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Program Overview

Program Overview

About the STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP)

Science requires diverse ideas and perspectives to help address pressing environmental and societal challenges. Informal science education venues, such as museums and science centers, play a critical role in bringing science to the public. However, variations in health, mobility, language, and other factors prevent some people from deliberately engaging with science in these settings.

The STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP) was funded in 2016 by the National Science Foundation to train scientists to engage members of the public in innovative ways outside traditional venues.  Participating scientists (referred to as “STEM Ambassadors), link their research, personal interests, experiences, and desired social impacts to a particular “focal group,” or a group gathered around shared interests, hobbies, circumstances, or experience that resonate with the scientist. Scientists engage the group in-place, rather than requesting the group travel to an informal science education venue. This provides greater access to science for those who do not or cannot visit science education venues, reinforces the connection of science to everyday life, and opens portals for scientists to gain new ideas and perspectives from the community.


STEMAP aims to facilitate open-minded exchange between scientists and members of the public.

Engagement activities are designed to achieve one or more of the following objectives towards this goal:

  • demonstrate that scientists and the focal group have shared values;
  • reveal that scientists have “identities” outside of science and respect for diverse focal group identities;
  • manifest that the scientific community cares about the broader community’s well-being and opinions;
  • demonstrate scientists’ desire to learn from and with the focal group; and
  • increase accessibility of scientists to the community and the community to scientists

In addition to these objectives, STEMAP engagement activities may also communicate scientific information. However, science literacy objectives are secondary as research suggests that improving science literacy alone does not consistently lead to meaningful outcomes for the scientist and public.


STEM Ambassadors

STEM Ambassadors are faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students in STEM departments at colleges and universities who wish to carry out public engagement in nontraditional settings (e.g., outside schools, museums, science centers). They participate in a series of workshops, either in-person or online, to identify a focal group to engage and build skills to design and implement an effective engagement activity.

Meet the Ambassadors

Focal Group Participants

STEMAP provides generalized training to guide Ambassadors in creating specialized engagement activities for a particular focal group. This training has allowed Ambassadors to engage a wide array of focal groups including those who do not or cannot engage with science in traditional ways, those who are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, and end-users of scientific research.


The Foundations of STEMAP

STEMAP is grounded in the Impact Identity Framework published by Julie Risien and Martin Storksdieck in 2018 (1). Under this framework, scientists integrate their research, personal interests, skills, and social connections to identify the societal impact they wish to have as a scientist and member of society. STEMAP applies practices derived from three validated informal science education models to support scientists in developing their impact identity, designing engagement activities, and carrying out engagement (2). Click here for more information on training.

(1) Risien, J. Storksdieck, M. 2018. Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 58: 58-66.

(2) Design Thinking, Portal to the Public, Research Ambassador Program


Program Research and Evaluation

The STEMAP team carries out research and evaluation on the impacts of STEMAP on scientists and focal group participants through case studies interviews and surveys.

We address the following questions:

  1. What is the impact of STEMAP on scientists to shift self-identities of STEM Ambassadors from scientists to science communicators?
  2. What is the impact of STEMAP on focal group participants?
  3. What motivates scientists to participate in STEMAP? What incentives do they need?
  4. How can STEMAP be extended and sustained?

This research is in partnership with the University of Utah, Stanford University, Pacific Science Center, Natural History Museum of Utah, Maine Alliance for Mathematics and Science, and Inverness Research with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Leadership Team

Current Team Members

Nalini Nadkarni

STEM Ambassador Program Senior Advisor and co-PI

Professor Emeritus
School of Biological Sciences
University of Utah

Sara Yeo

STEM Ambassador Program Director and PI

Associate Professor
Department of Communication
University of Utah

Julie Risien

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Associate Director STEM Research Center
Oregon State University

John Besley

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations
Advertising and Public Relations
Michigan State University

Dennis Schatz

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Senior Fellow
Institute for Learning Innovation

Sue Allen

STEM Ambassador Program Consultant

Senior Research Scientist
Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

Andrew George

STEM Ambassador Program Associate Director

University of Utah

Helen Webb

STEM Ambassador Program Coordinator

University of Utah

Past Team Members

Krista Carlson

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Assistant Professor
Metallurgical Engineering
University of Utah

Megan Young

STEM Ambassador Program Coordinator

University of Utah

Shelley Goldman

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Stanford Graduate School of Education

Becky Menlove

STEM Ambassador Program co-PI

Associate Director for Visitor Experience
Natural History Museum of Utah

Caitlin Weber

STEM Ambassador Program Manager

University of Utah

Advisory Board

Larry Bell

Sr. Vice President for Strategic Initiatives,

Museum of Science

Lynn Dierking

Director for Strategy and Partnerships

Institute for Learning Innovation

Geoffrey Hunt

Public Outreach Specialist

American Society for Microbiology

Eve Klein 

Program Director

Institute for Learning Innovation

Bruce MacFadden


Florida Museum of Natural History

Susan Renoe

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research, Extension, and Engagement

University of Missouri 

Martin Storksdieck

Director STEM Research Center

Oregon State University

External Evaluator

External evaluation for the STEM Ambassador Program is provided by Inverness Research, which specializes in the evaluation of educational programs.

Dr. Mark St. John is the President of Inverness Research. Becky Carroll is a Senior Researcher who implements the external evaluation component of STEMAP.