COPUS is proud to announce Russell Ledet as the winner of the 2016 Paul Shin Award recognizing “unsung heroes” who have demonstrated commitment and passion in work related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education/outreach, STEM equity/inclusion, and/or scientific literacy.
Looking at Russell today, you see a seemingly tireless and impeccably competent science professional. A Ph.D. candidate at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine working long hours in prostate cancer research, he also mentors and serves on the board of directors for Clear Direction, the STEM mentoring organization he co-founded along with Julia Derk. It would be easy to assume he has spent his whole life in the field. But as Russell notes, when it comes to successful scientists, “everybody sees the building, nobody sees the foundation”.
Traditionally, the foundation of a STEM career has been characterized as a “pipeline”: a linear pathway through academia that future scientists enter as kindergarteners and emerge from as fully-fledged post-docs. The reality is much less straightforward, as Russell can attest. He had little access to working scientists or high-level STEM institutions growing up, making it hard to connect his experience to theirs. Without a “clear direction” into science, he instead enlisted in the US Navy after high school. It was there that he got to exercise his love of reasoning and analysis by working in cryptology and computer science, and it was there that he had his breakthrough about working in STEM:
“If [kids] don’t see what it’s like to live in that space, you’re talking to deaf ears.”
Matching wits with an opponent during the 2017 COPUS Unconference Day of Service in Ixil
This idea was at the forefront of his development of Clear Direction Mentoring. Clear Direction works to help young people who, like Russell, don’t see an obvious path into the field. The program pairs PhD and MD/PhD students with high school juniors from underprivileged and underrepresented New York City boroughs with an expressed desire to study STEM. Clear Direction mentees explore diverse aspects of STEM in the real world, from attending lectures from experts on the financial, political, or industry aspects of STEM, to lunchtime discussions and experiments with other mentors and mentees.
The mentorship process seeks to “redefine mentorship” to create a relevant, personalized, and ultimately supportive program for each student. “For anyone to be a mentor,” Russell says, “they’ve got to believe that any kid could end up in their position one day…without [the mentee’s] viewpoint, how is our approach relevant?” Mentors are matched to students based on interest, and the experience can involve everything from hands-on lab work to advice on navigating high school during the two years of formal mentorship. Today, Clear Direction has 30 mentors working to inspire students in over 1,000 mentorship hours to date.
Russell presenting on Clear Direction at the 2017 COPUS Unconference
COPUS member Lance Powell, who served on the awards committee, states that the group was in complete agreement that Russell should receive the award. “We were impressed with the success he has had in reaching underrepresented high school aged youth in the sciences and matching them with mentors who they work with long term, and then following them to and through college,” says Lance, noting that the work Clear Direction does exemplifies the ideals of COPUS and Paul Shin. “As a result of his work, not only are more kids finding their passion in science, they are finding opportunities through science to improve their lives.”
Congratulations to Russell — COPUS thanks you for your tireless efforts in STEM and STEM outreach!
By Krystin Ventura En español(thanks to Luis Abdala for the translation!)
What does a leaf look like under a microscope? How did an asteroid cause the extinction of the dinosaurs? How do bees make honey? The young science enthusiasts of Ixil, Yucatán can give you the answers!
On January 15, 2017, the Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) collaborated with the local non-profit, Proyecto Itzaes, to hold the very first science fair in the village of Ixil, Yucatán, Mexico. Proyecto Itzaes program coordinators, Jessica Cetz Dzib and Francisco Pech Cutz, were especially instrumental in orchestrating such a successful day. This event tied perfectly into Proyecto Itzaes’ mission to bring educational resources to rural Maya villages on the Yucatán peninsula, and to infuse the thrilling experience of discovery in these communities.
A diverse group of scientists and educators from Mexico, the United States, and Canada prepared interactive booths spanning chemistry, agroecology, mathematics, physics, and beyond, with the goal of inspiring a sense of scientific curiosity (see full list of science booths below). With hundreds of villagers in attendance — the majority of them children — it was a huge success: by the end of the day, several determined young Ixil engineers had even built a twenty-foot roller coaster out of paper towel rolls and masking tape.
Vital to the success of the event was the bidirectional communication of scientific and cultural learning, between scientists and educators, children and adults, and spanning four languages (Maya, Spanish, Salish, and English). Many of the hands-on activities had particular significance to the local economy and culture, thanks in large part to the involvement of scientists and educators from the region. Community members shared their knowledge of local plant species for use in traditional medicines and home remedies. A local beekeeper displayed one of his hives and shared his extensive knowledge of the trade, including the fact that the Melipona bees native to the area don’t sting! A lively dance festival, photography art show, choir performance from the local schoolchildren, and even a comedy act accompanied the science fair. Additionally, COPUS members brought in microscopes, art supplies, and science gadgets that were not only used for the science fair, but found a permanent home with Proyecto Itzaes for future events. Everyone came away with a greater appreciation for something — be it science, local culture, or the delight seen in a small child’s eye when they learn something new.
The idea for the Day of Service originated two years before at the COPUS Yellowstone Unconference. Members agreed that at future unconferences, we’d partner with nearby organizations to give back to the local community. Our first ever Day of Service in Ixil was an excellent start to this new tradition, and so much more than “giving back.” It was an opportunity for COPUS members to come away with new perspectives, fresh ideas, and a personal connection with a very special place. Just as exciting, this event drew in a new audience for Proyecto Itzaes, broadening awareness and support for their incredible work. And one thing we know for sure — the people of Ixil have some remarkable young minds and talented mentors that when given the opportunity, are powerful contributors in our scientific community.
Robotics — Proyecto Itzaes volunteer Saul and Eric
Agroecology — Proyecto Itzaes volunteer Lucia Cen
Health — Proyecto Itzaes volunteer Edgar Pech and Carmen Cetz
Bees — Proyecto Itzaes volunteer
Chess — Proyecto Itzaes volunteers, and COPUS member Russell Ledet
Roller Coaster Engineering — COPUS members Luis Abdala, Tokiwa Smith, Tom McFadden
Microscopes (dissecting, slide, and foldscopes) — COPUS members Christopher Alvaro, Stu Koretz
Properties of Water — COPUS member Lance Powell and Austin Ayer
Beans of the Yucatán — COPUS members Jorge Carlos Berny Mier y Teran and Kimberly Gibson
Bats of the Yucatán — COPUS member Diana Moreno
Birds of the Yucatán — COPUS member Daniela Tarhuni
Evolution Card Game — COPUS member David Ng
Surface Tension — COPUS members Bill and Ruth Swaney
Asteroid Impacts — COPUS member Lisa White
Perception Shifting Goggles — COPUS members Maya Bialik and Stephanie Sasse
Presentation on mass extinction — COPUS members Rodolfo Dirzo and Guillermina Gomez
Architecture and Art (with kids blocks) — COPUS members Monae Verbeke and Diego Roman
Nest/egg Camouflage Game — COPUS members Monica Albe and Mattias Lanas En español
Día de Servicio 2017 COPUS: Ixil, Yuctán, México
Autor: Krystin Ventura
¿Cómo se ve una hoja debajo de un microscopio? ¿Cómo un asteroide pudo causar la extinción de los dinosaurios? ¿Cómo hacen miel las abejas? ¡Los jóvenes entusiastas de Ixil, Yucatán te pueden dar las respuestas a estas preguntas!
El 15 de enero de 2017, la Coalición para el Entendimiento Público de la Ciencia (COPUS, por sus siglas en inglés) colaboró con la organización no lucrativa, Proyecto Itzáes, para llevar a cabo la primera feria de la ciencia en la localidad de Ixil, Yucatán, México. Los coordinadores de programas de Proyecto Itzáes, Jessica Cetz Dzib y Francisco Pech Cutz, fueron claves en la organización de este exitoso día. El evento compaginó perfectamente con la misión de Proyecto Itzaes de llevar recursos educativos a pueblos mayas rurales y de inyectar en estas comunidades la emocionante experiencia del descubrimiento.
Un grupo diverso de científicos y educadores de México, Estados Unidos, y Canadá prepararon stands interactivos que incluyeron actividades relacionadas a química, agroecología, matemáticas, física, entre otros, con el fin de inspirar un sentimiento de curiosidad científica (ver abajo lista completa de stands). Acudieron cientos de pobladores de Ixil a la feria, – la mayoría de los cuales fueron niños – por lo que el evento resultó un enorme éxito: al final del día, varios jóvenes (futuros) ingenieros de Ixil terminaron de construir una montaña rusa de seis metros de largo usando masking tape y rollos de carton de papel de baño.
La comunicación bidireccional involucrando el aprendizaje científico y cultural entre científicos, educadores, niños y adultos, utilizando cuatro idiomas (maya, español, salish, e inglés), fue de vital importancia para el éxito del evento. Muchas de las actividades manuales e interactivas tuvieron un significado particular para la economía y cultura local, lo cual en gran medida se debió a la participación de científicos y educadores de la region. Miembros de la comunidad compartieron su conocimiento de las plantas locales usadas en medicina tradicional y para producir remedios caseros. Un productor local de miel desplegó una de sus colmenas y compartió su amplio conocimiento de esta actividad productiva, incluyendo el hecho que ¡las abejas meliponas nativas de la región no poseen aguijón! Un animado festival de baile, una diversa exposición fotográfica, un número por parte de un coro de niños locales de una escuela, e incluso un acto de comedia fueron algunas de las actividades que se sumaron a la feria científica. Adicionalmente, los miembros de COPUS trajeron microscopios, insumos artísticos, y artilugios científicos los cuales fueron utilizados en la feria y fueron donados a Proyecto Itzáes para su utilización en futuros eventos. Todos los participantes adquirieron una mejor apreciación de algún fenómeno, idea o sentimiento relacionado a ciencia o cultura local o bien simplemente la satisfacción de ver en los ojos de un niño el sentimiento positivo de aprender algo nuevo.
La idea del Día de Servicio se originó dos años antes durante la no-conferencia de COPUS en Yellowstone. Los miembros acordaron que en no-conferencias futuras COPUS uniría fuerzas con otras organizaciónes para aportar conocimientos a las comunidades locales. Nuestro primer Día de Servicio en Ixil fue un excelente inicio para esta nueva tradición y fue mucho más que solo “aportar conocimientos” a la gente local. Fue una oportunidad para que los miembros de COPUS desarrollaran nuevas perspectivas, ideas frescas, y una conexión personal con un lugar muy especial. De igual forma, el evento atrajo una nueva audiencia para Proyecto Itzáes, incrementando la conciencia y apoyo en relación al increíble trabajo que esta organización esta realizando en Yucatán. Y una cosa que sabemos es completamente cierta: la comunidad de Ixil posee destacadas jóvenes mentes y talensosos mentores los cuales tienen el potencial de contribuir a la ciencia si se les proporcionan las oportunidades.
Matemáticas – Voluntarios de Proyecto Itzáes Aldo Escobedo y Jessica Cetz Dzib
Química — Voluntario de Proyecto Itzáes Emanuel Koyoc
Medicina tradicional – Voluntario de Ixil Luisa Tec
Robotica — Voluntarios de Proyecto Itzáes Saul y Eric
Agroecología — Voluntario de Proyecto Itzáes Lucia Cen
Salud — Voluntarios de Proyecto Itzáes Edgar Pech y Carmen Cetz
Abejas — Voluntario de Proyecto Itzáes
Ajedrés — Voluntarios de Proyecto Itzáes, y miembro de COPUS Russell Ledet
Construcción de montañas rusas – Miembros de COPUS Luis Abdala, Tokiwa Smith, Tom McFadden
Microscopios (disección, muestras) – Miembros de COPUS Christopher Alvaro, Stu Koretz
Propiedades del agua – Miembros de COPUS Lance Powell y Austin Ayer
Frijoles de Yucatán – Miembros de COPUS Jorge Carlos Berny Mier y Teran y Kimberly Gibson
Murciélagos de Yucatán – Miembro de COPUS Diana Moreno
Aves de Yucatán – Miembro de COPUS Daniela Tarhuni
Juego de cartas de evolución – Miembro de COPUS David Ng
Tensión superficial – Miembros de COPUS Bill y Ruth Swaney
Impactos de asteroides – Miembro de COPUS Lisa White
Gogles que afectan la percepción visual – Miembros de COPUS Maya Bialik y Stephanie Sasse
Presentación de extinciones masivas – Miembros de COPUS Rodolfo Dirzo y Guillermina Gómez
Arquitectura y artes (con materiales para niños) – Miembros de COPUS Monae Verbeke y Diego Roman
Juego de camuflaje con nidos y huevos – Miembros de COPUS Monica Albe y Mattias Lanas
Tokiwa Smith is a Chemical engineer, STEM Educator and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc also known as SEM Link a nonprofit organization that she founded in 2005 that exposes youth to STEM and STEM Careers that has programs in Atlanta and the DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) areas.
She is also CEO and Principal Consultant for Kemet Educational Services, a STEM Educational Consulting Firm that she started in 2010 that focuses on ensuring that pre-college, community college and undergraduates students are prepared to pursue STEM careers. Tokiwa recently relocated back Atlanta, Georgia after spending 7 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she first connected with COPUS.
She recently attended her third Unconference, this January in the Yucatan Peninsula Mexico, where we were able to connect with her and learn more about her.
Tokiwa is a native of Miami, Florida and is an alumna of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). She has spent her career working for and developing STEM educational programs for precollege and undergraduate students to provide opportunities for them to be exposed to and be prepared for STEM careers. Through the work of her consulting firm, Kemet Educational Services she is using her background as an engineer and professional experience to bridge the gap between the STEM community and individuals and organizations that want to add STEM to their programming and/or learn how to engage kids in hands on STEM activities by providing them with strategies and tools to do so. Through the work of her nonprofit SEM Link, she is doing one of the things that she loves the most, exposing youth to STEM by engaging them in hands on STEM activities and connecting them with the STEM community.
Tokiwa’s nonprofit SEM Link, is currently in the midst of its “Its All About the Pi” Spring Fundraising Campaign , which ends on April 28th. The funds from this campaign, which individuals can make their tax deductible financial contribution online will support their programs, which include the 10th Annual STEM Career Fair and Exhibition on Saturday, April 15th at Georgia Tech. This event will provide K-12 students and their families with an opportunity to explore careers and meet and interact with professionals in these fields. In addition, Saturday, April 8th, Tokiwa will go back to her alma mater FAMU and along with SEM Link volunteers engage middle and high school students in a hands on chemistry activity at the STEM Expo on STEM Day hosted by the College of Science and Technology.
Some things she’d like to talk to other COPUS members about:
All About the Pi
One of Tokiwa’s memorable Unconference moments:
One of Tokiwa’s most memorable moments from the unconference were from our outreach event. “This is the first time that we incorporated an outreach component to the Unconference. It was great to see us work together as a COPUS core as well as connect with the local STEM community to have a great STEM event for the kids. I met some great future STEM professionals from the Yucatan Peninsula that day, including a little boy named Omar that already knew that he wants to be a civil engineer when he grows up.”
COPUS gives a big, heartfelt thank you to the lovely town of Ixil, our awesome collaborators at Proyecto Itzaes, and all our supporters for making the Science Fair in Ixil, Mexico possible! We’ll be sharing more stories about that and our Yucatán unconference soon….
Donate here to help us reach our goal: $10,000 for the Mexico Unconference and Science Fair.
As of January 11th, we’ve raised $5,050. Thanks to all of you who’ve donated so far! Let’s keep it going — it’s not too late to give a gift!
Your donation allows us to connect science educators and activists from around the United States with science super stars and students in the Maya community of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated — and check out our awesome rewards:
$50 = after the January unconference, receive a thank you card with a group photo of us all in Mexico.
$100 = after Mexico, receive a thank you card and a drawing from one of the students from the science outreach event.
$250 = after Mexico, thank you card, and a penpal opportunity with a Proyecto Itzaes budding scientist.
$500 = COPUS will give you or your organization/company a shout-out on our website and social media (with links to your site and their logo). Link and logo will stay on our website for one year from posting date.
$1000 = Cindy Wilber will give you a personal tour of ‘Hidden Yucatan.’ Airfare not included, but housing (right near beach) and food and a tour guide is!
Email us if you’d also like to donate school/science materials for the Maya community.
We’ll be posting updates about our fundraising goals each week, so check back here and please share with your friends!
COPUS is a completely not-for-profit, volunteer network of individuals and organizations across the nation focusing on scientific literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and STEM equity/inclusion. Funds are used for fostering community and collaborations in STEM education (such as our unconferences) or providing educational materials to communities in need. Donations are collected through our University of California at Berkeley hub and are 100% tax deductible.
A huge thank you to Tom McFadden of SciencewithTom for creating our beautiful crowdfunding video. And special thanks to Tokiwa Smith of SEMLink, Edward Samaniego of ES Visual Studies, Diego Román, and all other COPUS contributors for the awesome pictures and videos used.
Where’s our next unconference? The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico!
This unconference is going to be incredible, and styled a little different from the last one. The new style will allow all attendees to really get to know each other and bond not only over activities and presentations, but through shared experiences and interactions with the local community.
It is a casual, warm, intimate experience for around 25-30 people to share their expertise, best practices, ideas for innovations — and hopefully inspire cross-disciplinary/cultural/regional collaborations. As our mission states, “COPUS is a diverse trans-disciplinary network of individuals and organizations dedicated to public engagement with science. Members represent a wide range of stakeholders and constituencies who work together to articulate a shared vision and accelerate our collective impact.”
This gathering is several things:
A celebration of STEM education/outreach and the individuals that work tirelessly to promote it.
An opportunity for the COPUS members to share and learn from the local scientists, educators, and community members through an interactive STEM fair event. Our goal is to empower the local community with science and science connections — but to learn from their expertise and gain understanding from their experiences and perspectives too!
An opportunity for professional development and networking.
An opportunity for us all to share with each other and recharge for the year – bringing home cool new ideas and possible connections/ideas for grants, etc.
We will be in the town of Chicxulub Puerto about 35 km from the north side of Merida and about 45 minutes from the airport. For this unconference, we’re partnering with Proyecto Itzaes to connect in with the local community of teachers, scientists, and families.
Tentative Schedule (subject to change): Note: through out the unconference, we will be focusing on providing professional development and networking opportunities for all attendees.
Friday, Jan 13th: arrivals and evening networking social
(for those that are here for the full day, we’ll hold a strategic meeting, review our 2016 COPUS events/activities, prepare for Day of Service)
Saturday, Jan 14th:
1) sharing of expertise & member activities from 2016
2) finding points of overlap (grants and collaborations)
3) working group formation for 2017
4) award ceremony & presentations (Paul Shin & Judy Scotchmoor Awards)
Sunday, Jan 15th: Day of Service
interacting with local scientists and teachers, science fair with the Maya community
Monday, Jan 16th: Meeting wrap-up, departures
for those that are here for the full day, we’ll have a “Day of Action” —
1) data sharing for projects
2) make headway on working group action items
3) reporting on Day of Service for website/social media & grants
Regretfully I can’t remember how we actually first met. It seems that he was just always there. Lee had an impressive geology career and was serving as the State Geologist and Director of the Kansas Geological Survey during the critical years of cyclic episodes of creationism that overtook the Kansas science standards. So most certainly our paths crossed at the National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution in 2000 if not before.
But in 2005, Lee Allison walked into my office at UC Berkeley, sat down, and said “Judy, we’ve got to do something about these anti-evolution guys – they are anti science!” That was all it took to trigger the idea and then the actions that gave birth to COPUS. That’s who Lee was. He had an unmatched and undeterred energy and enthusiasm about him. Plus, he had an overwhelming passion for understanding the history of our earth and a deep-lying respect for the science that could provide the answers and stimulate more questions.
It seemed that with every encounter with everyone, Lee sparked creative and expanded thinking. That was as true late in his career as it was at our Berkeley meeting in 2005. So before I knew it, we had secured funding from NSF to bring in some folks for brainstorming a national initiative with three goals:
developing a shared appreciation of science, its contributions to the quality of life, and its underlying role in advances in technology and engineering
informing and engaging the public in and about science, its process and products
making science more accessible to everyone
And we even came up with a name – the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science – COPUS.
Soon there was a COPUS Core of people sharing ideas of concrete steps toward those lofty goals. This resulted in the Year of Science 2009 and the crazy idea of holding an unconference and Lee found the perfect venue – the Biosphere. There in the Arizona desert, the COPUS Core expanded into the COPUS Corps and an annual unconference became the norm… all because of a guy with an impish grin, a huge heart, and an amazing energy.
It was always fun and comfortable being around Lee – whether at a meeting of the minds in DC or sharing a beer at GSA or hanging out with COPUS friends at an unconference. You just wanted to be around him. He will be sorely missed.
In the spirit of the energy, passion for science, and generosity of the late Paul Shin, this award was given to wildlife biologists and educators Stephanie Gillin and Whisper Camel-Means from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and to University of Montana STEM Education Program Manager, Jessie Herbert at the Yellowstone Unconference in October, 2015.
As a result of a remarkable collaboration towards spreading the excitement of science, Jessie, Whisper, and Stephanie were honored for their work. These powerful women represent both the University of Montana’s spectrUM Discovery Museum as well as SciNation from the Flat Head Reservation. They worked in conjunction to inspire youth living in rural communities with science. Their efforts culminated into the creation of the Science Learning Tent that was showcased at the 116th Arlee Celebration Powwow, which by all accounts, was a complete success. At this tent, over 300 kids got an up close and personal, hands-on science experience. The festival ran for three days and for each day, the tent highlighted a new aspect of STEM. The parents of these kids were amazed at the quality of what was offered. In addition, they also ran programs for kids through Science Bytes, which creates STEM opportunities for kids at free lunch sites. Jessie, the STEM education program manager for UM spectrUM, coordinates the traveling science pop up show continues to expose kids to science as it makes its way around the state. Their intent is to continually make it new as it travels. Based on the success of the Arlee Powwow, we can only imagine that it will make it’s way back to the reservation for the 2nd Annual Science Tent next year.
Paul Shin’s philosophy embodies these two pillars…
“Imagination is more important than knowledge!”-Einstein
“Knowledge is not power – it’s what you do with knowledge-now that’s power!” -Shin
In honor of Judy Scotchmoor, a powerful, yet subtle leader who has effectively catalyzed change in the scientific community, this new award went to John Esterle, who embodies the COPUS founder’s interest in promoting science and carrying out the COPUS mission through decentralized channels.
John Esterle works as an executive director of the Whitman Institute. He has enthusiastically supported COPUS for years and believes in “dialogue, relationship building, and inclusive leadership”, which also parallels Judy’s leadership style. John has inspired ideas and invested in people across diverse sectors in an effort to create change. He is the ideal winner for this special award. As part of his recognition, John received an original painting of a sea star by Mattias Lanas — the same beautiful painting depicted in the COPUS logo!