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K-State Today

February 26, 2016

K-State researchers graduate from Sunset Zoo’s inaugural Science Communication Fellowship program

Submitted by Michael Tobler

Sunset Zoo recently graduated its inaugural class of Science Communication Fellows consisting of seven researchers from Kansas State University. The zoo's Science Communication Fellowship program began in 2015 through support from the national Portal to the Public Network and Kansas State University's Graduate School. The program aims to build a local network of certified researchers, professionals, graduate students and postgraduate students working together to connect our community to science and research that is taking place in the region.

"Science is very important to our mission," said Scott Shoemaker, zoo director. "It literally surrounds the work we do with animals and the natural world each day, and offering programs that demystify science is very exciting."

The inaugural class of Science Communication Fellows completed a yearlong professional development process led by Jared Bixby, Sunset Zoo's curator of education, and Nicole Wade, education specialist. Working alongside zoo staff, each fellow developed activities that connected their research to the public in a fun, accessible way.

"Science is a subject that can be hard to for the general public to wrap their hands around," Bixby said. "The program is one way that we are trying to engage the community in this amazing learning."

After completing professional development workshops, program participants completed several public programs facilitated by the zoo's education department including workshops at zoo special events, and the zoo's recently launched Behind the Science programs: Science Saturdays and Science on Tap. Both of these programs focus on creating interactive forums where community members can learn more about science in a fun, unique way.

2016 Science Communication Fellows include:

Zach Culumber, postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Biology, researches the interdisciplinary connections between ecology, evolution, genetics physiology and behavior in fish populations. For the program, Culumber developed an activity where participants were able to act like scientists and study the body shape of fish.

Mark Herse, master's student in biology, researches habitat use of grassland sparrows. For the program, Herse developed a puzzle that asked people to make difficult land use choices to benefit different species as well as humans.

Kasia Kornacki, master's student in biochemistry, researches enzyme expression in oil crops for industrial and biofuel applications. Her program activity included a light box where participants could view the seeds she makes glow and go through the process of creating oil from seeds.

Thomas Larsen, master's student in geography, researches how third-graders incorporate the mental maps, stories and interviews in their understanding of geography. 

Lisa Tabor, doctoral candidate in curriculum and instruction, researches the impact of geographic information systems on teaching climate change in middle and high school classes. 

Larsen and Tabor collaborated to develop a guerrilla geography project for their activity that encourages visitors to explore Sunset Zoo in unique ways.

Pradeep Malreddy, instructor in the anatomy and physiology department, teaches gross anatomy, microanatomy and neuroanatomy. His program activity showed how the same bone can look different in a variety of animals depending on the animal's lifestyle.

Rory O'Connor, doctoral candidate in biology, researches the mechanisms behind woody plant encroachment. His program activity used toy cows to showcase how livestock need open pastures and the reasons for prairie burning.

This spring, Sunset Zoo will begin recruitment for the 2017 class of Science Communication Fellows. Participants will be expected to complete professional development workshops over the summer 2016 and participate in public programs the following fall and winter.