This week CU Boulder honored JILA's Mike Bennet with the Anne K. Heinz Staff Award for Excellence in Outreach and Engagement. As the director of educational outreach and research at JILA since August 2016, Bennett oversees the Partnerships for Informal Science Education in the Community (PISEC) program and other STEM outreach initiatives.
PISEC was founded in 2008 as part of the JILA-NSF Physics Frontier Center. The program works with Front Range schools to provide hands-on science programs for kindergarten through 12th grade -- mostly underrepresented students. Recently, PISEC brought high school students to JILA for a poster session, followed by laboratory tours and question-and-answer time with JILA scientists. Under Bennett's leadership, the PISEC program has expanded, reaching nearly 100 students and involving 30-plus university participants ever week.
The program benefits CU Boulder's students as well, CU Boulder physics researchers Noah Finkelstein and Eric Cornell wrote in their nominating letter. Through PISEC undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students train and mentor these young students.
"Mike continually improves PISEC, which, under his supervision, demonstrates positive impacts for youth, communities, CU undergraduate and graduate students, and partnering institutions - both CU and school communities," Finkelstein and Cornell wrote.
Not only has Bennett's leadership been valuable, educators said he also has an amazing way of connecting with students.
"Our students benefited tremendously. From getting feedback on projects by real engineers and scientists to learning more about CU students' research, the experiences gained through these mentors will not be forgotten quickly," Skyline High School in Longmont and St. Vrain Valley School District educators wrote in a support letter.
"I'm extremely humbled to have received this award, and I think it speaks predominantly to the importance of the work we're partnering with local community members to undertake with PISEC," Bennett said in an email. "In my mind, our partnership-focused model creates a more equitable landscape for students to engage in authentic scientific practice, providing real opportunities for them to participate as members of the scientific community. At the same time, our volunteers benefit from opportunities to engage with members of the public, learning and practicing pedagogy and communication skills that are valuable at all levels of the scientific enterprise. Ultimately, through creating this blended community, the hope of the PISEC model is that all participants' scientific worldviews will be expanded, creating a more robust and inclusive scientific culture."
As part of the award Bennett received $5,000 to support the program's outreach activities.