This award supports a new, international outreach program, developed by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), called the NESCent Ambassador Program. The program will provide a novel professional development opportunity for U.S. based scientists, while promoting synthetic evolutionary research to underserved scientific communities in developing regions throughout the world. NESCent Ambassadors will lead short courses and workshops, provide one-on-one and small group consulting and engage in other education and outreach activities focusing on topics of evolutionary science and informatics. Ambassadorships will simultaneously improve research capabilities for US scientists in areas throughout the world that are rich in biodiversity and that could serve as key locations for evolution research.
The NESCent Ambassador program will provide novel and valuable training and professional development opportunities for U.S. based scientists, including postdoctoral fellows, while serving as a new model for future innovative international outreach programs. Significantly, it will also allow U.S.-based scientists to build international networks of collaborators, an opportunity that is particularly critical for early career scientists. This program will widely disseminate evolutionary informatics tools, resources and methods to an international, traditionally underserved scientific audience. Lastly, but importantly, it will serve as a means of introducing and promoting the concepts and practices of synthesis research to an international audience.
The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) developed a new outreach program called the NESCent Ambassador Program to provide a novel professional development opportunity for U.S. based scientists, while promoting synthesis research and benefitting underserved scientific communities in developing regions around the world. NESCent Ambassadors (primarily current and former NESCent postdocs, sabbatical scholars and other science and informatics staff) led short (approximately one to two week) courses and workshops, provided one-on-one and small group consulting and engaged in other education/outreach activities focusing on topics of evolutionary science, evolutionary informatics and evolution education. The NESCent Ambassador program enabled US-based scientists to build and extend international networks of collaborators – something which is particularly critical for the postdocs and other early career scientists who filled many of the ambassador positions. By providing opportunities for NESCent scientists (including postdoctoral fellows and graduate trainees) to engage in outreach, the program helped prepare the next generation of evolutionary biologists to be engaging, effective, impassioned educators and communicators of science. The skills that ambassadors developed and refined as part of this project will be applied to their education and outreach efforts at their home institutions in the United States throughout their careers as NSF-funded scientists. The contacts and relationships forged through NESCent ambassadorships will lead to expansion of scientific networks and partnerships both within the United States and throughout the developing world. Over the course of the three years of funding, this highly successful program sent 25 scientists/science educators to eight different countries spanning Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. The 25 scientists include 18 from NESCent (11 postdocs/graduate fellows and seven senior scientists/science educators) and seven collaborators from other institutions. In total, 12 ambassadorships were conducted. Six of these focused on evolutionary science and evolutionary informatics, and were delivered to audiences consisting of members of the evolution/ecology/biodiversity research communities in the regions where they were conducted. The other six ambassadorships focused on evolution education, with components to educate students, teachers and the general public on evolutionary science, as well as components (delivered to local teachers) specifically on effective pedagogical approaches for teaching evolution. The ambassadorships were rigorously assessed by an external evaluation consultant and the data from these assessments show that the program positively impacted both the US-based scientists who served as ambassadors and the local scientists, students, educators and general public in the regions we visited. More information on the program and the individual ambassadorships can be found at http://ambassadors.nescent.org.