Who Is A Scientist

Written by: Gillianne Ross ’22

Even in these unordinary times people continue to innovate ways to enhance our future and positively impact the lives of those both near and far. The Emergent Media Center (EMC) recently conducted a brainstorming session in collaboration with UVM professor Dr. Leon Wells to uncover the potential of creating a tool that would measure implicit bias as it relates to the identification of scientists. While traditionally held in person over one afternoon, this brainstorming session, facilitated by Jen Adrian, was conducted over Google Meet and Docs and enabled recruited Champlain students, faculty, and EMC staff to still participate and collaborate. Each brainstorming session is created with a mix of programs of study, years, and faculty members to round out perspectives and gain diverse insights on the subject at hand.

Leon Wells, a PhD scientist who has been studying children’s perceptions of science for the past few years, sought out the EMC to create a digital tool that would gather data quickly and efficiently. Understanding how children think about science is a key part of adapting lessons and getting a picture of the educational divides between different age and demographic groups. Dr. Wells discovered that no studies have been conducted with a sole focus on how Black and Latinx children from lower-income areas think about what science is/can be and who can be a scientist. The tool Dr. Wells seeks to create will help gather data from this population while including various activities to engage the children, and do so in a time-efficient manner to be utilized on a larger scale.

The brainstorming team listened to a brief informative overview of the concept and background, told by Dr. Wells about what he hoped to incorporate into the tool, and what his needs are for the returns. After listening to the past techniques used in similar data collection studies, the group offered insights that they learned during the information section. The floor was then opened up to any questions participants had. The group was eager to share their perspectives and clarify areas of Dr. Wells’ research. After this initial discussion was conducted, the group parted for the day to allow time to consider the information and the ways in which a tool could be devised.

On the second day, the team reconvened to have a brief check-in before breaking off into two different groups to discuss possible ideas for the tool. The expectation was quantity over quality in order to provide Dr. Wells with a wide range of options that he could decide to move forward with. Groups met for roughly forty-five minutes and built off of each other’s ideas. Brenna Anderson, a rising senior, noted that the experience was positive. “The people participating in the meeting brought up really amazing ideas, and were able to spark off each other very effortlessly,” Brenna noted. Some of the resulting concepts included an interactive browser-based game for the kids to select objects that remind them of science, a mad-lib styled language-based activity for children to build a scenario in which a scientist may find themself in—therefore enabling Dr. Wells to see which stereotypes have made the largest impacts of the children. 

At the end of the second day’s session, the team had come up with over seven concepts for the data collection tool, ranging from language-based activities and virtual games to paper and pencil drawings and audiovisual recordings of the children describing scenarios. The next steps will include Dr. Wells and EMC staff reviewing the ideas generated in the brainstorming session, and seeing what next steps may happen to create this tool to help provide better science education to children of all backgrounds.