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Kate Dickerson looks to bring policymakers and scientists together as Maine’s LSEN Liaison

Woman with purple top, glasses, and gray hair
Kate Dickerson; Photo Credit Kate Dickerson.

Festivals are a prime opportunity to bring people together to enjoy exemplary talent and a shared passion. Whereas they typically focus on films, music or other forms of art, Kate Dickerson had a different vision: a science festival.

She has been living in Maine for 21 years, spending much of that time doing policy work focused on energy and the environment. She became the Executive Director of the Maine Discovery Museum last year. Upon seeing the great potential in the important research that scientists were doing throughout the state, she sought a way to spotlight their work.

“We have national and world leading researchers that no one knows about,” explains Dickerson. “So, the idea behind the Maine Science Festival is not just introducing people to the idea of science, but explicitly introducing them to the science that’s happening here in this state.”

The festival has taken place every year since 2015, and the success of the event has put Dickerson under the spotlight as a key local science organizer. As a result, she has taken on a unique role through AAAS’s Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN), acting as the Liaison for Maine.

The LSEN program was created to mobilize scientists and engineers through local and state-based networks across the United States to effectively engage with their communities. It ultimately aims to increase the visibility of and trust in science, while also ensuring that scientific evidence is used to solve problems and inform state and local decision-making.

There are currently local LSEN Liaisons in Utah, Puerto Rico, Maine, West Virginia and North Carolina – with the hope of establishing more in other states as the program grows.

As the liaison for Maine, Dickerson is keen to bring her expertise in science policy to the table. After receiving her master’s in Environmental Management and Policy, she took on several different roles where she brought scientists and policymakers together, including working as a Research Associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. Upon launching the Maine Science Festival, she also made concerted efforts to ensure that policymakers and legislators were invited to be in the room, alongside scientists and the general public.

“What was appealing about LSEN for me was the understanding that policy and science are often on parallel tracks, and the opportunity to get them to cross more and work together is really important,” explains Dickerson.

Dickerson recognizes that scientists and policymakers must often take different approaches in their work and seeks to find ways the two groups can better collaborate.

“Scientists want to have an answer before you go to the next step, and policymakers don’t always have the answer and need to make decisions based on the most up-to-date and current information possible,” notes Dickerson. “I think being able to have both of those audiences in the same room to understand each other’s limitations will make both of them stronger.”

Dickerson took on the role of the LSEN Maine liaison this past summer and is in the midst of planning how the new state-wide network will work. “While I'm still working what exactly the Maine LSEN looks like, I expect it will include both public science events like those held at the science festival, as well as something that is modeled more like a connected learning environment (CLE), where we'll focus on one topic that is critical to Maine and work to have all the people addressing that topic – policymakers, service providers, researchers – as part of the group,” she explains.

As well, she is looking to recruit many of the contacts she has made through the Maine Discovery Museum and science festival, noting that she has already heard interest expressed from faculty, staff, and administrators at the University of Maine, retired scientists, and colleagues that she has worked with on previous projects.

While Dickerson has plenty of experience coordinating this kind of collaboration in Maine, she says she is also happy to be able to ask questions and get support from AAAS throughout the process.

“AAAS has such a long history of being an honest broker in conveying science and really good research,” says Dickerson. “I think support from AAAS and being able to build off its reputation will be very beneficial for these new local networks.”

Join the Maine LSEN.

Author

Michelle Hampson

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