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Virtual AAAS Communicating Science Seminar Explores Equitable, Community-Centered Engagement

Speakers and moderator from the AAAS virtual panel on public engagement during the pandemic
Moderator and speakers from the first panel offered lessons on virtual public engagement with science during the pandemic.
Photo credit: Stacey Baker

On Friday, February 5, several hundred participants gathered online for the ninth annual AAAS Communicating Science Seminar, held every year as part of the AAAS Annual Meeting. This year’s virtual seminar included two panel sessions, one on reaching underserved audiences during a pandemic, the other on equitable community partnerships. These were followed by six different breakout sessions on topics ranging from “science zines” to the new “Broader Impacts Wizard” tool for developing engagement activities. The sessions overall had a strong theme of encouraging scientists to meaningfully engage with communities in a way that centers their interests, strengths, and needs.

The first panel, moderated by Elyse Aurbach, public engagement lead from the University of Michigan, discussed how different groups adapted their engagement goals and methods to the pandemic. Stephen White, vice president of strategic initiatives, business development, and external affairs at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), described their “Learning Lunchboxes” program as an example of using public-private partnerships to distribute science kits to kids alongside free meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alicia Torres, senior director of communication science and Hispanic outreach at Child Trends, offered lessons from a national outreach program to Latino families, including the importance of doing audience research to understand the group you’re trying to reach, and where they get their information. Crystal Emery, founder and CEO of URU – The Right To Be, shared her emphasis on “building bridges” and meeting people where they are, and encouraged scientists interested in working with communities to look not just for the problem to solve, but also, for what is good. 

Participant-generated word cloud from panel on public engagement during a pandemic
Participant-generated word cloud from panel on public engagement during a pandemic.

The second panel, moderated by Raj Pandya, director of the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, highlighted best practices for engaging in true partnerships with communities around science. The panel included representatives from two different partnerships, who all shared personal motivations that they believe compels them to do this work. From the NOISE project, Tanya Schuh, Youth in Action program manager at CLUES - Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio, and Karyl Askew, owner and principal consultant at Karyl Askew Consulting, LLC, described how their project strives to create an equitable and community-led model for community science projects. From southern Texas, Francisco Guajardo, chief executive officer of the Museum of South Texas History, and Alexis Racelis, associate professor of agroecology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, co-developed a program to train faculty in culturally responsive teaching and engagement. They spoke about how their collaboration has led to greater awareness among faculty of the richness and uniqueness of the surrounding community (and an “assets-based approach” to engaging them), as well as public involvement in developing other project proposals. Panelists agreed on the need to compensate public participants in a way that is valuable to them, which isn’t always monetary (e.g., ask them to co-present with you or co-author a paper: community participants should get credit for their work and not always be behind the scenes). 

Participant-generated word cloud from panel on partnerships.
Participant-generated word cloud from panel on community partnerships.

Afternoon breakout sessions were led by other groups about their public engagement with science-related projects and included audience discussion and in some cases, interactive activities.

  1. Make Your Own Science Zine! A DIY Workshop for Communicating Science with Art
  2. Tools for Developing Public Engagement Activities and Building Capacity (Part 1: The Broader Impacts Wizard: A Novel Tool for Developing Public Engagement Activities; Part 2: Building Capacity for Institutional Support of Public Engagement)
  3. Equity-Centered Community Design for Environmental Communication and Justice 
  4. Stuck in the Middle (School) with You: Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Innovators
  5. "RAPID"-Funded Research on STEM Learning and Engagement in the
  6. Research-Practice Partnerships for Advancing Public Engagement with Science

Videos of the two panel sessions are available now on the AAAS Annual Meeting platform (sign up for a free public events pass to view), and will later be shared on our seminar’s webpage. Please be in touch by email at or Twitter @_SciComm and @MeetAScientist for more information about the annual Communicating Science Seminar and other AAAS public engagement programs, or request to be added to the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science’s mailing list.


Elana Kimbrell

Project Director

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