The STEM Ambassador Program: Supporting Scientists' Engagement with Public Audiences

Monday, July 1, 2019 to Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media, Public Programs, Community Outreach Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Professional Development and Workshops
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists
Education and learning science | General STEM
University of Utah

Fostering greater inclusion in science creates benefits for both science and society. In this Innovations and Development project, the University of Utah will investigate how to sustain and scale the STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP), begun in 2016 with AISL funding. STEMAP developed an innovative process to train scientists to engage members of the public, who cannot or do not gain access to science via conventional science education venues (such as museums, schools, zoos), by implementing activities in non-traditional settings. The 65 scientists trained by the initial STEMAP effort effectively engaged in over 45 settings including an affordable housing development, a youth residential treatment center, a state prison, a cooking class, a daycare facility, and several senior centers. The number of scientists applying to the program quickly exceeded STEMAP's capacity. Other institutions expressed interest in replicating the training. This project will explore strategies for scaling and sustaining public engagement training to support more scientists who can engage more people in more venues. Outcomes will serve to inform the broader implementation of STEMAP and the efforts of other public engagement programs, many of which face similar scaling and sustainability challenges. 

Scaling and sustaining public engagement of science (PES) programs is a central challenge for many in the informal science learning community. This project will explore strategies to scale and sustain the STEM Ambassador Program. Research questions include: (1) How do different program formats increase or restrict program capacity and engagement outcomes? (2) What benefits accrue to scientists and their institutions by participating in public engagement in science activities that might serve as motivators to continue these activities? (3) Are funding and organizational models developed in business and other professional settings applicable to sustaining these programs? To address scalability, this project will explore the effectiveness of three dissemination formats: (1) the creation of a mentorship program for in-person trainees, (2) a train-the-trainer approach, and (3) online training with in-person mentorship. The project team will create an evaluation toolkit with participant surveys, rubrics for observers, and "on-the-spot" assessment tools developed under AISL Award 1811022 to assess the effectiveness of engagement activities delivered by trainees in each of the three formats. To address sustainability, the project team will document the values of public engagement training to both the participating scientists and their institutions via surveys and interviews. Consultants from the business sectors will create a PES Campus Council to explore possible financial, organizational, and leadership plans that will help sustain engagement efforts. Outcomes will be published in peer-reviewed journals and compiled into a dissemination framework to inform actions to scale and sustain STEMAP and other public engagement of science programs to engage more hard-to-reach audiences. Inverness Research will serve as the project's external evaluator.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.

Project Website:
Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Nalini NadkarniPrincipal Investigator
Dennis SchatzCo-Principal Investigator
John BesleyCo-Principal Investigator
Julie RisienCo-Principal Investigator
Krista CarlsonKrista CarlsonCo-Principal Investigator
Caitlin WeberProject Manager
Megan YoungMegan YoungProject Staff

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