Multiverse Blog

Nancy Ali
/ Categories: In-Focus, Helio Forum

Reflections on Community & Relationship-Building in NASA's SMD EPO Community

[This is one of a series of posts about our six-year involvement leading the NASA Heliophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum. ]

Only three weeks into my new job at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab, I was invited to attend the NASA Science Mission Directorate Education/Public Outreach (SMD EPO) Forum retreat. This gathering, which was held in Colorado in conjunction with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific conference in 2010, brought together top heliophysics scientists and educators from around the United States.

As it turned out, this retreat not only initiated me into the heliophysics community, it also set the stage for my work collaborating with NASA scientists and educators for the next five years. The community of practice that was forged at this retreat provided the basis for learning about heliophysics content, getting connected into the latest NASA mission news and events, and sharing of ideas, best practices and research regarding educating students, teachers and the public about the wonders of NASA heliophysics science.

To me, the most impactful aspect of the SMD EPO Heliophysics Forum work was the opportunity to connect with colleagues. This included in-person meetings such as the retreats and MOOs (Meetings of Opportunity) which were held at conferences that community members were attending, as well as virtual meetings such as the monthly tag-ups using videoconferencing. The SMD EPO Workspace supported these connections by making project and peoples’ profiles and contact info accessible to fellow community members. As someone who was new to the community, these Forum initiatives facilitated the means for me to build relationships, which in turn allowed me to better serve the NASA audiences.

Conversations with Forum community scientists and educators about the need for increased diversity in the heliophysics field led to me to develop the Five Stars Pathway project which connects middle school girls to female college students and scientists who role model the pathway of becoming a solar scientist. As the Cross-Forum Diversity Lead, I collaborated with Forum community members to provide professional development on topics related to meeting the needs of underserved and underrepresented audiences. These relationship-based initiatives form the basis of supportive networks which engage and sustain underrepresented minorities as they pursue studies and a career in science.

The Heliophysics Forum networks also formed the basis of the Heliophysics Community of Practice for formal educators. As the EPO Lead of the THEMIS mission, I inherited a project in which middle and high school teachers used magnetometer data with their students. These teachers wanted to learn about the latest heliophysics science discoveries and to connect with other teachers to share strategies for bringing heliophysics content into their classrooms. The Heliophysics SMD EPO Forum allowed me to get to know the EPO Leads for other heliophysics missions, such as Van Allen Probes and IBEX. Through our shared connections to teachers and scientists, we created a new community of practice for teachers. Not only did the Forum networks enable me to better support these teachers, it also helped me place the overall THEMIS mission EPO work within the larger context of NASA Heliophysics science.

As my work on the Heliophysics Forum comes to a close, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the development of strong network of heliophysics scientists and educators. Being a part of the Forum has changed the way I work. Rather than approaching my work with an independent, task-oriented perspective, I now see how relationship-building is a powerful and effective way of getting work done. I will carry the legacy of the NASA SMD EPO Forum with me wherever I go as a model for working within a community of practice to maximize success on collaborative projects.

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