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AFSC Diversity Panel Reaches Out to Community

(Quarterly Report for Jan-Feb-Mar 2001)

picture of Sarah Gaichas and Roosevelt High School students
AFSC scientist Sarah Gaichas discusses her research with
students at Roosevelt High School
  

For over 30 years, scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) have been working with students in Alaska and Washington to spark an interest in careers in science and mathematics.  AFSC scientists have made hundreds of classroom presentations, provided slide shows and career perspectives, attended career fairs, and organized AFSC open houses and field trips which highlight AFSC research activities and expertise.  Many of these activities have featured beach walks and live, diver-collected sea creatures.

Early outreach activities were often at the request of nearby schools and usually targeted  the more immediate career goals of high school and college students.  Consequently, older students in well-funded schools tended to receive the majority of our attention, Center scientists became concerned that they werenít reaching a wide enough audience.  As a result, in 1995  a small group of scientists founded the AFSC Diversity Panel to expand the Centerís educational outreach activities.  The mission of the Diversity Panel is ďto chart and coordinate AFSCís activities in promoting community outreach programs, training opportunities for current employees, and establish cooperative programs with regional educational institutions to encourage interest in the disciplines of mathematics and science.Ē  One of the first issues that the panel addressed was the lack of qualified women and minority candidates in the applicant pool when it came time to recruit new employees.  What could be done to increase the diversity of the work force.

To address these issues, the panel chose a  a long-term strategy to raise levels of interest in science careers among students of all ages from under-represented populations.  By improving the Centerís educational outreach to schools with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic populations  starting at the elementary school level and expanding to secondary and higher schools, panel members hope to encourage more students to follow paths leading to careers in science and mathematics.

As a first step, the Diversity Panel developed new tools and materials to enhance the Centerís outreach activities.  Under the guidance of the Diversity Panel and with the support of the AFSC Science Directorís office, Center scientists created seven traveling exhibits, which showcase many of the Centerís research activities ranging from marine mammals and groundfish to determining the age of fish from otoliths (earbones).  At least two more exhibits are being planned.  Collections of unique hands-on materials, such as seal pelts, fish and mammal bones, and parasites, have been assembled to complement the displays and help presenters capture the attention and imagination of their student audiences.  Fish and invertebrates collected during field activities are sometimes displayed at these school functions, along with plenty of paper towels!  Itís amazing how touchable display items erase any inhibitions children have about talking with the presenters.  These tools have prompted more Center scientists to accept the challenge of exciting children about pursuing careers in science.

The Diversity Panel has partnered with other organizations having similar goals.  One of the panelís most successful partnerships has been with the Family Science Program (http://projects.systemsbiology.net/familyscience/).
This program, sponsored by the Seattle School District and the University of Washington through a grant from the National Science Foundation, promotes community science events at Seattle elementary schools and involves parents and the community in the schoolsí science programs.  AFSC scientists have participated as many as ten elementary schoolsí science celebrations each year since 1998, using our displays and hands-on activities to explain the science of our work at the Center.

Another successful venture, aimed at middle school girls, has been the Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics (EYH) conferences
(http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org)
The program organizes conferences at colleges nationwide for presenting young women with career opportunities in math and science. Best of all, the presenters are women who have successful careers in math and science.  AFSC scientists have participated in at least one local EYH conference annually for the past ten years. The Centerís participation has been coordinated and enhanced through the Diversity Panel since 1996; this spring we will be presenting seminars at three EYH conferences at local community colleges, reaching more young women than ever.

The Diversity Panel also has cultivated special relationships with colleges and universities.  Each year since 1996, the panel has funded up to three summer internships at the Center for undergraduates in the marine sciences.  Interns have assisted Center staff with research projects, often including experience in field sampling, laboratory work, data analysis, and reporting of results.  Many of our interns have been undergraduates at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, though others have been drawn from all over the United States.

For the last two years, the Panel has hosted visits to the AFSC by professors and students of Western Washington Universityís Minorities in Marine Sciences Undergraduate Program
(MIMSUP, http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~mimsup/),
a  program at the Shannon Point Marine Laboratory in Bellingham that provides promising minority undergraduate students with classroom and research training in marine science.  The studentsí visits to the AFSC gives them an insight into the wide variety of career possibilities in marine sciences.  In return, students present their progress on ongoing research projects to an audience of AFSC scientists.  Discussions between students and staff about research projects and employment opportunities follow from the exchange.

Other activities that the Diversity Panel has participated in include representing NOAA, NMFS, and the AFSC at high school and college career fairs, hosting middle and high school students during Job Shadow Days at the Center, coordinating mentoring opportunities with Seattleís Center for Career Alternatives, and partnering with the Seattle Aquarium in its Mobile Field Lab Program with students from the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center.

 

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