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Transforming campus for the Haunted-U Halloween science festival

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07 December 2018
Children and adults enjoying the activities at the 2018 Haunted-U science festival.
Children and adults enjoying the activities at the 2018 Haunted-U science festival.

"As the sun set on Saturday, Oct. 20th, candles and glow sticks came alive and lit the central portion of Penn State's University Park campus. Children dressed as witches and superheroes, parents in tow, strolled from building to building, directed by signs shaped like tombstones (and perhaps an ounce of ghostly intuition). However, they were not here to collect candy. They were moving from lecture hall to lab looking for something entirely different: hands-on science experiences.

Haunted-U, an annual Halloween-themed science festival run by the Eberly College of Science’s Office of Science Outreach (OSO), invites community members of all ages to campus for an evening of spooky science. Previously organized as a day-camp, the updated model expands both the audience and the number of volunteers involved. Faculty, graduate students, and student organizations were invited to design hands-on science activities and demonstrations to engage visitors as they moved between several campus buildings, including Millennium Science Complex, Life Sciences Building, and Whitmore Laboratory. A photo booth, concessions, and demo shows from the Nittany Chemical Society and the Society of Physics Students rounded out the list of attractions. Haunted-U presents an opportunity for Penn State students and faculty to engage in outreach right here on campus, and for members of the community to learn about cutting edge research taking place in their backyard.

This is just one of many ways in which the OSO helps connect the passion and expertise of the Eberly College of Science’s faculty and students with the curiosity of the community. In addition to science programs designed for K–12 youth, such as Haunted-U and the popular Science-U summer camps, the outreach team runs events that bring science to the general public. These include Exploration-U community science nights and Ask-a-Scientist booths at community events such as the Grange Fair. OSO also experiments with innovative ways to conduct science outreach. In the fall of 2017, the outreach team piloted a new student speaking competition called I AM STEM, during which Eberly College of Science undergraduate and graduate students gave “mini-keynote” talks about their science journeys to a panel of faculty judges. The winners of the competition will deliver full keynote speeches to 150 aspiring female scientists from across the state at the OSO’s 2019 STEM Career Day for Young Women.

The importance of science outreach is recognized by the college as well as scientific funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). Faculty members who apply for NSF research grants must, in addition to outlining their planned scientific research, also describe how their work will impact society. Last year, OSO created an online Broader Impacts Resource Center (broaderimpacts.psu.edu) to assist faculty in the grant writing process, and outreach team members also have proactive conversations with faculty members to help them determine what programs and partnerships best fit their Broader Impacts goals and interests. By providing both programming infrastructure and expertise about Broader Impacts grant-writing and partnership options, the OSO aspires to be a one-stop shop for Eberly College of Science faculty members and students who want to maximize the impact they can have as scientists."

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