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A Look Back at 2020 AAAS Award Winners: Connecting Science and Sports Through Public Engagement

John Drazan is the recipient of the 2020 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Every year for the last decade, AAAS has honored an early-career scientist or engineer for their excellent contributions to public engagement with science. In 2020, the Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science went to John Drazan, a postdoctoral fellow who has combined his work developing equipment for tracking athletes’ biomechanics with his efforts to get young people interested in science by connecting it to sports.

As a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, Drazan collaborated with a former college basketball teammate to create 4th Family Inc., a nonprofit based in Albany, N.Y., to mentor and empower local youth. Drazan created a STEM program for the organization, reaching more than 5,000 participants through after-school and summer programs that connected sports with science through hands-on activities.

Drazan has continued to reach new audiences by hosting clinics across the country and working with 4th Family and the Tomorrow’s Stars Foundation to create the Court Science Academy, which brings together middle-school athletes from the junior NBA program to learn about science and engineering through the lens of sports by taking part in activities on physiology and data analytics and meeting with scientists from a range of fields.

Drazan also involves students in his own research. The low-cost sensors that he develops to gather biomechanical data have served both as a teaching tool at outreach events and a way to gather new data, improving the diversity of research participants in the field of biomechanics.

“John seeks to reach young people who would otherwise not see math and science as relevant to their lives,” said Janis Burkhardt, chair of pathology research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who nominated Drazan for the award.

The recipient of the 2021 Early Career Award, which is bestowed on an individual who has completed their terminal degree less than seven years ago and has demonstrated excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science, will be announced at the AAAS Annual Meeting, held virtually Feb. 8-11. Register for the meeting today.

[Associated image: Robb Cohen Photography & Video]



Andrea Korte

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