Friday, April 17, 2015

Update: Science Café was a Big Hit!

The Science Café concluded a workshop on effective communication in the STEM fields. Clearly, workshop participants have learned to engage a popular audience with captivating presentations on current research.
Willow Belden introducing the event

The audience ranked their favorite speeches based on unique material, presentation style and effective delivery. After presenting her research on Agent Orange, Diem Thu Pham was chosen by the audience as the most outstanding speaker of the Science Café. Braden Godwin won second place for his research on river otters.

The Science Café concluded a workshop on effective communication in the STEM fields. Clearly, workshop participants have learned to engage a popular audience with captivating presentations on current research.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Science Café Thursday!

Come to Altitude Chophouse and Brewery Thursday April 16th at 5:30 for our Science Café!  

Brian Barber calls the Science Café “bite-size science.”  The culmination of a five-week workshop, the event is a joint effort between UW’s Biodiversity Institute and Wyoming EPSCoR with additional support from the UW Botany Department, Program in Ecology, the Haub School, and the Zoology Department.  

Barber partnered with journalist, Willow Belden, who is working with the students and early-career scientists to communicate with the public.  As Barber says, “It’s an opportunity for scientists to step out of their world and talk to the public.”

Workshop participants started with a basic elevator pitch before progressing to mock media interviews.  Participants are “all across the board” in terms of scientific disciplines – ranging from neuroscience to zoology.  Belden, the host of the Out There podcast and former Wyoming Public Radio reporter, says, “It’s been a good mix.  Even though they’re all scientists, they’re having to work to communicate with each other.”

The tone of the Science Café’s presentations is lighthearted and easy to understand.  Barber prefers the term “interactions.”  As he says, “talks implies that it's a one-way communication.”  More interactive than a lecture, the Café is a chance for scientists to present their world to the public in an accessible format. 

The 5-week class series leading the Science Café was inspired by Belden’s work as a journalist for Wyoming Public Radio.  (Belden is currently host and executive producer for the Out There podcast.) She enjoyed interviewing scientists on the air but found that they were often “speaking different languages,” and that jargon made it difficult to put together dynamic stories about current research.  “I did a little research, and I could only find a handful of universities that offer classes like this - although there may be more informal workshops and seminars.”

Belden hopes to design a longer course with more focus on presentations.  An expanded curriculum could include written work, like a blog entry or editorial, and incorporate guest speakers.  As a journalist, she sees a strong need for researchers to openly discuss science and public policy. 

Both Belden and Barber are confident that these workshops have a broad appeal, and that they are an important part of science education.  As Belden says, “There some scientists that are naturally good at talking, but for everyone else these are skills that can be learned.”

Posted by Jess White.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Even the Rain at the Shepard Symposium: Water Wars and Social Justice

“Mark Twain once said, ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting’,” Interim Latina/o Studies Director, Jacqueline “J.J.” Shinker, said after last Tuesday’s screening of Even the Rain at the Berry Center Auditorium.

Even the Rain is a feature-length drama portraying a group of Bolivian film extras who launch a protest against the privatization of their water supply, a struggle echoing the Spanish conquest and exploitation of the New World.

After the film, J.J. led a discussion about the Bolivian water wars and their relevance in the United States. J.J. believes that the current drought in California foreshadows the likely future of water resources. “There are many houses in California that currently do not have water because of the drought,” she said. “This is a big issue that we are facing, in the past, and in the future.”
Jacqueline "J.J." Shinker leading discussion after the film.

The movies shown this semester by the Latina/o Studies Department have touched on many relevant and timeless topics – politics, education, culture, the environment, and access to natural resources.

The screening of Even the Rain was orchestrated by the Latina/o Studies Department, M.A.S.S. Club, and M.E.Ch.A. as part of the 2015 Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. During the discussion that followed the screening, students said that they found the film to be “intense” and “powerful” because it hit so close to home.

“Something we all have in common in this room is that we all need fresh water to survive,” said J.J., “And this makes it worth fighting for.”

Posted by Meghan Neville.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Translating Snow Patterns into Water Science

Dr. Kevin Hyde, a researcher in the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG), is conducting a snow survey high in the Snowy Mountains.  The survey will map snowfall in an area located within the Medicine Bow National Forest to answer questions about how snow melts and then moves through the environment to become stream flow. 

A key component of the study is to better understand how the pine beetle epidemic has changed the environment.  Pine beetles are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, but periodically climate conditions will favor an outbreak.  While extended cold weather kills the beetles, drought makes trees less resistant, so warm winters contribute to epidemics.

A topographical map of the snow survey terrain.
Pine beetles, like many species of bark beetle, carry a deadly fungus that disrupts a tree’s ability to consume water by blocking its ‘pores’ and clogging its ‘veins.’  Trees are ‘water drinkers,’ pulling water from the soil. The fungus prevents water from moving through the tree, and thereby kills it. The study will analyze how changes to the forest due to tree die-off impact snow distribution.

Needles and leaves on trees make up the canopy of a forest and intercept snow and rain before it hits the ground.  Fewer trees could mean more snow and rain will reach the ground; potentially providing more water in the soil, but there are some complications to consider.  With fewer pine trees,  snow can be more exposed to wind and sun.  This speeds up a process called sublimation, which is when the snow turns to gas and water vapor and ice crystals and blows away. 

The snow survey expedition heads out on April 11, with five groups of four surveying 21 sites in all.  To select sites, Hyde said they, “set up a grid system and ended up with 21 cells in the grid.  Then we randomly chose a point in each square where the survey would be made.”  This way of selecting sites is called a stratified random process, and it allows researchers to have a manageable study area while still looking at a variety of conditions.

Ranjan Shamila, undergraduate research assistant, 
and Ian Hyde (Kevin’s son), WyCEHG field technician, 
at Chimney Park.
Once the group arrives at their destination, they split into two teams.  One team measures the depth of the snow, and the other team digs a snow pit down to the soil and takes snow samples at every ten centimeters of depth.  In addition, they will measure water density in each sample, and study the layering of the snowpack, which gives information about changes in the snowpack over time and temperature. Other members of the WyCEHG team will test for naturally-occurring isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen to better understand how water travels within an environment.

Hyde is looking forward to the expedition, and to having the chance to share information about the life of the mountainside ecosystem.  “I am keenly interested in being a science translator and telling the story.  I have a service obligation to explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finding an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G Summer Experience

It’s Spring Break!  Are you thinking how you’ll spend the summer?  Here are some useful tips to help you design a summer work experience that will sharpen your skills, build your CV, and broaden your horizons.

Your first task is to figure out what posting is right for you.  Consider these questions: Where do you want to go?  What skills do you want to build?  What kind of income do you need?  How much time do you have?

And most importantly, what do you love to do?

A summer internship, research position, or job can lay the groundwork for a career, so be creative – and proactive.  Mentors in your program can help you search and may have contacts to pass along.  Many program websites have resources for summer internships and work-study opportunities. 

Try to start your search early, so that you can cast a wide net and develop a finished cover letter and CV.  You may need transcripts and reference letters, so reach out to your professors as soon as possible.   A simple spreadsheet in Excel or Word can help you keep track of deadlines and materials. 

Your CV and cover letter should include basic information, including updated contact details.  Follow the three C’s: Concise, Clear, and Consistent.  Think of your CV and cover letter as a presentation of your skills and abilities.  Open your cover letter with a formal solicitation, and close with a thank you.  Remember: proofread, proofread, proofread!  Nothing derails an application faster than spelling and grammatical errors.  

When you interview, be sure to dress the part – no jeans or sneakers.  Arrive on time or a few minutes early.  If you can, research the organization and job ahead of time, so you know what questions you will likely be asked.  The more prepared you are, the more professional you’ll seem.  And don’t forget to smile! 

Check out these sites for more tips and leads.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Disability Awareness at Wyoming EPSCoR

How do you define inclusion?

At Wyoming EPSCoR, disability awareness is taking shape within the Wyoming Center for Experimental Hydrology and Geophysics through recruitment.  As Wyoming EPSCoR Project Director and WyCEHG PI Brent Ewers says, "We don't want to just pay lip service to this goal; we will actively recruit potential graduate students for the academic year 2016-2017 from known centers of disabled undergraduate research across EPSCoR jurisdictions and the United States. Our recruiting efforts will be focused on such centers based on the advice of our recent disability speaker Dr. Cheri Blauwet."

Dr. Blauwet visited UW this February as part of Wyoming EPSCoR’s disability awareness speaker series, designed to give UW scientists a dedicated forum for learning about disability inclusion.  Dr. Blauwet was able to share her insights as a student, professor, and physician—and as the first wheelchair user at Stanford Medical School.  

In her presentation, Dr. Blauwet highlighted the vital importance of active partnership and open dialogue between university administrators and students with disabilities.  Access and accommodation should begin with the popular disability-rights slogan, "Nothing about us without us!"  Wyoming EPSCoR is committed to realizing that inclusive ideal.  

Dr. Blauwet in conversation with Laramie residents

The Disability Awareness Program through Wyoming EPSCoR recognizes that students with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM fields, and seeks to balance the disparity with a proactive approach.  Wyoming EPSCoR’s partnership with the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) has resulted in the use of creative curriculum to teach participants about disability issues.  Learning objectives include background knowledge, sensitivity training, and awareness of people with disabilities and specialized needs.  

The Summer Research Apprenticeship Program (SRAP) includes specialized training with Dr. Michelle Jarman from the Disability Studies program.  Past topics have included conscious word use and ‘invisible’ disabilities. 

Through conferences, workshops, and open platforms for discussion, Wyoming EPSCoR aims to facilitate a multidimensional learning environment, giving students the chance to bring newly acquired knowledge into their communities upon graduation.  

To learn more about disability awareness at Wyoming EPSCoR and our partnership with WIND, contact Sarah Konrad at

By: Jessica White

Monday, March 2, 2015

A UW graduate student uses her passion to support students

Teddi Hofmann started working with the recognized student organization, Multicultural Association of Student Scientists (MASS ) in the fall of 2014 as a part of her joint Graduate Assistantship with EPSCoR and the Haub School.  In this role, Teddi acts as a peer mentor to the group and works to support and encourage diversity in STEM disciplines. Her latest project is promoting the Wyoming State Science Fair, coming up on campus March 1-3, through MASS.

“The idea of MASS is to serve as a network and support system for students pursuing science, and the science fair is the perfect venue,” says Teddi. 

This semester is brimming with activities and events to encourage diversity in the  sciences. Most recently, MASS brought José Gonzalez, founder of Latino Outdoors, to UW to talk about encouraging Latino participation in outdoor education.  Teddi has a connection with this group as a Wyoming Ambassador for the California-based nonprofit, and was excited about the opportunity to bring José to campus.

Teddi (third on right) with student and Jose Gonzalez (third on left) last week.
In addition to the science fair and José’s visit, MASS will be involved with the Shepard Symposium, taking place in Laramie from April 8-11 2015.  The group is partnering with the Latino Studies Department to screen Even the Rain, a 2010 Spanish film about a water war in Bolivia.  It will be shown on April 7th at 7pm in the Berry Center Auditorium, and Wyoming EPSCoR  will provide refreshments before the film. The screening is part of a three-part series from the Latino Studies Department this semester.  Precious Knowledge was shown on February 17th, and  Mi Familia, a 1995 film depicting three generations of Mexican-American families in Los Angeles, will show this week on March 3rd at 7pm. 

Teddi’s interest in building stronger connections between Latino communities in Wyoming through science and outdoor education comes from volunteering with Pura Vida, a leadership and learning program at the Teton National Park.  She is currently building a research project evaluating Pura Vida’s impact on program participants.  Luckily, many Pura Vida alumni are now students at the University of Wyoming, allowing Teddi to continue mentoring them in MASS and other student multicultural groups.  

Teddi values the support she has encountered at the University of Wyoming to pursue her passion, “I feel like if you want an opportunity, people are willing to make it happen.”

Go here to like MASS on Facebook!  

By: Jessica White