Author: Jessica B. Turner-Skoff – The Morton Arboretum, USA


  • Carissa Dougherty – The Morton Arboretum, United States
  • Meghan Wiesbrock – The Morton Arboretum, United States

The fields of plant science and horticulture are vital for a myriad of global issues, including food security, conservation of biodiversity, and human health. However, plant blindness, or the idea that people do not appreciate or understand the importance of plants, poses a real challenge in attracting the next generation of plant scientists and professionals. If efforts are not made to engage and communicate with this important audience, we will not have the skilled workforce able to solve these problems. Interdepartmental teams at The Morton Arboretum are transforming how they engage with this audience by using new technologies and storytelling techniques to share the importance, viability, and accessibility of plant careers. Using information derived from a focus group, the Arboretum developed Planted: Finding Your Roots in STEM Careers podcast. This podcast provides an authentic experience with STEM professionals and showcases the opportunities associated with the field. To make this podcast relevant for schools, there are lesson plans that complement each episode; teachers can engage students with the audio content through activities and visuals. In addition to the podcast, the Arboretum created a series of online graphic novels called Canopy Career Chronicles. Teenagers take an online quiz to determine their interests and the interactive platform connects them to graphic novels that highlight the career journeys of diverse plant science professionals. Each of these resources allows the unique personalities of real-life professionals to shine through, creating deeper, more meaningful connections to students. Learn about these two unique resources, the opportunities and challenges of using new media platforms, the process of collaborating with a diverse team of experts, and how to use evaluation methods to improve outcomes. Technology and collaboration are important tools for informal learning centers to use to connect and transform the targeted audiences’ knowledge and perception of science.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time

Author: Jessica B. Turner-Skoff – The Morton Arboretum, United States

Krisztina Eleki – Chicago Council on Science and Technology
Alexandra Prokuda – Chicago Council on Science and Technology

The Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST) is a not-for-profit organization that strives to increase the scientific literacy of Chicago’s citizens through live storytelling and interactions with the public. Unlike most informal science education (ISE) organizations, such as museums, zoos and arboreta, C2ST relies on local partners for venue locations. According to The National Academy of Sciences, connecting with and engaging a diverse audience is one of the five goals of science communication. However, a historic challenge for ISE outreach is engaging diverse populations. C2ST works towards inclusivity with their programming and storytelling for the approximate 10 million residents of the Chicagoland area.

Previous to July 2015, C2ST hosted a majority of its programming at a university in downtown Chicago. In late 2015, C2ST started varying the locations of their programming throughout the Chicago Metropolitan area. This shift in location presented a unique opportunity to study the effects of venue variation on audience composition. Using data from post-surveys from C2ST’s attendees, we evaluated measures of diversity, defined as age, ethnicity, and education level, prior to July 2015 (pre-shift) and post July 2015 (post-shift). Venue location was classified as the zip code of the venue.

The distributions of all three diversity measures were significantly different between C2ST’s pre-shift attendees and post-shift attendees (p < 0.05). A generalized linear regression demonstrated that the ethnicity of C2ST’s attendees varied significantly with the location of the venues, suggesting that venue variation increased the ethnic diversity of the audience. ISEs are important tools for increasing the scientific literacy of society and can be improved by using evidence-based methods. Together these results show that shifting the location of ISE outreach may be a valuable strategy for reaching traditionally underrepresented communities in urban centers. We outline a strategy that other ISEs can implement to increase audience reach. The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices

Author: Jessica B. Turner-Skoff – The Morton Arboretum, United States

Nicole Cavender – The Morton Arboretum
Patricia MacMillan – The Morton Arboretum
Kelley Regan – The Morton Arboretum

Organizations focused on life science are often challenged with sharing scientific discoveries and milestones with the broader public. The Morton Arboretum is a botanical garden with a strong interest in connecting its scientific expertise and research to its visitor base (>1 million per year) and to an external audience through diverse channels. This organization is developing a solution to overcome this challenge.

With the goal to communicate more impactful stories about its science and conservation work, an institutional strategic initiative was launched in 2017, starting with the establishment of a cross-departmental science communication team. Roles and responsibilities were clearly defined, followed by the identification and analysis of priority audiences and the appropriate media channels to reach them: 1) Scientists and Peers; 2) Curious or Affinitive; and the 3) General Public. Next, a systematic process was put in place to objectively evaluate research discoveries, such as those published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and stories that align with both the Arboretum’s messaging priorities and the media’s interest. This process included a method to translate the raw science into language appropriate for the targeted audience.

This process, although early in its development, has already increased in reach and impact. For example, messages developed around research and conservation work with oaks and other endangered trees has reached all three targeted audiences. Metrics comparing the first nine months of 2017 to 2016 indicate a successful trend. For this time frame, there has been a 104% increase in media references to The Morton Arboretum’s expertise.

The science communication team is continuously refining how the science work can be translated for the general public. There are challenges that remain including interpretation, matching media’s interest, and the limited capacity of staff. A broader professional discussion could address these challenges as we work to bring the stories of science to society.

Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice