Co-authors: Matt Allen G. & Candice B. Limper | 4/19/2018
What is Outreach?
Outreach refers to a variety of activities used by both individuals and organizations to help promote public awareness of an issue (in this case a science-related matter) and to get others involved to help bring attention to it as well. Typically, this involves trying to educate the public about a specific problem so that they grow an interest in helping spread awareness for it or getting involved to help work towards a solution. One of the oldest forms of outreach is public speaking where an expert in a specific field talks to the public about what he/she does and why it is important, spreading these types of messages has become much easier in the era of the internet and social media. Do you remember those videos online of people participating in “the ice bucket challenge”? That is an example of a pretty successful outreach campaign that was launched online and aimed to raise awareness of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). But not all outreach requires people to give public speeches or film themselves dumping ice-water over their heads, it could be something as simple as visiting an elementary school to talk to the students about a science-related subject like plant life or volunteering at a space-camp for kids so that maybe they will go home with a newfound interest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).
Why is Outreach Important to STEM?
In regard to STEM, outreach is vital because it is how we raise awareness of problems in the world and how we work towards solving them in order to positively advance our society. In order to more quickly find solutions to the problems that are keeping STEM and our world from advancing, more people need to actually know about them and have a desire to help be part of the solution. If no one knows that a problem even exists, how will that problem ever be solved? For example, if the public had not ever been educated about things like cancer would we even see any value in funding the research that works so aggressively to cure it? Or what about all the environmental and technological problems associated with climate change? Thanks to a public interest in how humans are negatively affecting our planet, new technologies that promote better emission standards in cars, power our homes, and even determine how we manufacture goods are constantly under development to help combat global warming. These things were all made possible thanks to scientific outreach and the public interest it generated which is what ultimately helps allocate funding to the scientific research required to work on solving these problems.
Why is Outreach Important to Students?
As a student, when a school you are applying to can see that you are actively participating in some form of scientific outreach it gives you an advantage over other applicants. This is because it shows schools that you are a motivated problem solver who is trying to help raise awareness of a problem in the world in hopes of helping to find a solution for it. Your participation also tells them that you are building a new skillset from your experience that other applicants may not have. Because you participated in some form of outreach you are more likely to have better organizational, time management, and communication skills. These qualities not only help make a great student but a great academic and scientific leader. Your participation in outreach is a good measure of your work ethic as well as your motivation to succeed and if you are being compared to another applicant of equal academic success but who isn’t involved in outreach, the advantage is most likely yours. When you are competing with other students to be accepted into a graduate program you want every advantage you can get and having the ability to show that you are actively participating in promoting scientific outreach could be the difference between rejection and acceptance. Plus, it’s a great way to network and build relationships with other like-minded individuals who may be able to help you somewhere down the line.
Why is Outreach Important to Educating the Public?
While outreach participation can definitely help the individual student succeed in their academic and professional career, it also promotes the growth of education itself. Public education from the various forms of outreach usually leads to more people becoming aware of the many gaps that exist in scientific knowledge and as a result will most likely lead to more people wanting to seek the education that they need to help fill those gaps. So as more people seek an education that values promoting outreach, the amount of public interest in a science-based education will also rise. A well-educated society is one that is more likely to quickly advance which betters the lives of everyone who lives in it (including you). Therefore, we should all be doing everything we can to help encourage the growth of education by participating in outreach because we all have a vested interest here. By participating in some form of outreach you are not only giving yourself an advantage over other students applying to the same school as you, but you are helping to raise public awareness of an issue in the world we live in which ultimately helps more people understand the value of a scientific education. So simply put? Everyone wins.
How Can I Participate in Outreach?
There are organizations that are already set up and designed to allow students to volunteer at elementary and middle schools such as:
Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanic and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)