Outreach Activities and Presentations

Outreach is an important aspect of sharing scientific discovery and supporting education and the community. Through my position as the coordinator of the CICHAZ field station and as a researcher, I try to find ways to share my research with a broader audience and to support science education.

Sunset Zoo – Science Communication Fellowship

I was proud to be in the first cohort of Science Communication Fellows in conjunction with the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, KS (http://www.sunsetzoo.com/). As part of my Fellowship with the Sunset Zoo, I worked on the development of education activities for broad age groups including the general public. One of the current activities directly relates to some of my ongoing research on body shape evolution. I visited several elementary classrooms and plan to visit additional classrooms at the junior and/or high school level. In addition to learning general fish biology and adaptation, students are asked to "landmark" digital images of fish specimens, the process used to quantify and characterize body shape. We can then compare students to trained scientists to determine what age groups are as accurate as trained scientists. These "active-learning" approaches provide opportunities for students to learn scientific concepts while experiencing the process of science and collecting real data from museum collections.
An image compiled from landmarking done by 16 students in each of three grades at Marlatt Elementary School in Manhattan, KS. With the exception of a single landmark, each of the grades had fairly similar results!

Coordinator, Centro de Investigaciones de las Huastecas Aguazarca - One of the primary outreach outlets for my research is through involvement with CICHAZ in the Huasteca region of Mexico. Expanding educational and outreach programs is a priority for CICHAZ. We were recently awarded with an National Science Foundation Field Station and Marine Laboratories grant for strategic planning. This award will enable us to bring together top experts in research and education on both the social and life sciences to develop strategies for implementing research and educational programs and determine needs for future upgrades to infrastructure to continue to serve a diverse group of users at the station.

CiM-Bio – CICHAZ Mentoring in Biology: The goal of the CiM-Bio program is to support university attendance and pursuit of STEM careers by students in rural Mexico. The program is designed to pair middle and high school students from the local community with university students or PIs to provide structured research experiences during the summer months at the CICHAZ field station.

High School Presentation (Calnali, Hidalgo) – In the summer of 2012 I gave a short talk at the local high school in Calnali. The talk was about basic molecular biology and its applications to studying fish biology and evolution.

Giving a talk to a local high school in Mexico.
First page of TFH article. Click the image to go to the full article at TFH.com

Judge, Ruth M. Patrick Award – Joint meeting of American Society of Naturalists and Society for the Study of Evolution. I judged student posters at the 2014 joint meeting of Evolution and ASN in Raleigh, NC to help choose the winner of the Ruth M. Patrick Award.

Article for FishChum – Natural variation in wild-caught swordtails. Link (leaves site)

Article for FishChum – Observation of a novel, pigmented sword in X. malinche in its natural habitat. Link(leaves site)

Article for Tropical Fish Hobbyist – Variation in wild swordtails. Link(leaves site)

C.S.I. Calnali – This is a short video I made while at the CICHAZ field station as a graduate student. The video is take on the popular C.S.I. television show and features neighborhood children investigating crime in swordtail hybrid zones using molecular biology. The video is subtitled in both English and Spanish, and is available on Youtube. The video is two parts in order to be able to host on Youtube, and Part 1 is available here with English subtitles.

Longer-term goals

I want to continue and strengthen my outreach efforts to bridge the disconnect between science and the public. My goal is to promote awareness and education of natural environments and biodiversity and to help stimulate sustainable living and sustainable use of natural resources. Global climate change and other forms of anthropogenic disturbance such as habitat degradation and pollution are two important areas to address. One of my objectives is to disseminate and share any findings of my research related to these applied problems and to promote awareness of strategies for mitigating anthropogenic disturbance. I'm hoping to begin to facilitate increased conservation efforts for endangered and threatened species, starting with Xiphophorus. Finally, one of my interests to spur further and mutually beneficial interaction between scientists and fish enthusiasts is to begin a Xiphophorus Pigmentation Initiative where wild caught fish exhibiting interesting pigmentation can be shared with hobbyists who have an interest in helping to prove out the genetic basis of traits. In this way, fish enthusiasts get to be more involved in science by helping determine what traits are or are not genetic, which is important information for researchers. Those hobbyists that are involved in the process would also be able to continue to produce those traits they work with if they desire.