“Broader Impacts” in the sciences is an under-reported but huge part of the overall student civic engagement activity of the University of Chicago. It’s remarkable because it’s both accepted as part of the mission of the disciplines (in particular it’s baked into how the federal government has decided to fund science), but also a key part of the spirit of science – we love science because of how it connects us to the joy of figuring out how things/people/etc. work. That same spirit motivates our university students to share with and teach others and leads to just a wonderful set of interactions with young people in local schools, community centers, nonprofits, and on-campus at the University.
Yesterday’s PSD Broader impacts fair brought together a nice cross-section of the varying local institutions, local nonprofits, university programs, and student-led programs for graduate students to get involved with (Groups like: Artifice, The Field Museum, Mathematics Dept, Strive, Project Exploration, Illinois Science Council, Expanding Your Horizons, Brains!, Neighborhood Schools Program, Upward Bound & OSP, University Community Service Center, CPS Science Fairs, Chicago Women’s Health Center, MRSEC, FermiLab, Argonne National Lab, etc.).
Thanks to the committee from PSD/BSD/IME/OCE for putting this event together. There’s a program with speakers on relevant topics in addition to the fair. I think this is the 3rd time that this event has taken place, and I’ve been thrilled to be a speaker, on the planning committee, or an exhibitor each year. While the focus has largely been on Graduate Students, and to a lesser degree, Faculty (surfacing a number of programs for their consideration), I think there’s an opportunity to continue to grow this kind of programming to catch undergraduates early in their career so that they can better understand how central outreach/broader impacts is to the work ultimately.
One of my favorite groups — the Science Olympiad — is almost a perfect example of the kinds of student-led innovation that can happen with a little support from the University. Basically, a couple of graduate students who had participated in Science Olympiads in their home communities and then at their undergraduate institutions, realized that there was no such programming here at the University. They talked to a few people in their departments, and me at Civic Engagement, and we were able to connect them to the appropriate persons at CPS to get the ball rolling. Just a little seed funding (for space and Pizzas) was able to help create a great first event to help coach teams last year, and now they’re going to be hosting an invitational at the University this year. I can imagine that this group will be able to help start science olympiad programming at local schools in the future.
(Note: I’m trying to regularly write a paragraph or so about the day to day of work – I think it’s important to make more of our practice public)