A lot of what follows is inspired by my parents.
My father, Jeff, was a mathematician (turned pediatrician) who loved performing in musical theater and stage productions. When I was young, he would bring me to his auditions, and we played card games while we waited backstage during shows. As I grew older, I continued performing in theater productions through graduate school. My experience in theater has sparked a passion for science communication.
My mother, Nancy, is a 5th-grade teacher based in my hometown of Oxford, Connecticut. When I was in high school, my school bus would drop me off at her classroom at the end of the day. While I waited for us to go home, she encouraged me to engage with her class, and together we would brainstorm activities for her students. To this day, I still keep her up-to-date on exciting scientific research, and we discuss how to inject these ideas into her curriculum. Unfortunately, too few teachers have access to the world of cutting-edge research, and even fewer have “touchstones” within the scientific community.
What if every STEM teacher had a Ph.D. student for a kid?
This question led me to create Research Education and Activities for Classroom Teachers (REACT), a one-day workshop for Michigan teachers focused on providing access and exposure to University of Michigan research across all fields. The day included research talks by doctoral researchers, laboratory tours, and activity demonstrations by student outreach groups.
In the three years that I led REACT, raised nearly $40,000, involved nearly 20 different university departments and programs, and had over 150 participants attend from up to 4 hours from campus. This event was free of charge for teachers, including food, activity supplies, and travel stipends to attend. This workshop has continued since my departure from Michigan, and was the subject of the peer-reviewed article Bringing Science Education and Research together to REACT.
While at the University of Michigan, I also started the Outreach Initiative for the Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS). This group trains graduate student volunteers in communication to take polymers-based lessons to K-12 classrooms across Southeast Michigan, and has reached over 50 classrooms and nearly 3000 students since its inception. Our pedagogy and best practices were documented in an article in the Journal of Chemical Education.