Today we talk with Maven of Hip Hop, Adjunct Biology Professor, and Outreach Scientist, Danielle N. Lee.
Dr. Lee is not your average biology professor, or “average” anything, for that matter.
Danielle blogs, tweets and is passionate about teaching scientific concepts in ways that capture and keep the attention of her college-age students. This spills over into her excitement for sharing science with teens and young adults as well. (And she hails from St. Louis, MO, the hometown of Sigma Life Science!).
Here Danielle tells us about her work, and the projects that excite her the most.
What kind of work do you do with science education?
Presently, I am an adjunct biology professor – teaching Animal Behavior and Evolution to upper-level college students. I also consult and lead informal science education programs focusing on urban ecology, environmental science, and conservation for youth programs like the Girl Scouts and Summer/After-school programs.
Are there any exciting projects around science outreach and education that you would like to highlight?
I am completely geeked about Citizen Science! I see it as this great catalogue of continuing education classes in every field of science imaginable: ecology, engineering, physics, astronomy, math – applied science and even social science. It’s a perfect way to engage people in science at the individual, family, and community level. Whenever possible I try to introduce people to a citizen science project related to an existing or latent interest of theirs. For example, the Missouri History Museum will be hosting an exhibit on Mastodons and Mammoths.
I was surfing the Science for Citizens website and discovered the Mastodon Matrix Project. The Paleontological Research Institution will mail individuals, teachers or groups a box that needs to be sorted and organized to search for any fossils. Now, how neat would it be to get families and school groups out at the museum and actually do an activity that contributes to a REAL research project?? What a way to spend an afternoon, eh?
How do you participate in outreach for children/teenagers?
I do some of everything – all ages. For the last three summers I have worked with summer day camps – for the University of Missouri-St. Louis Forest Park Forever Partnership and with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources State Parks Divisions. Each camp focused on nature and outdoor recreation experiences in the St. Louis Metro area. Groups of children (mostly 6-12 years of age) from inner-city community centers, summer church camps, and scouting groups would visit local Conservation Areas, Nature Centers, Heritage Sites, and State Parks to learn about local ecology, conservation, and history. I have as much fun as the children, introducing them to different plants, flowers, and animals and teaching them how to fish.
However, I prefer working with teens and young adults. This usually requires smaller groups, and we engage in authentic research projects. In the past I have mentored high school and college students in independent research projects in urban ecology and animal behavior.
What are the major challenges facing educators that you feel need to be addressed?
I think educators feel overwhelmed. There is so much to know and teach and not nearly enough time to cover the required curriculum let alone cultivate those general ‘scientific skills’ like critical thinking. I think it is especially hard for public school teachers in any subject. Science (and math) seem to catch the worst of it.
I think creating a venue where K-12 educators have access to many kinds of STEM professionals will allow them to work together to deliver real-world learning opportunities to students. Moreover, it would create a real-life network between students (and their communities) with members of society from every walk of life.
How can we work to create a better and balanced world if we don’t interact with each other?
What was your favorite science subject as a kid?
Actually, English was my favorite class. I liked reading and creative writing. I liked Science as kid and I did okay in it, but not spectacular. I thought it was too structured…but now look at me! I write about science and I LOVE the order and organization of scientific thinking.
What is your favorite science subject now that you’re an adult?
I get excited about a lot of things – ecology, behavior – but I always fall in love with animal communication again and again. It was the subject that ‘won me over’ to research. Animal communication: which includes sender/receiver dynamics, biophysics of sound and visual signals, chemical communication, and decision-making strategies, is still my absolute favorite science subject.
Tell us about a project that’s close to your heart.
I’m beginning to embark on a mission to get more science into the hearts, minds, and mouths of diverse communities. So, my effort is to find as many interesting and out of the box ways to engage under-served audiences in science. So far I’ve been launching pebbles in the (virtual) waters to initiate dialogue and interest in Minority Serving Media Outlets & Media Professionals and using creative ways to engage students in science, such as my “Hip Hop Seminar on Sexual Selection”.