Fermilab Office of Education and Public Engagement gets a new name and a new strategic plan

In July, Fermilab Office of Education and Public Engagement Head Rebecca Thompson presented “The Scully Effect” as part of the Fermilab Arts & Lecture Series’ virtual offerings. Image courtesy of Georgia Schwender, Fermilab

The Fermilab Office of Education and Public Engagement, or EPE, advances the Fermilab mission by engaging the community in Fermilab science and inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals. To best achieve this goal, the EPE Office has gone through a strategic planning process to guide us in the coming years. As head of the office, I wanted to update the whole lab community on our new direction. The EPE Office will continue to update the community monthly on News at Work to make sure everyone knows about the great work of the EPE Office and the numerous staff members who contribute to education and public engagement..

Over the past year we have gone through an extensive strategic planning process that included participants from across the Fermilab community. The process was guided by a strategic planning steering committee and task forces that explored specific areas of EPE. To ensure that equity, diversity and inclusion were at the forefront, Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sandra Charles served on the steering committee. A plan such as this needs guiding principles, tangible actions and a process for evaluating success to be effective. All three elements are included in the new strategic EPE plan.

The plan identifies a number of new initiatives that are underway. The most immediate and obvious is our name change from Education and Public Outreach to Education and Public Engagement. While it is only a difference of one word, it better represents the goals of our office. We seek to engage with all of the communities we serve, creating a two-way conversation with our diverse audiences.

Equity, diversity and inclusion are integral to Fermilab’s education and outreach efforts. We have expanded our reach in Chicago Public Schools through our Saturday Morning Physics program, increasing CPS student attendance fivefold thanks to the program’s current virtual format and through additional changes. We are also planning build on this success once in-person instruction resumes, such as through a hybrid virtual-live model, by holding talks in different locations to bring Fermilab into our surrounding communities, and by once again welcoming people to the laboratory site. In addition, the EPE and EDI offices are working together to participate in the ACT-SO mentorship program run by DuPage County’s NAACP chapter. We are also working with district coordinators in West Chicago to develop a tailored virtual summer professional-development program for their teachers. We are focusing on accessibility as well, including in the modernization of the EPE website and for future lab tours.

There are some other changes you should see in the very near future. The Teacher Resource Center in the Lederman Science Center is being remade into a maker space. The TRC has served the community well for many years, but with the advent of online curriculum resources, we have the opportunity to give the space a new purpose. We will be asking you soon for all your bottle corks and old resistors to start stocking up on materials for the newly repurposed space! In addition, we are planning a substantial upgrade of our website, to launch next year.

“How to Record a Ghost: Getting Data Out of Particle Physics Detectors” by Fermilab scientist Wes Ketchum is available on the Fermilab YouTube channel.

Nothing can ever replace the incredible experience of visiting Fermilab, but we now have developed an excellent virtual Fermilab experience. We have adapted our Arts and Lecture Series and our Art Gallery talks for Zoom. You can watch past events on the Fermilab YouTube channel. They include scientist Jennifer Raaf’s talk “Particle Physics Just Might Save Your Life: Practical Medical Applications Enabled by Fundamental Scientific Research by Fermilab Employees”, the Art Gallery talk by photographer Perry Slade, and scientist Wes Ketchum’s talk “How to Record a Ghost: Getting Data Out of Particle Physics Detectors.” For more information and to register for future events, please visit our Arts and Lecture Series at Home or Art Gallery webpages.

One of the goals of our plan was to better engage the broader Fermilab community in EPE efforts. Below are some opportunities for you to become involved:

  • An upcoming opportunity to engage is the annual Fermilab Family Open House. The annual event will be virtual this year, to be held over the course of several days – from Feb. 10-14. We held a brown-bag lunch on Dec. 1 to hear your ideas for this event, and we will hold a second on Jan. 6 at noon. Please come and share your ideas, or learn how you can be involved in some of our existing plans.
  • We relaunched Ask-A-Scientist on Dec. 6 with an excellent talk titled “Principles of Quantum Weirdness and How They Are Used in Fermilab Experiments” by scientist Manolis Kargiantoulakis Wilson fellow Sara Simon will be give a talk in January: “The Telescopes We Build for Cosmology.” We are looking for people interested in talking to the public about their work at Fermilab, and there is no need to have “scientist” in your job title. We want to share all the different ways people are supporting Fermilab’s mission. For more information or to offer to give a talk, please contact Amanda Early.
  • We are now organizing virtual classroom presentations, meeting with schools in the Chicagoland area. If you’d like to spend 30-45 minutes talking with a class of K-12 students about what you do and what working at Fermilab is like, please contact us at edreg@fnal.gov.
  • If you are interested in participating in future EPE activities, please email edreg@fnal.gov, and we will keep you informed of future activities.

Please look for more information on our programs and progress, and visit our website to learn more. And reach out to me if you have any questions or ideas to share.

Rebecca Thompson is the head of the Fermilab Office of Education and Public Engagement