White House Champions Of Change Highlights Citizen Science Projects

July 18th, 2013

As part of the Champions of Change event and award series, the White House honored 12 individuals who lead citizen science projects around the country. Amateur participation in science research has a long history — according to the White House blog post announcing the call for nominations, Many of our country’s most prominent scientists got their first taste of science by participating in citizen-science programs and even today — despite the ascendance of a professional scientific corps — society has much to gain by including non-experts in the scientific enterprise. In recent decades, citizen science programs have become an important and increasingly recognized part of the informal science education (ISE) landscape. In 2009, a CAISE Inquiry Group report on Public Participation in Scientific Research, or PPSR, posited that the model of engaging the public in scientific research through citizen science programs (along with similarly structured programs, including volunteer monitoring and participatory action research) allows public participants to both learn about science content and processes as well as experience the “fun and excitement of research.” The paper also describes the range and models of citizen science programs across the ISE landscape, describes the educational impacts of PPSR projects, and makes recommendations for future activities that will enhance PPSR as a part of the ISE field. A related paper, Public Participation in Scientific Research: a Framework for Deliberate Design, has since been published by the Ecological Society of America, bringing the idea of PPSR to a wider audience of STEM-based professionals. The PPSR framework has origins in the Public Understanding of Science (PUS) model that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s. PUS sought to explain science concepts to the public in accessible and understandable ways. PPSR takes the idea of understanding science concepts deeper by engaging learners in science research. The current Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program (formerly ISE program) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) is a direct descendent of the NSF’s PUS program, first created in 1958. Four NSF-funded projects, three of them funded through the AISL program, were honored at the White House Champions of Change event in June:

  • Julia Parrish, PI of COASST: The COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) program engages 600 trained non-scientists in collecting data on beached birds found on more than 300 beaches from the north coast of California to Alaska. According to the NSF, COASST currently has about 850 volunteers engaged in the program. Read more about the project from the White House blog.
  • Karen Oberhauser, PI of the Monarch Butterfly Larval Monitoring project: This citizen science project has engaged more than 1,000 project volunteers to collect data on monarch butterflies from Mexico to Canada. The NSF has also funded the development of educational mini-exhibits and regional training for naturalists around the country. Read more about the project from the White House blog.
  • Sandra Henderson, PI of Project BudBurst: More than 13,000 volunteers across the United States participate in Project BudBurst by collecting data on the leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants. These data are helping scientists understand plant responses to climate change. Last year, Dr. Henderson also appeared in an NSF webcast about how citizen science can address societal problems. Read more about the project from the White House blog.
  • Lee Ann Rodriguez of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico: The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico is training Hispanic residents in Puerto Rico to lead citizen groups that study the impact of rapid urbanization on the biodiversity and cultural resources of the Manati River watershed. The data collected will support future watershed monitoring and land-use decision-making in Puerto Rico. The program also exposes volunteers — who range from teenagers to retirees — to science content that they may not otherwise have had access to.

To read about all 12 of the White House Champions of Change honored in June, visit the White House Champions of Change web site. Looking for more information about citizen science? Are you interested in sharing citizen science related materials using informalscience.org?