Written By: Carrie Pinkard, Science Journalism Intern for USFCMS
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Twinkling lights came on at the patio of Chief’s Creole Café. The sun was setting while waiters ran around with bowls of spicy jambalaya. USF College of Marine Science graduate students Carey Schafer and Makenzie Burrows stood at the entrance welcoming guests as they arrived. It was the third night of the “Taste of Science” festival and people were arriving hungry for more than just dinner.
“Taste of Science” is a festival that takes place in cities around the country. Its mission is to give the community a sampling of science at locales they already frequent. In St. Pete, events took place at Cage Brewing, Gypsy Souls Coffee House, and Gandy Beach.
The festival is run entirely by volunteers who believe in the importance of scientists outreaching to the community. USF College of Marine Science was represented by both speakers and volunteers who helped coordinate the event.
Makenzie Burrows is one USF College of Marine Science student who is passionate about outreach. In addition to the taste of science festival, she does outreach at the Saturday Morning Market, teaches elementary schoolers about the Florida watershed, and volunteers with the Oceanography Camp for Girls.
“As a scientist, I know how hard it can be to explain your research to a broad audience,” Burrows said. “I believe it is just as important to share your research as it is to do it in the first place. The more we speak about our research, the more the community learns and engages with us, getting a better understanding of what a scientist does on a daily basis.”
USF College of Marine Science student Carey Schafer wanted to get involved with the festival because she thinks adults are often overlooked when it comes to scientific outreach.
“A lot of attention is paid to increasing scientific literacy among K-12 populations. However, fewer resources are focused on adult populations,” Schafer said. “Yet, these are the people who are voting, the people who have the ability to change who is in office and shape the future policies for better or for worse.”
Ben Prueitt, another volunteer, played a major role in bringing taste of science to the St Pete side of the Bay. Prueitt works as a program manager for the oil spill research group at the College of Marine Science. 2019 was the first year the festival extended beyond Hillsborough County. Pruiett and the other volunteers were able to work with the College of Marine Science, the St. Pete Innovation District, and OPEN Network in order to find speakers for the event.
“I started hearing of other U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, and Houston hosting science communication events to bring science out into the open,” Prueitt said. “I thought that St. Pete and Pinellas County have just as much to offer as these other cities, and felt I could provide local scientists with opportunities to connect with their neighbors and new audiences sharing the excitement of their research.”
In addition to the student volunteers helping to organize the festival, The College of Marine Science was represented by students and staff speaking at the event.
Dr. Patrick Schwing shared his research on oil spills and what it might mean for Tampa Bay if one were to happen in the Gulf again. Dr. Karyna Rosario spoke about viruses – how they’re found pretty much everywhere and the process of identifying news ones. Graduate student Ryan Venturelli shared her experience researching subglacial lake sediment in Antarctica for six weeks. Finally, graduate student Cara Estes discussed satellites and her background growing up with two NASA employees as parents.
The festival was a chance for these scientists to explain their research to an audience of community members. Meanwhile, audience members got the rare chance to ask questions of these incredible scientists.
“Taste of Science is different than other outreach events hosted by CMS because it brings the scientists out of their labs and away from their computers and into informal spaces like restaurants, breweries, and parks to share their research and what it means to our Sunshine City,” Prueitt said.
Under the twinkling lights of Chiefs Creole Café, hands from the audience flew up to ask follow-up questions to the scientists’ presentations. Long after the checks were paid and the dishes cleared, people lingered to discuss what they learned. The positive effect of serving science to the community was evident.
Attendees would be digesting their “taste of science” for weeks to come.