February 1, 2005
The new National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), in Durham, North Carolina, has opened its doors—with a little help from AIBS. Established with a $15 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the center is a collaboration between Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. AIBS is providing education and outreach services to NESCent under a subcontract and is currently in the process of hiring a full-time education and outreach manager to be stationed at NESCent.
Building on the highly successful National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis model, at the University of California–Santa Barbara, NESCent will "serve the needs of the evolutionary biology community by providing mechanisms to foster synthetic, collaborative, cross-disciplinary studies. It will play a pivotal role in the further unification of the biological sciences as it draws together knowledge from disparate biological fields to increase our general understanding of biological design and function. Finally, the Center will play a critical role in organizing and synthesizing evolutionary knowledge that will be useful to policy makers, government agencies, educators and society" (from NSF's April 2003 program solicitation, at www.nsf.gov/pubs/2003/nsf03570/nsf03570.pdf).
Several AIBS staff members in Washington, DC, are working with NESCent, including Susan Musante, education and outreach manager; Oksana Hlodan, ActionBioscience.org editor; and Robert Gropp, senior public policy representative. The philosophy that they, together with NESCent scientists and the NESCent education and outreach manager to be hired by AIBS, will promote at the center sees education as scholarship in its own right, integral to the intellectual life of NESCent and its synthesizing mission.
Educators and education staff will be involved in as many of the center's research working groups as feasible. Education activities at NESCent will (a) facilitate the integration of evolution research at NESCent into the development of pedagogical resources, curricula, and learning materials for diverse audiences across the country; (b) provide the NESCent research community with insights from evolution educators on how people learn and process information about evolution, historical inference, and scientific reasoning; (c) engender consideration of the social implications of evolutionary studies at NESCent; and (d) bring together people with the right experience to produce a better, broader, deeper understanding of evolution and promote public awareness that such understanding is essential to human well-being.
The NESCent education and outreach manager will interact with NESCent scientists as research directions emerge; assist working groups in identifying individuals who can ensure that the broader implications of NESCent activities are considered during project planning; arrange for interest groups to meet with visiting scientists; and arrange public lectures, write materials, and identify opportunities for outreach that may not be obvious to those engaged in NESCent research. NESCent and AIBS will ensure that participants in the NESCent education working sessions and all related NESCent activities are a diverse group, including students, K–12 educators, and members of underrepresented minorities in the biological sciences.
Noteworthy among NESCent's planned education activities are its education working group sessions. The evolution-education community will be brought together at NESCent regularly to identify new directions and initiatives for education and outreach, build upon new science emerging from NESCent, engage NESCent scientists in evolution-education challenges and initiatives, and develop new grant collaborations. Formal commitments to participate in the working group sessions have been obtained from such organizations as the Understanding Evolution Web site project at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, the Explore Evolution project at the University of Nebraska State Museum, the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, the education division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, and the National Center for Science Education.
Also noteworthy is the Visiting NESCent Scientists Program. The AIBS Public Policy Office, with an established reputation for bridging the gap between scientists and policymakers, will bring NESCent scientists and educators to Washington, DC, or to other appropriate venues for a few days each year. AIBS staff will train NESCent personnel in effective communication with policymakers and the media, help identify public policy audiences that would benefit from learning about NESCent research and other activities, and help communicate NESCent's findings to the broader community. AIBS public policy staff will also stand ready to arrange visits to NESCent for congressional policymakers.
The AIBS journal, BioScience, and the AIBS bilingual (English and Spanish) education Web site, www.ActionBioscience.org, will publish some of the results of research and education activities conducted at NESCent.
For further information, see the NESCent Web site at www.nescent.org or contact Cliff Cunningham, NESCent director (e-mail: ), or Richard O'Grady, AIBS executive director (e-mail: ).