Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Session

Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Session: Engaging underrepresented groups in online science media

Sunday, January 17 – 9:00-10:05am

B. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Session: Engaging underrepresented groups in online science media – David Kroll and Damond Nollan

Description: The conference timing may keep some attendees away in their hometowns participating in local MLK activities. Therefore, we are introducing a session to promote the principles of Dr King in the context of online science communication: promoting social justice and eliminating racism in areas ranging from healthcare to scientific career paths. We plan to take a different angle from the blogging about gender/race session: how do we cultivate emerging science writers from underrepresented groups to promote science, for example, in areas of health disparities (i.e., diabetes, substance abuse, prostate cancer) and in providing opportunities to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Locally in Durham, North Carolina, efforts are underway through the non-profit Kramden Institute to start by making newly-refurbished computers available to honors students in underserved school districts as a model for what can be done nationally. Any advice, comments or ideas are welcome from attendees, especially if you engage with underrepresented groups in your respective line of online or offline work.

Discuss: We’ve put up an updated brainstorming post on the three major questions we hope to discuss as well as some background about Dr. King’s connection to Durham/RTP and the role of Durham in the civil rights movement.

Why would underrepresented individuals want to get involved with science blogging and social media in the first place?

My feeling is that this is a two-way street. First, I see many students and postdocs benefiting from the advice and community of professionals outside their home institutions via online interactions. Particularly in blogging and blog comments, the playing field seems more even and the advice given to trainees by more established scientists is not influenced by institutional self-interests or other constraints as might occur in seeking advice in one’s own department. I see many benefit to science blogging and Twitter interactions that serve the student. Those from underrepresented groups who are not currently engaged in this community can benefit greatly from these interactions.

On the flipside, trainees from underrepresented groups might serve as examples and role models to others. DNLee’s Urban Science Adventures is a perfect example. This outstanding graduate student took it upon herself to volunteer at last year’s conference together with acmegirl to then present a session and launch the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival. Peruse her archives and you will see that DNLee is a tireless promoter of activities, scholarships, and training opportunities for underrepresented groups.

How could we make it easier to introduce young underrepresented individuals in to science blogging?

I recently had an exchange about this issue with Dr. Marybeth Gasman from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gasman is a nationally-leading expert on African American higher education and has led project on the role of HBCUs in increasing the representation of black women in the STEM fields. She is currently PI of an NIH MORE grant to prepare postdoctoral fellows for education careers at minority-serving institutions. Dr. Gasman’s view is that students will write about science on blogs but they need leadership to direct them toward the platforms to do so.


Blogging 101
sessions like those run locally by Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker are great. These sessions are run at ScienceOnline and at local libraries where attendees launch a blog in roughly an hour. The question is how to get these sessions to science students in underrepresented demographics.

One way this has been done at NCCU is in their Office of Orientation & First-Year Experience. While not science-based, the associate director of the program encouraged a small group of freshman to draft blogs to document their first year at the university and aggregated them on the program website. A follow-up workshop by social media maven Ginny Skalski served to reinforce the blogging skills the students initially learned. While only a few students have stuck with it, a university-based portal to overcome the energy of activation is one enabling step.

That leads us to the next consideration:

How could we do this in the context of a university learning environment?

This is one of the primary reasons that I wanted to have Damond Nollan be part of this discussion. Damond is not a scientist but he is the leader of Web services at an HBCU who is also active in local social media. Following a brainstorming meeting we had prior to the holidays with a couple of other folks across campus, Damond has put together a university social media interest group under the umbrella of the widely-known Social Media Club movement. In fact, Damond learned with there is a “edu” component of this initiative.

Damond and I are fortunate to be at a HBCU with a growing population of other first-generation college students from Hispanic and Native American backgrounds. Our goal is to have brown-bag meetings across campus to pull people out of the woodwork, and bring some students with them, who might be interested in joining the online dialogue. A leader from our Center for University Teaching and Learning is another early adopter (although he still doesn’t see the value of Twitter) and is helping our professors incorporate blogs and Twitter into the classroom to improve networking and writtern communication skills.

This part of our session might overlap with that of Casting A Wider Net but I’ve found that these conferences seem to do well by having two related sessions on two different days to foster discussion, further brainstorming, and action.