Science Communication Initiative


Michi Tobler

Phone: (785) 532-6652


Purpose of the Collaboration:

Science Communication through Community Engagement started in 2015, as a collaboration between Sunset Zoo and a faculty member in Kansas State University’s Division of Biology. The ongoing collaboration aims to facilitate interactions between scientists and members of the public in an attempt to engage non-experts in understanding, promoting, and participating in science and research. To achieve these goals the collaboration builds on three core pillars: (1) Providing professional development opportunities for K-State scientists of all career stages to help them to become more effective communicators to non-expert audiences; (2) Development and implementation of novel platforms that facilitate interactions between K-State scientists and members of local and regional communities; and (3) Joining forces with other entities at K-State and additional community partners through the Kansas Science Communication Initiative (KSCI).

Length of Partnership:

4 years with Sunset Zoo; 25+ years network-wide

Community Partners:

Sunset Zoo

Community Impact:

The Science Communication Initiative builds on a strong belief that scientists engaging with non-expert audiences can make a positive impact on our society. The Science Communication Initiative believes that all scientists can learn to make their highly technical research accessible to general audiences and that a majority of community members – given the opportunity – appreciate authentic interactions with scientists. The goal is to help scientists develop skills and strategies to engage non-expert audiences and to create opportunities for people to meet and have conversations about science in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Doing so helps promote the mission of community partners and the land-grant mission of K-State to serve the public in a meaningful way. As a result of the initiative, for example, new, permanent exhibits have been designed for Sunset Zoo that display study organisms used in K-State research along with interpretive signage that introduces scientists and their research questions to zoo visitors. New partnerships with K-12 teachers and their pupils as well as other informal education institutions have been formed. Engagement with new audiences including families at Sunset Zoo and adult audiences at a local pub has also resulted, making high-level science more accessible.

Institutional Partners:

Departments of Biology, Agronomy, Animal Sciences and Industry, Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Geography, Horticulture and Natural Resources, Hospitality Management, Human Ecology, Kinesiology, Mathematics, Physics, Psychological Sciences, Plant Pathology, and Veterinary Medicine; National Agricultural Biosecurity Center

Institutional Impact:

KSCI has broadened the footprint of science communication efforts at K-State through the organization of K-State’s Science Communication Weeks (held annually since 2017), monthly KSCI Works workshops/colloquiums, and a regional Sci-Comm Conference (held alternately at K-State and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln). In addition, KSCI advocates for institutional changes that incentivize community-engaged scholarship and integrate communication training during the education of scientists.