What is science outreach?
For many, the term outreach has become a catch-all word for a broad array of activities focused on sharing science with a variety of audiences. Perhaps no other organization understands the importance and includes outreach better than Sea Grant.
Sea Grant not only supports research but also highlights the many facets of sharing and applying that research through its education, outreach and extension programs. While Sea Grant extension agents work with specific audiences to transfer and apply information or skills, educators and outreach personnel carry out activities that build awareness, develop knowledge, inspire action or impact values.
Outreach on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
In the northern Gulf Coast, one of the largest research efforts in the past decade has been the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a 10-year, $500 million research program funded by BP using non-penalty funds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
GoMRI is administered through the governors’ Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and an independent research board guides funding decisions. From its inception in 2010, GoMRI mandated that outreach would play a critical role in the program. GoMRI-funded research consortia, much like Sea Grant, dedicated funds to outreach activities.
Now, almost eight years into the program, GoMRI outreach activities have collectively reached thousands of individuals with hundreds of activities. As these activities were implemented, successes, as well as misses, were shared among the outreach coordinators group in meetings and over telephone calls and a number of best practices began to emerge. These best practices have been recently published as a series of recommendations in the August issue of the Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin.
I, as the MASGC Education Director and Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience (ACER) Education and Outreach Coordinator, authored the article with Communications and Outreach Lead Sara Beresford from the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) Consortium and Katie Fillingham, program specialist from the GoMRI Management Team. It is titled Recommendations for Science Outreach Program Development: Perspectives from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Consortia. The article is being highlighted this month by Wiley, publisher of the Bulletin, and is freely available through the end of the month.
Additionally, GoMRI funded the Sea Grant programs of the Gulf of Mexico (Florida Sea Grant, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, Louisiana Sea Grant and Texas Sea Grant) to carry out an extension and outreach effort to facilitate the use of oil spill science by people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf.
MS-AL Sea Grant supports education and outreach activities
As with the GoMRI effort, MS-AL Sea Grant asks their funded researchers to participate in outreach on their research in a variety of ways. Some of this outreach occurs through MS-AL Sea Grant support of programs at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, the Marine Education Center in Ocean Springs, Miss., and the Environmental Studies Center in Mobile County (Mobile County Public School System).
Educators and outreach personnel work with K-12 students, attend environmental and educational festivals and events and share Sea Grant research through teacher workshops. Sharing the significance and impacts of research results is an important part of today’s scientific research efforts. Doing this in an effective and efficient manner benefits us all.