Skip to main content

Public Engagement Summit and the State of STEMAP

By October 7, 2019No Comments

Letter From STEMAP Team

We hope you all have had a good summer and are ready for fall! The STEM Ambassador Program has continued to support science communication efforts and train new STEM Ambassadors in the art (and science!) of public engagement!

STEMAP Director Nalini Nadkarni and Program Manager Caitlin Weber presented workshops at the annual Ecological Society of America annual meeting in New Orleans, and later travelled to Seattle to work with members of the University of Washington STEMAP cohort. Training for the online and University of Washington cohorts wrapped up August 31st. Stay tuned as these Ambassadors apply their training to implement exciting new engagement activities!

A number of STEM Ambassadors facilitated engagement activities this summer. Pika biologists Johanna Varner and Erik Beever published an informational insert on pikas for participants in the Surly Pika Adventure Race held in the Wind River mountain range. Kevin Davenport spent his summer communicating science as a AAAS Fellow at the Idaho Statesman. Several STEM Ambassadors collaborated to organize science activities for a summer camp. The summer came to a close with several outstanding presentations by Sarah Apple at Salt Lake County senior centers.

The STEMAP team started the fall semester with a meeting to discuss the future of the program. We were thrilled to be joined by public engagement researchers and practitioners from across the country. Read more about the outcomes of this summit and the future of STEMAP in this issue!

Thank you for your continued support,

Nalini Nadkarni, Director
Caitlin Weber, Program Manager
Megan Young, Program Coordinator
Ally Jelitto, STEMAP Assistant

Table of Contents

Public Engagement Summit and the State of STEMAP

The STEM Ambassador Program Research and Planning Summit
The STEM Ambassador Program Research and Planning Summit took place on September 7th, followed by a reception in the Crocker Science Center.

The Summit was attended by experts in Informal Science Education, Science Communication, and Public Engagement of Science. The future direction of the STEM Ambassador Program, and public engagement more broadly, was discussed at length. It was a great opportunity to collaborate and refine approaches for broadening the reach of science in the public.

The Reception gave STEM Ambassadors, STEMAP community partners, administrators at the University of Utah, and leaders of other Public Engagement of Science programs a chance to speak about the value of public engagement.

Going into Fall 2018, the STEM Ambassador Program will be taking time to reflect on the valuable input from the Summit, and work on next steps for the program. We are very excited for this next chapter!

Due to this, however, STEMAP will be operating on a very limited capacity for engagement. We encourage our community partners and prospective scientists to stay in touch via this newsletter, our Facebook Page, and our Twitterbetween now and our next cohort recruitment. In the meantime, we have a list of public engagement opportunities offered by other University of Utah programs on our website, found here.

Thank you again for your support of the STEM Ambassador Program, and stay tuned for our exciting next chapter!

STEMAP at the Ecological Society of America

Director Nalini Nadkarni at the STEMAP workshop for the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting.
This August STEMAP Director Nalini Nadkarni and Manager Caitlin Weber presented a STEM Ambassador workshop for ecologists at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in New Orleans. During the workshop, Nalini and Caitlin shared the engagement successes of previous STEM Ambassadors in ecology including Mark Chynoweth’s work discussing wildlife biology with equestrians and JJ Horns’ project sharing his ornithology research with gardeners.

Workshop participants worked in pairs to reflect on their own research and personal interests and brainstormed how they might leverage these to build an authentic connection with a focal group. Ecologists identified a number of exciting outlets where they might engage, including golf courses and historical societies.

Nalini and Caitlin then summarized the subsequent steps in the STEMAP process, including how to deepen your understanding of your focal group through immersion, draw on immersion observations to design an effective engagement activity, and apply best practices in science communication to implement engagement activities.

We plan to continue to offer similar short workshops in the future. Contact us if you think your organization or professional society would like to host a STEMAP workshop!

STEMAP Workshop at the University of Washington

University of Washington STEMAP Cohort
STEMAP Director Dr. Nalini Nadkarni and Program Manager Caitlin Weber delivered STEMAP engagement design training at the University of Washington (UW) on August 17th. This workshop is part of a collaborative effort between STEMAP and the University of Washington College of the Environment to offer STEMAP training to scientists outside the University of Utah.

STEMAP is working closely with John Meyer, the Associate Director of Science Communication and Special Projects at UW, to provide STEMAP training to a small cohort of University of Washington scientists via online and in-person workshops. We look forward to the exciting engagement activities completed by this cohort!


The first STEMAP online cohort is in full swing! STEMAP is providing training via a series of interactive webinars with scientists around the country. Scientists participated in one-on-one interviews with STEMAP staff, an online orientation, immersion workshop, and engagement design training, and a science communication workshop. Ambassadors are now preparing to finalize and implement their engagement plans in a range of focal group venues (e.g., rural libraries, craft stores, music venues).

All members of the online cohort are on the STEMAP Slack page. We encourage STEMAP alumni to introduce themselves and welcome the new Ambassadors to the STEMAP community!

Nalini Nadkarni on Science Friday Live

STEMAP Director Nalini Nadkarni with Science Friday Host Ira Flatow
The National Public Radio program Science Friday visited Salt Lake City on September 15th to film a live show, set to air September 21st. STEMAP Director Nalini Nadkarni joined host Ira Flatow to talk about canopy science, and her ongoing engagement and conservation work with the incarcerated. Visit Science Friday to find out more.

STEMAP and the Surly Pika Adventure Race

American pika
Photo Credit: Dr. Shana Weber of Princeton Univ.
STEMAP has been busy working with pika scientists and organizers for the Surly Pika Adventure Race to share information about the American pika!

Biologists Johanna Varner  and Erik Beever spend their field seasons in the mountains to study how pikas alter their habitat use and feeding behavior to adjust to changing environmental conditions. However, appreciation for these cute critters is not limited to biologists. Over the summer, thrill seekers gather in Pinedale, Wyoming to participate in the Surly Pika Adventure Race—a race by foot, boat, and bike in the Wind River Range. The hardiness (and surliness) of the pika make it the perfect mascot for the event.

Johanna and Erik partnered with STEMAP and race organizers to prepare an informative insert about pikas to include in the race packets, which are distributed to all participants. The witty insert offered insights into the pika’s “surly” behavior and helped racers relate to these mountain-dwelling relatives of rabbits and hares. Johanna and Erik also offered tips to identify pikas in the wild and opportunities to contribute to pika citizen science projects.

This collaboration is an example of an exciting new mode of STEMAP engagement. In 2017, STEMAP Director Nalini Nadkarni collaborated with Sue Silver, the Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, one of the family of academic journals of the Ecological Society of America, to extend the reach of journal authors to the public.  Sue connected authors interested in engaging the public with the research they had reported in Frontiers to STEMAP staff, who then helped develop connections with an appropriate focal group. Johanna and Erik’s work with the Surly Pika Adventure Race is just one outcome of this partnership.

Thank you to Johanna Varner (Colorado Mesa University), Erik Beever (U.S. Geological Survey), Sue Silver (Ecological Society of America), and Laura Hattan (Great Outdoor Shop) for their work on this project!

Click here to learn more about Johanna and Erik’s pika research!

Biologist Johanna Varner excited to find a pika haypile at Grays Peak in Idaho.
Photo Credit: Meghan Camp.

2018 STEM Ambassador Celebration

Members of the 2018 cohort with past Ambassadors
(from left, Gregory Handy, Daniel Mendoza, Morgan Wambaugh, Sarah Apple, David Belnap)
At our third annual STEMAP Celebration, the STEMAP team had the opportunity to recognize and congratulate individuals who have continued public engagement throughout the Salt Lake valley! The 2018 cohort was recognized for their innovative engagement events, creative problem solving, and willingness to learn from their community partners. Past ambassadors and community partners were acknowledged for their continuing work and participation in the STEM Ambassador Program.

Thank you to all who attended and congratulations to the 2018 cohort!

STEM Ambassador Program Science Camp

Ambassador Kendall FitzGerald helps campers build their own mini watersheds.
The STEM Ambassador Program returned to Camp Tracy for a day of science exploration August 17th, with Ambassadors Dave Parrott, Julia Carleton, Tara Deans, Kendall FitzGerald, Anna Vickrey, and JJ Horns.

Tara Deans led groups in a DNA extraction activity, and Julia Carleton drove home genetic sequencing with DNA bracelets, while Dave Parrott showed off the real science of genetic mutants, and Kendall FitzGerald explored what it means to be part of an active watershed. Anna Vickrey and JJ Horns wrapped up the afternoon with the science of pigeons, giving kids the opportunity to see live birds, learn about their care and why pigeons are important for studying genes, and try on head crests and pigeon costumes.

Thanks to organizer Georgia Smith, everyone at Camp Tracy, and the STEM Ambassadors for a great day!

STEM Ambassador Reflections

The next two articles were written by STEM Ambassadors about their public engagement work. Read on to find out more about Kevin Davenport’s fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and about Sarah Apple’s experiences at a few Salt Lake County senior centers.

Kevin Davenport, AAAS Fellowship

STEM Ambassador Kevin Davenport
I spent the summer working as a science writer at the Idaho Statesman in Boise after being awarded the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship.  This experience taught me a great deal about journalism, about science writing and communication, and indeed about science itself.

I spent some time in Washington D.C. at AAAS headquarters getting a crash course in journalism as well as networking with so many people in the science writing world.  We toured the newsrooms of Science magazine and NPR, received some world-class training in preparation for our site work, and went to happy hours with D.C. science writers.  It was an intense experience.

Local news is vital to the community but it’s under a lot of pressure and most newsrooms simply do not have the resources for dedicated science writer.  It has been fantastic to be that person for the residents of Idaho via the Statesman.  I received a great deal of positive feedback from my readers, people reaching out to let me know they were so happy to see stories like these and to see how their community was either being impacted by science or creating it.

One such piece dealt with the issue of the poaching of a local protected bird, the long-billed curlew.  Scientists here had discovered through radio trackers that they were being killed in great numbers.  The piece I wrote brought visibility to their plight, as well as to the researchers. The piece was picked up by many environmental sites and the Associated Press, ultimately netting the lead researcher an interview Audubon.  This attention will directly service the birds and will help to end their killing. This kind of immediate interaction with the community through science writing has truly been one of the most gratifying things I’ve done.

I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Climate Centralon a piece about in the increase of wildfire smoke in the Pacific Northwest, the health effects of smoke, and how it is related to climate change and fire management.  That piece, part of their “Breathing Fire” series, was released concurrently with Climate Central’s national report on the same topic to communicate these important issues to local audiences.

From pieces about the challenges facing native bee species and the health effects of cyanobacteria, to Q&As about the plague and the inner workings of fireworks, I’ve had the opportunity to meander through many disciplines of science while giving the people of Idaho a public service.  I feel that I have truly become a member of the community.

For a complete list of the pieces I’ve written, you can visit my fellowship profile page at

Sarah Apple at Riverton and Liberty Senior Centers

Ambassador Sarah Apple poses beside a poster for her talk at Riverton Senior Center.
This summer I have had the opportunity to visit two senior centers in Salt Lake County and discuss the current status of Ebola virus and how we use mirror images in chemistry to design drugs to treat and prevent Ebola virus infection. I shared up-to-date information on the most recent outbreaks and a new species of Ebola virus that was recently identified in Sierra Leone.

The centers had engaged audience members who asked thoughtful questions about symmetry and Ebola viruses and discussed rational approaches for combatting this virus.

STEMAP Office Hours Poll

Calling all STEM Ambassadors! STEMAP is considering initiating online “office hours.” Office hours would take the form of an online chat or video call. Discussions would largely be driven by Ambassadors and would serve as an opportunity to get feedback on your ideas from fellow Ambassadors, alumni, and staff.

Would you be interested in participating in online office hours?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe

Leave a Reply