The most important part of our outreach this year has been the focus on creating a sustainable impact, so for our outreach projects, we devised strategies to extend our direct education and public engagement activities to make our impact on our community long-lasting and sustainable. We grouped these Human Practices projects into the following categories: Consult the Community, Building Connections, Sustainable Impact, and the Outreach Database.
Consult the Community
We talked to experts and leaders in our community to find ways we could integrate our goal of establishing a dialogue about synthetic biology with the goals of members of our community. These activities represent a collaborative “co-design” of strategies and materials that met the needs of all involved, making projects not only more effective in the short term, but more sustainable in the long term.
We consulted the School of Education on how to work with teachers, update our synthetic biology activities booklet, and plan education events for students.
We met with the head of the science department from a nearby high school to talk to her about what kinds of resources she wanted for her students and teachers. After, she helped us organize a teacher focus group to find out how we could address our outreach goals and effectively help local teachers.
We consulted with Virginia State Senator Monty Mason about how to reach educators in our area, and he connected us with the STEM coordinator for a nearby school district that includes about 29,000 students.
We met with the STEM coordinator and she told us how to structure our outreach in a way that helps fulfill state-mandated learning requirements. She also gave us feedback on what resources would be helpful for schools in her district.
Based on our consultation with our community, we implemented various outreach activities to work directly with students. Additionally, we had activities for people from our college and the scientific community to help raise awareness of synthetic biology and start dialogues.
Working with students: we hosted students from a local STEM summer camp in our lab, presented about synthetic biology at a career fair for middle school students, and taught about 75 Girl Scouts about synthetic biology.
Working with our university community: We organized a Bioengineering Speaker Series to connect students and professors interested in synthetic biology research. We helped students in the Biology Club get started on synthetic biology research projects. We hosted legislators and others responsible for funding synthetic biology research in Virginia public universities in our lab. Going forward, we are creating a student organization for students who want to be part of our outreach efforts with the local school system.
Working with the scientific community: We presented our research and the field of synthetic biology at a local community lab. We also presented our research at a conference for women in the bioscience field.
The most important part of our outreach this year has been a focus on creating a sustainable impact. Part of ensuring our projects were sustainable was making sure that teachers and stakeholders influenced the paths of our projects. By working to meet their needs, we helped establish a long-term connection that will continue past the length of the 2017 project. Our outreach efforts will continue in the following way:
We updated and distributed our synthetic biology activities booklets to teachers, and have posted it publicly on our wiki.
We have helped our teacher community partners get their students involved in a long-term synthetic biology research project organized by the Biology Club at William & Mary.
We created a searchable and user-friendly outreach database with past iGEM outreach projects that can be used to find a vast array of educational activities.
We are in the process of establishing a recognized student organization that will help build long-lasting infrastructure at our school for synthetic biology and STEM outreach.
We aim to expand the infrastructure of sharing and building on past projects in the human practices aspect of iGEM. iGEM has already established such an infrastructure for the scientific research portion of teams’ work to ensure that scientific research is rigorously characterized, accessible, and centralized on the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. We want to help bring some of these same concepts to the Human Practices aspect of iGEM - that is, a strong culture of documentation of activities and their outcomes, and a standard way of characterizing them to facilitate sharing of what has worked and what has presented challenges. We have created a comprehensive database that includes outreach projects done by gold-medal teams in the past two years. The approximately 1,500 entries are in a standardized format that makes it easy to assess and compare projects. Additionally, each entry contains descriptive tags, enabling users to search for specific project categories. We would like to help establish this database as a central part of iGEM. By seeing what has worked well, teams do not need to “re-invent the wheel” and can instead focus on adding improvements. On the other hand, if something did not work well, another team can avoid repeating the mistakes. We feel this will help that iGEM is a continuous force for innovation and progress in outreach.