ASCB grant funds five new innovative public engagement projects


The American Society for Cell Biology is pleased to announce the five 2021 recipients of ASCB Public Engagement Grants, which are funded by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. This round of grantees features STEM outreach and training opportunities for children through adults, focusing on marginalized and underserved communities, as well as fragile natural resources across the nation. The grantees and their funded projects include:

Camila de Avila Dal’Bo (Mayo Clinic)—Navajo Science

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering reports that indigenous people represent just 0.5% university enrollment and graduation of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). To create a pipeline of diverse scientists and innovators from this population, Navajo Science will select 11 Navajo Scholars (rising sophomores and juniors) from Diné College, a public, tribal land-grant institution located in Tsaile, Arizona, and provide them with advanced training opportunities. Scholars will be selected based on their interest in STEM, as well as on their excellence in academics, leadership, and community service. The project will establish a long-term, collaborative partnership among Diné College, the Navajo Nation, Mayo Clinic, and Integrated Science Education Outreach (InSciEd Out) to invest in future STEM leaders from this indigenous population.

Fanuel Muindi (Harvard University)—Science Communication Summer Research Program (SciComm-SRP)

This project addresses the problem that professional development training in science communication lacks an opportunity for direct research. SciComm-SRP, hosted virtually for eight weeks, offers one-on-one mentorships for college undergraduates from traditionally underrepresented groups. Students will attend presentations, learn how to create a research project, conduct literature searches, learn about diverse science career opportunities, improve their writing effectiveness, and pitch their research proposals to the group. The goal is that participants will go on to pursue further training in STEM and become developers of new science outreach and engagement initiatives.

Jessica McAnulty (University of Michigan)—Developing Future Biologists (DFB)

Developing Future Biologists, now in its seventh year and led by graduate and postdoctoral trainees at the University of Michigan, aims to reduce barriers for underrepresented students to experience biomedical science research and learn about careers in STEM. DFB hosts a free, five-day short course that incorporates interactive lectures and hands-on lab modules focused on developmental biology, along with professional development workshops and discussion panels with STEM professionals. The program is designed for students from underrepresented groups who attend primarily undergraduate institutions, community colleges, and small liberal arts schools. DFB also seeks to expand the engagement of the program’s 175+ alumni with opportunities for teaching assistantships, summer research fellowships, and conference attendance awards. Alumni can also provide mentoring and community outreach.

Jessica Sowa (West Chester University)—Nematode Hunters

Nematode Hunters is a citizen science project that allows 4th-grade teachers at underserved schools in Pennsylvania to engage their students in biological research using nematodes as their model organism. The program is offered remotely and aims to increase interest in biology and STEM careers for participants by giving them the chance to interact with scientists via virtual classroom visits; conduct hands-on science by collecting samples of wild nematodes from their local environment; and linking the project to the curriculum so that students can see the relevance of scientific research. Nematode Hunters collaborates with a West Chester University research team, who will test nematodes submitted to them for intracellular infections. All supplies for this project will be provided by the program. Classroom visits and nematode submission will be conducted completely remotely, making this project an ideal way to reach students regardless of geographical or funding constraints.

Kristina Young (Science Moab)—Science Certification Program

Science Moab’s Science Certification program teaches outdoor recreation guides in Southeast Utah how to teach visitors and other clients about local science and scientific principles. Guides and visitors have both noted the need for science information on the region, particularly in light of extensive damage inflicted upon the region’s fragile natural and cultural resources by millions of uninformed visitors each year. The Science Certification program aims to create new training modules for recreation guides based on current research and scientific concepts presented in an accessible and evocative way. Each module will contain information on local research and fieldwork that guides can reference on trips so that both guides and visitors will gain an appreciation and understanding of the dynamic and scientifically rich Colorado Plateau. The ASCB Public Engagement Grant funding allows Science Moab to offer two sessions of this training program to guides—in fall 2021 and spring 2022—with the goal of making the program sustainable.

About the Author:

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.