A college professor teaches in front of 1,500 students a year without assistants.

She loves biology. She loved learning about how the brain works, how Harlow’s monkeys preferred soft blankets and toys to a sterile room with lots of food.

But the students in front of her are there to take notes, memorize, test. Take notes, memorize, test.

And somewhere in there, many decide that science isn’t for them – not because they aren’t bright but because they can’t seem to care.

Click below to hear WVU Professor Michelle Withers describe why everyone should know science fact from myth and how being critical of knowledge benefits society.

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That was Michelle Withers’ first experience as a professor.

She knows we’re losing students who could become great scientists, and we’re losing the general public who is increasingly frustrated with a scientific community that seems, to them, inexact and flip-flopping.

“We’re facing a lot of big science-based issues in society right now, and if people don’t have an understanding of what evidence is and what that means about how you inform decisions, then they’re going to vote in ways the scientific populations wouldn’t and in ways that may not be good for the planet,” said Withers, a biology professor at West Virginia University who specializes in trying to understand how to make science engaging for students.

From WVU’s sprawling Life Sciences building, Withers works to train her own graduate students and other professors on how to keep science human.

Click below to hear Withers describe how active teaching methods allow true student learning.

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A few miles and another tower away works Arun Ross, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at WVU. He also explains his research in a way that he hopes makes it relevant to society. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting kids loose with webcams.

Ross works at WVU’s Center for Identification Technology Research. When he wants to show middle and high school students what he does and why it’s important, he takes their picture with a webcam.

Click below to hear Click here to listen to WVU Professor Arun Ross explain how his department interests students in biometrics experiments.

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“And then the students would come back and the computer would recognize who they were,” he said. “So it would show three faces in the image, and say, well this is Jim, this is Joe and this is Sarah. And the students would say, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ “

It would be nice to see how they do it; to learn how to make science real. Now everybody can.

WVU is holding its first science communication symposium, Science & Technology in Society: Effective Communication Strategies.

The symposium, scheduled for April 5 in the Mountainlair student union, will offer easy-to-understand information on WVU’s research and ways to effectively explain and understand science for students, teachers and the public. The event is free, but pre-registration, available here, is required for most events. The deadline for registration is April 1.

Click below to hear Ross describe the importance of understanding recent scientific advances.

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Withers, Ross and fellow WVU researchers Tim Carr and Jim Smith will be presenting their research alongside speakers from across the country who will share communication techniques with members of the media, scientists, students and policy makers.

The day will include workshops, a Festival of Ideas lecture, a student poster session and the presentation of a new award recognizing efforts in promoting the understanding of science.

The David C. Hardesty Jr. 2011 Festival of Ideas will present speaker Sheril Kirshenbaum to discuss her book “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future” at 7:30 p.m.

Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. She strives to enhance public understanding of energy issues and works to improve communication between scientists, policymakers and the public. Registration is not required for this event.

The workshop lineup includes:

  • A Citizen Science Plenary, presented by members of the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology Network, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The organization – made up of policy research organizations, science museums and universities – works to inform government and society on the social implications of scientific and technological discoveries. The session will include a panel lecture and a look into how ECAST conducts assessments on the impacts of technology.
  • Brian Dunning, the host of the award-winning weekly science podcast “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,” will present two workshops intended as introductions to pseudoscience and critical thinking. Students from more than 30 middle and high school classrooms across West Virginia will be watching Dunning’s presentations via webcast.
  • Cheryl Hogue, senior correspondent for Chemical & Engineering News – a publication of the American Chemical Society – will be presenting a “Talking to the Scientist” workshop for members of the media and journalism students.
  • Josh Rosenau and Steve Newton, policy directors and scientists from the National Center for Science Education, will present workshops on the process of science and scientific controversy as well as a presentation on Media Skills for Scientists.
  • Members of the media and student journalists can attend a workshop on Talking to the Scientist.
  • WVU researchers Ross, Jerry Fletcher and Jim Smith will present their research, which includes that done within CITeR and projects on energy and carbon management and alternative energy designs.
  • Withers will discuss the best practices of science education for teachers.
  • Genevieve Maricle and Elizabeth McNie, researchers from the Science Policy Assessment on Research and Climate, will present a workshop targeted for policy makers called “Usable Science: A Center for Science and Technology Policy Research-Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes Briefing Workshop on Science for Decision Making.”

A complete schedule of events can be found here.

Follow the symposium on Twitter with #wvuSciSymposium.



CONTACT: Molly Simis, Office of the President

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.