Leveraging Science to Advance Community Priorities

The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), in partnership with the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Thriving Earth Exchange, sponsors a collaborative opportunity for staff at ASTC-member museums in the United States to each work with a community and scientists to advance the community’s priorities. These projects are contributing to a growing movement toward engaged, community-driven science.

As part of the 2021 cohort of the Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows Program, staff members from ASTC-member institutions were selected to take part in this service and professional development opportunity. The AGU Thriving Earth Exchange staff trains these Fellows in their community science model, with support from ASTC and AMS. Each Fellow is assigned a mentor from the staff of ASTC, AGU, or AMS.

As of May 2019, AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange has activated over 120 community science projects across the United States and the ASTC-sponsored Fellows are part of the sixth cohort. The program connects communities with volunteer earth and atmospheric scientists to help tackle local challenges. Project design always starts with the community voice. Each Fellow will listen to their community representatives and work collaboratively to scope out a project that is actionable and manageable. They will match a volunteer scientist with the community who can help refine the project. The Fellows act as project managers to ensure that the communities and scientists are supported throughout the project. Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science. Fellows work with a wide range of community institutions, such as municipal governments, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, indigenous groups, or grassroots collectives.

The Fellowship

Thriving Earth Exchange Fellows will each:

  • Collaborate with community leaders to design meaningful projects that leverage science to produce a concrete impact;
  • Recruit a volunteer scientist with relevant expertise to join the project; and
  • Lead a team of scientists and community members through launching a project, advancing community priorities, and sharing outcomes.

With generous support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, ASTC is able to award each ASTC-sponsored Fellow a grant to support their project.

Who are the Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows?

Max Cawley

Museum of Life and Science
Durham, North Carolina

Max Cawley is an educator, researcher, evaluator, and science communicator with the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina. Max is a firm believer in participatory, democratic, and responsible science and knowledge dissemination, and believes that anyone and everyone can, and should, contribute to our growing understanding of the world.

Community Partner: Steve Anderson, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association and Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

The project will center on firstly, empowering community members in collecting data and reporting flooding and water quality violations and increase access to flooding data and water issues that cause property damage and threaten public safety in Goose Creek.

From a museum perspective, Thriving Earth Exchange’s process beautifully embodies the philosophy and pedagogy of inclusive scientific inquiry we hope to espouse. I am excited to see museums embrace this spirit of community-driven science towards bringing about change and making our neighborhoods more just, safe, and sustainable.

Max Cawley

Devin Jefferson

Science Museum of Virginia
Richmond, Virginia

Devin has spent his career connecting nonprofit missions to high impact initiatives through program management, youth development, and STEM programming in both formal and informal settings. As a native of Richmond, Virginia, he has a deep knowledge of and connection to the Richmond metropolitan area. This history has helped him develop STEM-focused programming for culturally and racially diverse audiences over the years. Devin’s academic background in biology allows him to develop and execute high-quality STEM programming with community partners spanning governmental, nonprofit, and stakeholder audiences. Devin leads RVAir, the Science Museum of Virginia’s Community Science initiative.

Community Partner: Sarah Craig, Consultant, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, Virginia

The project will engage youth and families through the Boys & Girls Club around local health issues. Topics may include a study of the rise in asthma by collecting local air samples and possible correlations with the urban heat island affect.

I’m excited to support and empower my local community to take advantage of Thriving Earth Exchange’s network and resources to better understand and improve climate resilience for the City of Richmond.

Devin Jefferson

Yanet Lopez

Fleet Science Center
San Diego, California

Yanet is currently the Community Engagement Manager at the Fleet Science Center located in San Diego, California. She has more than eight years of experience in Federal grant management, previously working for California State University Northridge’s TRIO grant projects and with community-based nonprofit organizations supporting students and their families to reach their postsecondary academic goals. Yanet’s life experiences inform her work; she was born in Mexico, raised in San Diego, and considers her bilingual and bicultural identity to help build bridges between theory and practice.

Community Partner: Angelica Gastelum,Schools Coordinator, Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center, National City, California

The project aims to address food insecurity and healthy eating by working with community gardens and leveraging connections with the local school district.

I am eager to work collaboratively with my community leader, Angelica Gastelum, to utilize science at the service of the National City community. I am excited to share the tools and approaches I’ve learned through Thriving Earth with the community and to advance community priorities.

Yanet Lopez

Shane Montoya

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Shane is a lifelong New Mexico resident with an enthusiasm for art and science. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. An intense interest in the intersection of science and art led him to a position as an Exhibit Developer at Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum.

Community Partner: Olivia Ranseen, Community Development Planner, Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency, Louisville, Kentucky

The project is focused on creating a flood preparedness addendum to the community’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

I’m excited about the prospect of building community science networks across the country that can make a tangible positive impact on a local level even if all parties are not in that location. Community Science can save the world!

Shane Montoya

Irmarís Rivera-Llavona

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Irmarís is a geoscientist from Puerto Rico. She is currently working as Operations Coordinator at EcoExploratorio: Museum of Sciences of Puerto Rico. She is also a Drinking Water Hygiene Specialist at the Puerto Rico Department of Health. Her passion for science communication led her to create The Geology Project (TGP), a social platform dedicated to improving geoscience communication and education.

Community Partner: Laura Allen, Interim Town Manager, Town of Berwyn Heights, Maryland

The community partners plan to create a toolkit and communications materials to improve the tree canopy in the city and reduce invasive species.

I am excited to be working with other community science advocates; our different backgrounds and cultural differences will provide different perspectives that will benefit the projects we will be working with. The work and relationships being built in Thriving Earth Exchange are a source of motivation for me and the museum I represent.

Irmarís Rivera-Llavona

The Fellows and scientists will work with community partners to design projects that can have an impact on the community priority with creativity, in-kind support, and resources at hand. Projects are expected to address a topic of community concern, with applicability to climate change, meteorology, hydrology, resilience, sustainability, and health. Examples of past Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows Program projects include Assessing Flood Risks for Community-Led Action in Gulfport, MississippiUpdating a Climate Vulnerability Assessment in Santa Cruz, California, and Monitoring Plastic Pollution in Staunton, Virginia, among many others.

Who’s Involved

ASTC supports science and technology centers and museums as they engage their communities. The Thriving Earth Exchange Fellows Program  is a component of ASTC’s Community Science Initiative that will enable ASTC member institutions to fulfill their missions to connect science and society by partnering on solutions for local and global challenges. 

AGU Thriving Earth Exchange helps connect local communities with scientists to co-design and execute projects that advance local priorities related to natural resources, climate change, environmental justice, and natural hazards.

AMS is a global community committed to advancing weather, water, and climate science in service to society. Through this partnership, AMS will provide professional development  and support their members in applying their scientific and professional expertise to community-based projects. 

Gordon and Betty Moore established a foundation to create positive outcomes for future generations. In pursuit of that vision, they foster path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. 

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