The Education and Outreach programs at the Center for Nanoscale Science (a NSF funded MRSEC) provide opportunities for children and youth, teachers, parents, undergraduates, the general public, and anyone with an interest in science to learn about nano and micro-scale science and engineering. The Center is at the cutting edge of materials research, a field that touches our every day lives and has the potential to solve many of the world's current and future challenges. As a result, programs are designed to share this knowledge, explain the importance of materials research, encourage interest and excitement, and inspire the next generation of researchers to get involved.
Member Involvement & Community Building
Center researchers are the key participants in all programs. In addition to the expertise and knowledge that they bring directly from the lab, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty gain valuable experience communicating their own research, representing their field of study, and exploring the wonder of science and technology with both general and specialized audiences. An intentional structure is used by the Center to engage student researchers in areas that best suit their personal interests and professional goals for the given year. Activities are designed to build professional networks and personal connections between individuals across IRG's, research groups, the broader Penn State materials community, and beyond.
Preparing graduate students and postdocs for rewarding future employment is a Center priority. Penn State MRSEC Alumni have found success in industry, national labs, government agencies, academia, and more. Center-hosted programs regularly invite alunmi and career-focused representatives to inform, guide, and mentor current students about the job search process and potential opportunities. Further, professional skill building and leadership opportunities are intentionaly integrated into many facets of the education and outreach portfolio and management structure.
Graduate students annually choose a non-research team within the Center that best matches their personal interests and/or professional skill-building goals in which to participate for a full calendar year. In doing so, they contribute meaningfully to the delivery and achievement of the Center's outreach goals and satisfy a Center expectation of engagement. Graduate student Team Leaders focus their efforts upon a theme, and implement specific activities or events that support it. Teams are also open to the broader Penn State's materials community, and frequently include affiliated non-MRSEC graduate students who also want to make positive impacts outside of the research lab.
Strategic Programs & Partnerships
There are many additonal Center outreach programs and initiatives that fall outside of team focus areas. These far-reaching efforts are strategically chosen to address big ideas, reach unique audiences, or create positive institutional impact. University and/or external partners are always involved. Since these efforts are specific, they engage faculty and student members whose expertise or departmental associations best match the given content or project goals. Currently, the themes of these strategic efforts lie within:
- Sustainability - to educate researchers about their connections to large, global sustainability goals and create conscious and intentional behavioral changes in the laboratory setting that positively impact the longterm sustainability consequences of daily research practices and decisions
- Mission: Materials Science - to provide quality, virtual educational content that encourages hands-on DIY exploration and understanding of materials science concepts
- Diversity - to positively impact the graduate student experience, culture, climate and support system in ways that help to remove barriers that prevent student retention and academic well-being and success; support faculty in their efforts to engage positively in this same process; and invest in genuine collaborative efforts that will strengthen the research and education goals of our NSF PREM partners (Cal State LA and North Carolina Central University)
Graduate Student - Postdoc Advisory Committee
The input, needs, experiences and opinions of graduate students and postdoc members are a valued and essential component of the life of the Center. As a result, Center leadership meets 3-4x per year with student and postdoc representatives from each IRG and Outreach Team for open, two-way discussions. This personal, direct, two-way interaction provides an additional channel of effective communication across the organization that increases a true sense of MRSEC identity and community.
The Center is committed to supporting and implementing iniatives that create a safe, welcoming, diverse and inclusive environment for all members and program participants. In addition to specific diversity-focused efforts, the Center intentionally strives to integrate this goal into all education and outreach activities. Advised by College and Graduate School diversity officers, PREM partner faculty leaders, and campus resource expertise, outreach staff are constantly reviewing diversity-related activities of the Center.
The successful achievement of well-articulated goals and desired impact outcomes can only be credibly verified by evidence, and improvements in program implementation and content can only be guided by reliable input and feedback. Therefore, the intentional planning of data collection is an inherent early-stage effort in all project planning. Evaluation is conducted by external parties when necessary to the particular goals and data required, but implemented by internal management whenever there are no conflicts with obtaining reliable results. For programs hosted in partnership, assessment metrics, tools, and collection methods are determined jointly. Data is always reviewed and archived for future reference, and the resulting assessment conclusions are shared as appropriate with Center leadership, partners, stakeholders, etc.
We welcome and invite you to get involved!