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National partners travel to Galway for first Cell EXPLORERS Network meeting

Science communication and educational outreach in Ireland took a giant leap forward last week, with the inaugural meeting of the Cell EXPLORERS Network.

IMAGE 1: Representatives from all national teams gather to celebrate the establishment of the Cell EXPLORERS Network. Right – Left: Dr Mary Carr LYIT, Dr Kellie Dean UCC, Samantha Prior UL, Dr Shane McGuinness NUI Galway, Karen McGibney NVRL-UCD, Dr Caroline Gilleran DkIT, Maya Frost AIT, Dr Guiomar Garvia Cabellos IT Carlow, Dr Sinead Miggins MU, Ben Nolan NUI Galway representing ITT. (Photo: Aengus McMahon Photography)

Delegates from across Ireland travelled to NUI Galway on Thursday 17th May to consolidate the recent expansion of the project, from 5 partner institutions, to a current total of 10 HEIs nationally. The Cell EXPLORERS project now covers 12 counties, including 9 of those previously identified as having poor exposure to STEM-related activities. The first year of activity for the Network has resulted in the direct engagement of 6,700 young people and their families by over 250 (and growing) volunteer scientists who continue to give their time, passion and knowledge to inspiring the next generation of scientific explorers. And it’s needed, as recent research by Cell EXPLORERS found that 40% of the students engaged with this year had never met a scientist. Indeed, 95% of students visited found meeting a Cell EXPLORERS role model a positive experience.

Dr. Muriel Grenon, Founding Director of Cell EXPLORERS said:

It is so important to engage our young people in STEM from an early age to break the stereotypes around science and scientists. It was great to meet with all the coordinators to discuss the impact that we see in the classroom and plan for the future of our community of practice.

At the Network meeting, team coordinators from Letterkenny to Cork and Limerick to Dublin met for the first time to exchange and reflect on running activities with a team of volunteers based in HEIs. They also became primary school children for

the day, as academics, students and professionals alike tried their hand at novel outreach resources, like extracting banana DNA, inventing a plant to survive on the freezing temperatures of Europa (a moon of Jupiter!) or making their own artificial blood.

The main goal of the day, however, was to share the vast experience that the team of dedicated partner teams from across the country have gained over the last 6 years of the project and ensure that the Cell EXPLORERS Network continues to grow. This all paves the way for a new 'community of practice' in science education, spearheaded by Cell EXPLORERS.

Cathy Foley, Senior Executive at Science Foundation Ireland declared:

“This project is a strong example of public engagement at work and the well-developed model could be used in many other settings across a myriad of subject areas. The programme will inform best practice for the involvement of HEIs in public engagement in science: this Network meeting is a first step in achieving that.”

And according to Prof. Ciaran Morrison, Head of School of Natural Sciences:

“the programme is unique, and has involved 850 team members to reach more than 21,000 members of the Irish public since 2012. It is a unique collaborative approach between 10 higher education institutions that has an impact both on the young people reached but also on our students and researchers. Dr Grenon has also started to develop education research to inform the future development of the programme. The overall impact of Cell EXPLORERS has in fact won her a Societal Impact Award from NUI Galway in 2017.”

All teams will be active again in schools across the country in September 2018, bringing lab-based science to a primary school near you. For the moment though, it's time to restock the lab and prepare for a busy year ahead.

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