COSEE-West at AAAS 2010 Annual Meeting

At any large conference, there is a good chance that at least some of the presentations will be deadly dull. And if those presentations happen to be on policy, things can go one of two ways: 1) the audience can be lulled into a semi-comatose state by charts and statistics, or 2) they can be enlightened and entertained by the battles, compromises and unexpected outcomes that inevitably result when humans must work together. But what happens when a presentation involves policy, politicians, scientists, teachers, and students? COSEE-West found out when we hosted our symposium Building Bridges Between Ocean Scientists, Educators, and Students at the AAAS 2010 Annual Meeting on February 19, 2010.

The theme of this year’s AAAS meeting was Bridging Science and Society, and since that is also part of COSEE’s mission, this meeting was a perfect venue to showcase what COSEE-West has done in furthering those goals. Our session consisted of three speakers discussing their role in COSEE-West’s efforts on getting the word out about California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. First to speak was Dr. Christopher Lowe (California State University, Long Beach) describing his experience working with educators at one of our COSEE-West Saturday workshops that focused on his research on fish movements in and around a marine protected area. Second, Jane Lee (COSEE-West) spoke about the three different ways in which COSEE-West used Dr. Lowe’s lecture in our education efforts. And last but not least, teacher Amy Hill (Chadwick School) spoke about how her high school students became involved as advocates for their local coastline (and research site) with the MLPA initiative.

Our audience was about 60 percent educators and 40 percent scientists (based on an informal show of hands), with a reporter from Nature and the head science writer from the University of Southern California also in attendance. The questions centered either on how teachers could get their hands on a scientist, their data and/or more content knowledge, or on how scientists could formulate their messages to connect with a broader audience. Contact information changed hands, websites were scribbled down, and hopefully a couple more educators and scientists were added to the community that COSEE-West and the COSEE network has built.

Throughout the symposium the feeling in the room was showed real interest and encouragement. People want to know what the other side is doing. Educators are hungry for new knowledge and experiences to bring to their students, while scientists are realizing that they can use their ideas and projects for more than just publications and knowledge for knowledge sake. Just when I think that, surely, now we are making a dent in bridging that gap between science and society, I find someone looking for a way across to the other side (or at least to meet someone in the middle). No matter how many times I help conduct a workshop or lecture, attend conferences or work with a scientist on a presentation, I keep seeing a need for what COSEE-West and the COSEE network does every day.

Contributed by Jane Lee