We constructed our outreach activities so that they worked together to meet an overall goal, which was to help local middle school and high school students learn more about synthetic biology and to increase their future opportunities to be a part of this emerging field. To reach this goal we had two linked objectives. The first objective was to co-design strategies and educational materials to effectively reach this target audience. The second, more important objective was that the program was sustainable so that it can have a continuing impact on our community even beyond the end of our 2017 iGEM project. We started our outreach co-design process by consulting our community about their needs and what they would like to gain from a potential collaboration, as well as consulting education experts about the best way to get involved with teachers and students.
To meet the second objective, we found that we needed to expand our intended target audience to include educators. Including educators meant that we could have a longer and larger impact through our local school system. But it also meant that we needed to adapt our educational materials to fit the context and incentives of the school system.
Next, we did a wide array of outreach activities that helped address the goals of our community and our own goals. Many of these activities fit into broad strategies that we called Consult the Community, Building Connections, and Sustainable Impact. Some other activities were direct outreach to our target audience of middle and high school students, as well as direct outreach to the scientific community within and outside of William & Mary:
After consulting the School Education, we improved our Synthetic Biology Activities Booklets to make them more accessible to teachers. We then publicized them to educators in our teacher focus group and online. The booklets exist in a permanent form on our wiki and will be accessible to everyone for years to come.
We are working with educators to strengthen the network between W&M and the teachers in the school district, train them, and get feedback on the activities booklets, including how to make them fit into their overall STEM curriculum. Additionally, based on teacher feedback, we are in the process of forming a STEM outreach organization to continue our collaboration with teachers year-round.
We also worked through civic organizations like the Girl Scouts, as well as a local STEM summer camp, that targeted this same age group.
We worked with Virginia State Senator Monty Mason to improve networking with the school district and find out how to best get our resources to the people who wanted them.
We did general publicity of our research and the synthetic biology research at our college, since this field is still relatively new and not very well known.
Lastly, we created the Outreach Database, a compilation of the approximately 1500 outreach projects done by gold medal teams in 2016 and 2015. This database organizes projects into categories and is a searchable tool for future iGEM teams to analyze past outreach and for teachers who want to find synthetic biology educational activities.
While some of our outreach to our community was short-term, we worked closely with our community partners to ensure that our impact does not end with this project. We are in the process of forming a recognized STEM outreach organization at our college that will consist of members of the 2017 W&M iGEM team and other interested students.