My selection as a WISCIENCE Public Service Fellow was undoubtedly the most impactful outreach experience I have undertaken thus far.
Increasing societal understanding of STEM requires a fundamental appreciation of the factors that hinder the public’s understanding of science as an institution. As a WISCIENCE Public Service Fellow, I explored the connections between science, scientists, and society and learned to recognize how cultural context influences understanding of and engagement with science, which has given me another tool, with which I can tailor my communication to be as effective as possible. I also learned ways I can engage with the public as a scientist, the practice and theory of community-engaged teaching strategies, and how to develop meaningful community relationships.
Using this knowledge, in the spring of 2018, I took a community and student-facing role as a service-learning instructor for the first-year undergraduate seminar Exploring Service in Science. Evidence continues to mount for service-learning as a powerful pedagogy because it gives students the opportunity to synthesize, integrate, and apply their textbook knowledge to outside situations. Thus, learning becomes more meaningful and, ultimately, more useful because what students know becomes a part of who they are. Service-learning has also been shown to increase retention in STEM fields for women and minorities, two groups which have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields.
My responsibilities as an instructor were to equip students with the resources to engage in service, to promote critical thinking about the interplay between science and society, and to lead them into the community to perform service activities. Furthermore, I taught my students the skill sets and facilitated the partnerships they need to not only be prepared for the workforce, but also to be prepared for a life of active and committed citizenship. This role provided me with significant teaching experience utilizing high-impact practices and a chance to incorporate community engagement into my career from an early time.
In the future I hope to continue my collaboration with WISCIENCE and the use of service-based learning by helping to design a similar seminar, but directing it towards transfer students at UW-Madison. The success of transfer students is very personal to me. My untraditional life path put me in post-secondary institutions all over the Midwest for nine years. Had my personal drive not been so strong, I could have easily fallen through the cracks as a single teenage mother.