Outreach at the local level is a great way to make a positive impact and get outside the academic bubble to make connections with neighbors and community members. In this vein, I have designed and presented activities geared towards my favorite age groups, middle schoolers, for both Think Outside the Beaker, an after-school science program, and the Expanding Your Horizons program, which aims to increase interest in STEM careers in girls. These programs emphasize critical thinking, active learning, and support important scientific skills, such as displaying and interpreting data. In these programs, I can also serve as a positive role model (despite my ponytail!) to show students that science is a viable, fun, and rewarding career.
I have created and run activities at Discovery Space in State College, for Penn State’s Exploration-U program, and at The Great Insect Fair, an entomology fair drawing about 5,000 attendees a year. These activities work to introduce children and their parents to organisms that they might find scary or gross: reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods. I have often been spotted at events with one of my favorite outreach animals, a preserved giant isopod (Bathynomus giganteus), attracting kids to the biology exhibits via its sheer weirdness. By allowing people to interact with and appreciate these creatures in a safe setting, I hope to cultivate a respect for biodiversity and communicate how even less cuddly animals are important and valuable parts of our world.
In a similar vein, I’ve worked in Tracy Langkilde’s lab to design and conduct research with high school students from Penn State’s Upward Bound program. These students show promise in the sciences, but are from disadvantaged schools and often will be first-generation college students. By working with them to design a research project of interest, we help them engage with science on a personal level, encourage and support their interest in STEM, and help show them that they can succeed in STEM fields in a college environment and their future careers.