Iluminando el Futuro: Sharing Ambassadors’ Experiences
My name is Karen Reyes, for about 10 years I have been carrying out outreach activities. This has helped me to develop different skills such as public speaking, improvisation, capturing the attention of the attendees, and transferring knowledge. Outreach has undoubtedly had an impact on my professional life since it has never been difficult for me to teach a class related to my field of work.
Despite all the knowledge I already had, I felt that my activities were missing something. So, I decided to join the project “Iluminando el futuro” where one of the main goals is to prepare people to do quality dissemination.
During the training workshop, I met people with the same experience as me, but there were also those with more and less outreach knowledge, so the brainstorming or question and answer sessions were enriching. If you are a person with experience in outreach but you have never had to plan an activity from scratch, then this workshop is ideal for you, just as it was for me.
One of the remarkable things about the training is that it is aimed at people from Latin America, so much of the material is in Spanish and it also considers important factors such as span of attention, environments, material availability and spaces, among other things. All of these are extremely important because when searching for references from successful instructors, it is difficult to find content in Spanish. Fortunately, this is changing over time and “Iluminando el futuro” is a great platform to speed up this process.
After finishing my training, I realized that there were many things that I did, but I never reflected on them in the right way to communicate them to the rest of the team. For example, I used to organize an activity in my mind, but when something did not go well, my colleagues were not aware of what was happening and therefore could not help me to solve the problem. A recurring practice for me was to carry enough material for different activities so I could change activities in case the spaces were not appropriate. However, I realized that with the correct organization this should not happen, if I am able to fill out a template containing the description of an activity and the necessary resources, proper execution is guaranteed. I also learned that is better to ask before the activity than to improvise on the spot. With this, I do not mean that improvisation should be left aside since this will always be involved depending on the nature of the working group.
Perhaps the most shocking thing that I realized after the training is that young Mexicans performing outreach tasks rarely bother to do an impact assessment of the activities. We arrive at a place, we trust that we are doing it well, finish and leave. It is not always possible for the public to internalize the ideas that we want to convey, this is why the workshop emphasizes on generating evaluators that allow us to know if the activity is going well and if it provides a good final result. An evaluation does not necessarily have to be some kind of written exam; brainstorming sessions at the beginning and at the end of the activity, for instance, can provide a means to show that the attendees are managing the concepts that were meant to be covered during the exercise.
In the last part of the training, several lessons are received on how to carry out a good online outreach activity. Various resources to interact with the participants and maintain their attention were shown. We also covered a topic that we regularly sacrifice in Latin America when doing outreach: our well-being. Outreach activities in Latin America regularly require a lot of love for science; we rarely receive anything in return, we do it simply to bring knowledge to the places where we are received. Sometimes this takes us to places with difficult working conditions, perhaps under the sun, without food, or even without water; although this is not directly discussed, this part of the training touches on points related to how important breaks are for the participants, and even more so for the instructor. If we ensure our well-being, we are more likely to achieve a successful activity.
During the training, I wrote a proposal for an outreach activity in a school that had students who had experienced different situations that could not be called normal for young people their age. Drugs, abandonment, abuse, and family violence, among others. The director of the school had been working to reintegrate these children into the educational system and it seemed like a good idea to show the children that education can change their lives if they put their minds to it. We understand that for some of them it will be more difficult, but it is better to try than do nothing about it.
“Iluminando el Futuro” sponsored me to buy materials related to optics; in my particular case, polarizers, different light sources, diffraction gratings and simple samples that would allow me to explain some concepts such as birefringence and refractive index. The activity was a success, children participated and learned while having fun with different experiments. This was the first time that I did surveys to collect information on how much the children had learned, there were concepts that were very clear to the students, but some others were only internalized by a few of them. Everyone got the question right on the color of sunlight; however, only 80% of the students were able to describe what a polarizer does. This evaluation gives us enough tools to improve the explanation on the polarizing part of the activity. It also serves to ask ourselves if this is the average number of people who will learn that term in future meetings; if so, we could set the success indicator at that percentage.
Undoubtedly, the “Iluminando el futuro” workshop taught me that with the correct organization, there are many problems that can be avoided. This leads to a much more fluid activity that allows us to pay attention to other factors that had not been previously considered. Being part of this initiative has impacted my life beyond academy; it has taught me to be empathetic and to recognize that not all of us have the same possibilities, and this has an impact on the way we learn and therefore must certainly be taken into account when planning an outreach activity.