Science Outreach Programme goes from Strength to Strength

Representatives from all national teams gather to celebrate the establishment of the Cell EXPLORERS Network. From right: Dr Mary Carr, Letterkenny IT; Dr Kellie Dean University College Cork; Samantha Prior University of Limerick; Dr Shane McGuinness NUI Galway; Karen McGibney UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory; Dr Caroline Gilleran Dundalk IT; Maya Frost Athlone IT; Dr Guiomar Garvia Cabellos IT Carlow; Dr Sinead Miggins, Maynooth University; Ben Nolan, NUI Galway representing IT Tallaght. Photo: Aengus McMahon.
Jun 07 2018 Posted: 11:35 IST
NUI Galway recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Cell EXPLORERS Network, an expanding group of scientists and students from ten Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across Ireland who are committed to bringing science out of the lab and into the classroom. Funded by Science Foundation Ireland and coordinated from the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway, Cell EXPLORERS is a science outreach and public engagement initiative.
Cell EXPLORERS aims to inform, inspire and involve people in the excitement of science, increase the general public’s engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and advocates for its importance in society.
Professor Ciaran Morrison, Head of NUI Galway’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “The programme is unique, and has involved 850 team members to reach more than 21,000 members of the Irish public since 2012. It is a unique collaborative approach between 10 higher education institutions that has an impact both on the young people reached but also on our students and researchers. Dr Grenon has also started to develop education research to inform the future development of the programme. The overall impact of Cell EXPLORERS has in fact won her a Societal Impact Award from NUI Galway in 2017.”
Delegates from across Ireland attended the meeting to consolidate the recent expansion of the project, from five partner institutions, to a current total of ten HEIs nationally. The Cell EXPLORERS project now covers twelve counties, including nine of those previously identified as having poor exposure to STEM-related activities. The first year of activity for the Network has resulted in the direct engagement of 6,700 young people and their families by over 250 volunteer scientists who continue to give their time, passion and knowledge to inspiring the next generation of scientific explorers.
Dr Muriel Grenon, Founding Director of Cell EXPLORERS, said: “It is so important to engage our young people in STEM from an early age to break the stereotypes around science and scientists. It was great to meet with all the coordinators to discuss the impact that we see in the classroom and plan for the future of our community of practice.”
The research developed by Cell EXPLORERS aims to evaluate the impacts of the programme on all participants. In particular, it focuses on understanding how demonstrator scientists impact on the opinions and attitudes of children to science and scientists, which could strongly affect the dissemination of science education and public engagement activities in Ireland. Some of this research – assessing the impact on young children’s confidence in conducting science – has won postgraduate researcher and NUI Galway Cell EXPLORERS volunteer coordinator Sarah Carroll a poster prize at the third Scientix (the Community of Science Education in Europe) Conference in Brussels last month.
Cathy Foley, Senior Executive at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “This project is a strong example of public engagement at work and the well-developed model could be used in many other settings across a myriad of subject areas. The programme will inform best practice for the involvement of HEIs in public engagement in science: this Network meeting is a first step in achieving that.”
The long-term goal of Cell EXPLORERS is to strengthen its nationwide programme by incorporating best practice from both its team’s experience and research findings to making the Irish public the most scientifically-informed globally.

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