A lot of what follows is inspired by my parents.
My father was a mathematician / pediatrician who did theater at night – when I was young he would take me to his auditions and we played math games while we waited backstage during shows. My experience in theater has sparked a love of science communication and outreach.
My mother is a 5th grade teacher – together we would brainstorm activities for her students and I (still) keep her up-to-date on exciting scientific research. Unfortunately, too few teachers have access to the world of cutting-edge research, and few “touchstones” within the scientific community. My mom inspired the REACT Workshop based upon the thought: What if every STEM teacher had a PhD 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 12 different university departments and programs, and had 130 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.