'WE ARE for Science' advocates for science policy, communications and diversity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new science advocacy group started by a pair of graduate students helped members of the Penn State community find their voice in Washington, D.C.

Members of the group WE ARE for Science helped organize three buses that will transport more than 150 people to the March for Science on April 22 in Washington.

The event, which fell on Earth Day, was an opportunity for scientists from across the country to gather and show public support for the crucial role science plays in our lives.

It’s a message Virginia Marcon and Helen Gall, doctoral students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, have been championing since forming WE ARE for Science late last year.

“We wanted to have a place to come together and really bring our voices together,” Marcon said. “It’s a place to work on the issues we will face going forward, not only for the next few years, but over our lifetimes as scientists, especially as female scientists.”

On Saturday, the group took its message to the nation’s capital, and brought along many more from the Penn State community — from undergraduate students to faculty.

“It’s important for scientists from all backgrounds to come together and have their voices heard about the critical role of the scientific research that moves us forward,” said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State. Brantley, who serves as Marcon’s adviser, is among the faculty who plan to attend the march.  

“The response has been so amazing,” Gall said. “We’ve received nothing but support from both the Penn State and State College communities. It’s been great to see such enthusiasm from students, faculty, staff and community members, and even more inspiring to see these groups working together and interacting with one another in a way that may not have happened before.”

Gall said the group is not marching to engage in a partisan political debate, but instead to advocate for the value of science in society, and because it offers the opportunity to connect with the public.

Those goals have been central to the mission of the group since it was founded by co-presidents Marcon and Gall. And the message seems to be resonating.

An early brainstorming session drew 100 people. Those volunteers formed committees that have helped organize panel discussions, forums and mixers on the Penn State campus.

Together, the members advocate for diversity and inclusion in science, promote public outreach and communications efforts, and support accurate representations of science in policy

“What we’ve learned is there is a disconnect between scientists and the general public,” Gall said. “And we as scientists need to get better about communicating our research.”

That means outreach trips to middle- and high-school classrooms to recruit the students who will become the next generation of scientists, and venturing out into nearby communities to interact with the voting public.

“I think it comes down to getting into your communities and really not letting our science be among ourselves and our scientific journals.” Gall said. “We should be doing a better job communicating that science and doing it in a way that’s accessible for everyone.”

Part of that effort means training both students and faculty to better communicate what is often complex, nuanced research with the public. It’s training that Marcon and Gall said has not always been prioritized.

“Students and our mentors above us are trying to learn this together,” Marcon said. “We are all in this same world and so we all have to work together.”

That inclusiveness extends to the group’s other efforts, including advocating for diversity among students in science. The group has held events on campus intended to promote diversity efforts and to recruit women and minority students.

 “We are going into (schools) and reinforcing — ‘you can do science, too. You can be in the STEM fields. There is no reason you should be told you can’t,’” Gall said.

The group strives to be a gathering place for all voices, including people from diverse backgrounds, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. The group is nonpartisan and advocates for science in policy.

“You don’t need to be a liberal to think climate change is real,” Marcon said. “The science is the science. We need to bring scientists together to come up with ways to solve the problems. And the ways that we solve the problems might be a little varying in our views, but that’s how we get things done. That’s how we start working.”

For more information about the group, or for information about joining, visit its website at http://sites.psu.edu/weareforscience/.

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Last Updated April 24, 2017