Six CPAS staff members recognised with Vice-Chancellor's Award for Public Policy and Outreach

Tuesday 24 November 2015
The winners receiving their award, L-R: Sue, Graham, Sean, Merryn, Rod, Vice-Chancellor Ian Young, Will

These six talented and committed people have found innovative means and mechanisms to reach literally millions of people across several continents, to engage them with fun or serious science, and to build their capacity to make science their own.

The outstanding outreach achievements of six CPAS staff members have been recognised with the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Public Policy and Outreach at the 2015 ANU Staff Excellence Awards.

The award recognises their 'outstanding achievement in the value of voluntary or paid professional activity outside the University'.

Dr Will Grant, Dr Rod Lamberts, Dr Merryn McKinnon, Dr Sean Perera, Professor Sue Stocklmayer and Dr Graham Walker (alphabetically) were nominated for the award as team 'Science Engagement Champions', for their many and varied outstanding contributions to science outreach. The nomination statement highlighting their major recent achievements, which was written by their nominator and colleague Lindy Orthia, is reproduced below.

CPAS heartily congratulates the awardees on this well-deserved recognition.

 

Nomination statement

This nomination is for a team of six academics at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), who have demonstrated innovation, passion and creativity in their professional activities outside the university, resulting in significant impacts for public engagement with science. These impacts include science capacity building across the world, energetic online chat about science, and the promotion of STEM careers (i.e. science, technology, engineering & mathematics). 

CPAS was established in 1996 as a centre of teaching and research in the science communication discipline, initially set up to train postgraduate students as science outreach professionals through the ANU Questacon Science Circus. These six CPAS academics have taken that science outreach brief to new, innovative places, executing outreach work of the highest standard. All have engaged in diverse outreach activities over the years, but it is six major, recent projects for which they are nominated.

Achievement #1: Science Circus Africa: Performing spectacular science shows to over 41,000 people in five African nations

Science Circus Africa is a groundbreaking science education and development project which visited five southern African countries over 11 weeks in May-July 2015. The project provided exciting science shows, workshops and exhibitions for schools and communities, while training local staff and donating equipment for them to continue the Circus - science capacity building was the key aim. The project reached over 41,000 people, 500 teachers, and trained 162 local staff, who are now running their own independent programs. Nominee Dr Graham Walker conceived, sourced funding for and implemented the project.

Achievement #2: Opening Doors: Engaging young humanitarian immigrants with STEM careers

Opening Doors is an innovative outreach project that engages young humanitarian immigrants with Australian science. Equipped with competitive funding from the Federal Government's Inspiring Australia strategy in 2012, the project opened doors to 30 young people settled regionally in NSW, bringing them to Canberra for specially designed events and mentorship at seven science and technology organisations. It continues to engage participants in this disadvantaged sector of the community in STEM training and career awareness. Nominee Dr Sean Perera conceived, funded and coordinates Opening Doors.

Achievement #3: Science in ACTion: Promoting inspiring STEM through National Science Week

Science in ACTion, now in its second year, is an interactive exhibition of local, national and international STEM organisations and individuals run as a featured National Science Week event in the ACT. It runs over two days: a Schools Day with a focus on careers information for local secondary students, and a Community Day with special shows and exhibitions tailored to a family audience. Both emphasise making STEM engaging, understandable, relevant and inspiring. In 2014 over 3,000 people attended, and in 2015 over 40 organisations are involved. Nominee Dr Merryn McKinnon conceived and coordinates the event.

Achievement #4: KindaThinky: Public intellectualism in the pub

KindaThinky is an evidence-based irreverent chat show that began in September 2014 in the Civic Pub and continues to expand its reach and popularity. Its goal is to explore complex topics with a panel of diverse experts, in an off-beat, relaxed atmosphere so that the audience comes away with positive feelings about the world of science and the topic at hand. With a dedicated audience of intelligent joke lovers, all shows have sold out. The next instalment is an invited show at the Sydney Science Festival in August 2015. Nominees Dr Rod Lamberts and Dr Will Grant conceived and host KindaThinky.

Achievement #5: International Science Centre Programs: Capacity building in South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam

A long-standing strength of CPAS is its capacity building programs for emerging science centres across the developing world. In 2009, nominee Professor Sue Stocklmayer led a program which enabled talented South Africans to establish new science centres across their nation. In 2011 she ran a workshop for 15 countries at the World Congress of Science Centres. Building on this success, Professor Stocklmayer and Dr Merryn McKinnon have since led multi-faceted programs for the Vietnam Ministry of Science and the Indonesian national science centre, helping establish science programs where they are desperately needed.

Achievement #6: Leadership on The Conversation: Over a million reads of science-related scholarly opinion

Of the 437 ANU academics who have written articles for academic blog The Conversation, two stand out: Dr Will Grant and Dr Rod Lamberts. Since November 2014 they have been the top 2 ANU contributors, reaching >1.3 million and >940,000 readers respectively across their many posts. Their work has prompted thousands of comments, countless 'likes' and much discussion, sparking extensive, active public engagement with science across the internet. As a result they have been invited to train other ANU academics to write for The Conversation and are widely known for writing with engaging wit about serious science.

In short, these six talented and committed people have found innovative means and mechanisms to reach literally millions of people across several continents, to engage them with fun or serious science, and to build their capacity to make science their own. They have fostered intensive, quality science engagement in the local community with audiences that are often missed by science engagement activities, and have made high impact splashes online and internationally. There is no question that these Science Engagement Champions are highly deserving of the Vice Chancellor's Award for Public Policy and Outreach.

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