21 January 2015

AAS Astronomy Ambassadors: Outreach from Coast to Coast

By Richard Fienberg

AAS Press Officer

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5447","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"112","style":"float: right;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"307"}}]]More than 100 young AAS members (116 to be exact) have fanned out across the country to engage students, teachers, families, and the general public in the excitement of modern astronomy. These are our AAS Astronomy Ambassadors, graduates of intensive workshops held at the last three winter AAS meetings and last year’s meeting of the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences.

The AAS Astronomy Ambassadors program was conceived by then-President Debra M. Elmegreen. At its core is a series of professional-development workshops and a community of practice designed to help improve early-career astronomers’ ability to effectively communicate with students and the public. We asked our colleagues at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) to develop and run the workshops and to set up and moderate the online community. The principal trainers have been Suzy Gurton and Anna Hurst Schmitt (ASP), Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College), and Dennis Schatz (Pacific Science Center).

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The workshop offers tips for finding existing programs and materials for astronomy outreach and helps participants learn how to identify specific opportunities in their own communities. Workshop sessions also assist young scientists in gaining a better understanding of how people learn and what makes outreach to nonscientists effective. Participants are provided with a large library of outreach activities and materials suitable for a range of venues and audiences. We call it the MOOSE, or Menu of Outreach Opportunities for Science Education.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5448","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"209","style":"float: right;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"307"}}]]Using infrastructure already developed for the ASP’s Astronomy from the Ground Up (AFGU) program, we’ve built a forum dedicated to tools for, and communication among, AAS Astronomy Ambassadors. Participants are part of an online community that regularly exchanges ideas, resources, and experiences, not only with each other but also with their workshop trainers, both individually and in groups.

In the two years since the first workshop, our Ambassadors have logged hundreds of outreach events at schools, summer camps, community centers, science museums, planetariums, nature centers, national and regional parks, fairs and festivals, science-institution open houses, and other venues. They have reached tens of thousands of people, ranging from preschoolers to senior citizens. It is clear from talking with the Ambassadors and reviewing their event logs that their activities are having a positive impact not only on their audiences, but also on themselves.

The next AAS Astronomy Ambassadors workshop will be held at the 227th AAS meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, 3-4 January 2016. For more information, see the workshop description and onilne application (deadline: 19 October 2015).