Establishing a learning network to connect museums, scientists and rural communities to discuss scientific information to inform transdisciplinary problem-solving.

July 15th, 2019 - June 30th, 2023 | PROJECT

This collaborative project will facilitate rural community education on climate impacts. The Carnegie Natural History Museum and the University of Pittsburgh will work together to form a network of interested community members in Mercer County and Powdermill Nature Reserve in western Pennsylvania to explore the impacts of climate and how its effect could be mitigated or accommodated. The project is has three related ideas: (1) museums hold valuable resources for understanding environmental change, (2) museums are not serving rural audiences well, and (3) complex socio-scientific environmental topics are deeply connected to social decision making in rural communities. This project will bring an inclusive approach to the discussion of socio-scientific issues in rural Western PA, through building relationships between local public audiences, STEM professionals, and informal learning specialists, creating opportunities for co-development of resources and building organizational capacity. The overarching goals of the project are to explore how museums can better serve rural stakeholders and increase the capacity for science-based conversations about human-caused climate impacts.

This project involves a cross-disciplinary team with Carnegie Museum of Natural History providing expertise in interpretation and ecological science, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out of School Environments (UPCLOSE) providing expertise in learning research, and rural Hubs centered at Powdermill Nature Reserve (PNR) and the Mercer County Conservation District providing expertise in environmental education, conservation, and engagement with rural communities. The Hubs will coordinate professional development workshops, collaborative design sessions, and community gatherings to bring local stakeholders together to examine and adapt existing resources, including environmental science data and climate education tools, to local issues. These activities will be structured through a Research Practice Partnership. Each will have its own unique mix of geography, demographics, resources, and challenges.

The Research questions are: 1. How can the project effectively support the creation of socially safe spaces for rural Western PA communities to have science-based discussions around climate impacts? 2. How does work with rural partners influence the development of the museum's Center for Climate Studies and its mission to offer programs designed to support public engagement?

3. In what ways have museums been able to support learning about climate topics in rural communities? Data will be gathered from interviews and case studies. There will be two longitudinal studies of local network change and museum change. A survey will also be done to assess the impact of the project on the public. Protocols will be developed in collaboration with the Hubs.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Lauren Giarratani, Principal Investigator, Carnegie Institute
Nicole Heller, Co-Principal Investigator
Kevin Crowley, Principal Investigator, University of Pittsburgh


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1906774
Funding Amount: $804,993

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1906368
Funding Amount: $400,212


Access and Inclusion: Rural
Audience: General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Community Outreach Programs | Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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