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Summer 2001

UCAR's revitalized education program: Reflections on a year of learning, planning, and building

by Roberta Johnson

Roberta Johnson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

The past year for me has been an exciting one of learning, planning, and building. In my new job as director of UCAR's Office of Education and Outreach (E&O), I've had the opportunity to meet many new people, renew aquaintances, and learn, learn, learn! I've learned about the history of education and outreach here at UCAR, including ongoing programs. I've also heard the concerns of scientists and staff regarding the composition of our programs as well as their desires to participate. At some point over the previous year, I began to think "planning" was becoming my middle name, as a result of my intensive work with the Education and Outreach Strategic Planning Committee as well as my contributions to the NCAR Strategic Plan. The results of these activities have all been very beneficial, however, since they provided great opportunities to thoroughly probe what an education and outreach program could and should be at our institution. Most recently, I've focused the bulk of my efforts on bringing together the Office of Education and Outreach, working closely with the E&O team, but particularly with associate director Susan Foster and administrator Annette Lampert. I'm thrilled by the skills, experience, and institutional knowledge of the E&O staff, without which bringing together our program and office would have been much more difficult.

Building on mutual strengths

In the past, education and outreach programs have been developed by staff working separately within different UCAR, NCAR, and UOP divisions and programs to disseminate information about the atmospheric and related sciences to students in middle and high school, undergraduate and graduate schools, and postdoctoral programs, as well as to the general public. Educational exhibits and tours have been the hallmark of public outreach at the Mesa Laboratory, reaching tens of thousands of people every year and receiving the institution's baseline support on an ongoing basis. Programs with unique missions and audiences—such as NCAR's Advanced Study Program, LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers, and the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program; and, in the UCAR Office of Programs, the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training, and the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) —have also made important contributions. Although these programs are each exceptional, they have not benefited from the opportunity to build upon each others' strengths and accumulated knowledge. Not only were opportunities for collaboration and leveraging reduced, it was also unclear how these activities collectively supported the larger-scale educational mission of the institution.

The role of academic institutions and national centers in education and outreach has become increasingly important. NSF now dedicates extensive financial resources to the development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of educational resources that enrich students' understanding of the sciences and enhance the scientific literacy of the nation. NSF also recognizes that education and outreach programs are better able to reach all Americans when these programs embed strategies specifically designed to include persons and communities that historically have been underrepresented in science, engineering, and mathematics.

The educational community has reinforced this message. In discussions with and surveys of colleagues in its member and affiliate institutions, UCAR has been asked to consider mechanisms by which it can support the educational missions of the universities, both for current students and in the recruitment of new students at the undergraduate and graduate level. Participants in a 29–31 January workshop at NCAR on Earth System Education Partnerships with Research Institutions specified priorities for action (in a report available on the Web; see below), including

Therefore, it has become increasingly clear that an institution of UCAR's magnitude must have a coordinated education and outreach program that can serve UCAR members, the institution's professional staff, and the public.

Our goals and strategy

In July 2000, UCAR initiated a strategic planning process to develop a unified education and outreach plan for the institution as a whole, spanning the interests of UCAR, NCAR, and UOP. A planning committee was established, which I chaired in my new role as E&O director. To assemble the committee, we recruited representatives from UCAR programs that currently play a significant role in education and outreach, including sponsored programs such as those listed above as well as the indirectly funded programs of the Office of Development and Government Affairs and UCAR Communications. Together, these individuals provided expert perspectives on program development, content, and public outreach for the institution as a whole.

At a series of strategic planning meetings, we developed a mission, vision, and set of values for the institution's integrated education and outreach effort; specific goals and objectives by which the mission, vision, and values will be realized; and a draft strategic plan, which evolved in response to the comments and recommendations received from numerous reviewers. These included members of UCAR's Board of Trustees and University Relations Committee, NSF staff, several UCAR members' representatives, heads and chairs of university departments, and educators and scientists participating in NCAR's January workshop. All of these people have helped strengthen the plan's potential to reach the institution's many constituencies. In June, the board approved the strategic plan, which will soon be available on line (hard copies are also available from the E&O Office).

The scope of UCAR's education and outreach program described in the strategic plan addresses the needs of K–12 through postgraduate learners as well as informal science education in a diverse nation. We accept this broad scope because of the challenge the United States faces in motivating and engaging diverse students to prepare for future careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. It is likewise vital to increase the scientific literacy of all citizens to help them understand the implications of our community's research for their lives and futures.

We have already begun implementing the strategic plan. Our first goal, to create the institutional infrastructure and funding portfolio that will allow UCAR to have an effective education and outreach program, is well under way through the establishment of the E&O office and through our collaborative proposal efforts. Our second goal, to support the formal education sector by developing, delivering, and promoting education resources for diverse audiences, is, likewise, under way through our ongoing programs as well as new initiatives (such as planning for next summer's NCAR Geoscience Education Workshop for middle and high school educators).

Progress towards our third goal, to foster an informed public through scientific literacy, has been made on a number of fronts. These include a renewed focus on upgrading Mesa Lab exhibits, expansion of Web sites dedicated to informal science education, and new collaborations with the media on major projects. Our fourth goal, to build diversity in the geosciences by promoting the involvement of diverse and historically underrepresented populations in the geosciences, is an overarching one inherent within the others. We plan to survey, model, and collaborate with successful academic bridging and training programs (including SOARS); glean recommendations from internal and external studies about how the overall goals of the institution can be met; support the UCAR community in attracting and retaining a diverse work force; and develop materials and exhibits that recognize contributions to the atmospheric and related sciences from a broad spectrum of groups and individuals.

It's always enjoyable to start a new project, and my work this year certainly qualifies as a major new project! I've had a wonderful opportunity to learn about our institution and its programs, the needs of our member and affiliate universities, and the commitment of our staff to our educational mission, vision, and goals. The coming year will be exciting as the E&O staff partners with the rest of the institution to implement our new strategic plan. I'm looking forward to it!

On the Web:
Report of the workshop on Earth System Education Partnerships with Research Institutions

E&O Strategic Plan

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Wed Aug 8 17:05:07 MDT 2001