This past weekend, Morehead City, home to UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, hosted the 30th Annual North Carolina Seafood Festival. It was an adventure in itself. There were rides, carnival games, locally-caught seafood, concerts and activities such as the ‘Flounder Fling.’ (Literally they toss giant flounder and not a stuffed replica of Flounder from The Little Mermaid.) This was definitely something I had never experienced before. Check out the Instagram and Twitter feeds @NCSeafoodfest if you don’t believe me. However, through all the excitement, the most meaningful and exciting part (to me) was the 2nd Annual Seafood Fest Education Day. Reflecting on the day made me realize how much I love outreach, and how easy it is to interact with the local community.
The Friday of the Seafood Fest, there was an Education Day set up for local 6th graders to learn about the science going on right here in North Carolina. There were booths from NOAA, the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, NC State University, and UNC Chapel Hill (just to name a few). Each booth was a unique look into the research happening on the Crystal Coast and literally in some of these students’ backyards. It ranged from understanding fish landings and mortality to the importance of habitats for fish. Students rotated through the Education Day and learned about being a scientist and about the animals many of their families catch for a living.
I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge with others, especially when it comes to marine life or really anything I am passionate about. My friends or family they would tell you I like to Google or tell people random facts about marine science and the world in general. But until this event at the Seafood Festival, I never realized that connecting with students and teaching someone about the things I love could be so rewarding. Having the opportunity to interact with the children and see the smiles on their faces when they got to hold a fish for the first time was invaluable.
This experience has made me want to become more engaged in the local community and involved in outreach activities. However, I realized it may not seem like it is very easy to be involved in outreach if you are not linked to some sort of institution that provides opportunities to connect with local students. I thought it may be useful to provide examples of ways to do outreach in your community, especially for our readers who enjoy outreach:
1. Tutor at the local community college
2. Give a free public talk about your research
3. Work with local teachers in and out of the classroom
For example, check out SciREN, a STEM lesson plan network started by 2 graduate students at UNC-CH
4. Volunteer at a local science museum or aquarium
5. Be a judge at a local science fair
Listed above are just a few ways to get involved in outreach. You can also check out natural and life science outreach programs recommended by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
So get out there and interact with your community and share your science. You never know the different you can make!