most of these kids hated science. Their classroom experiences were largely didactic, and labs were boring and without purpose. Interesteingly, they talked on and on about things they learned on the Discovery Channel or on Animal Planet.
I thought, let’s do more of the stuff they’re interested in. So, I helped create an after-school Biology Science Club. They loved it and the kids knowledge of scientific concepts improved and they blossomed.

Suddenly my friends idea seemed worthy – a science show that directly connects with teens from urban areas. Each show can introduce audiences to the fantasic wildlife that lives in their cities and invite them to go outdoors and explore. Idolizing scenic far-away lands, plants, and animals is great, but appreciating the mosses, birds, mammals, and flowers in your own backyard is worthy, too.

So, that’s my angle. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc.

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5 thoughts on “Science Outreach to Urban Audiences”

  1. I think you have a great idea. There have been some like-minded efforts by community organizations. I ran one such in Harrisburg, PA for a year called Operation SMART, developed by the nonprofit Girls, Inc. (http://www.girlsincatl.org/operationSMART.asp). You might also visit the Urban League website to see if they’re still running workshops for urban math and science teachers. Finally, I used to use a cool book called “Family Math” and I think there’s one called “Family Science,” too.

    Best of luck! This is a great idea. As a science writer, I can’t help but notice that most of my interviews are with pale males.


  2. Howdy DNLee,

    Your super thoughtful post raises a lot of interesting points. I think an urban science program would be great, if a challenge to get off theground. Why not start with the Web and work your way toward that via podcasts? That’s an area I’d like to see Science Blog venture further into.

    In any case, please keep posting and sharing your ideas/questions/thoughts.


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