In addition to their core research work, many Federal science agencies have a mission to engage the public with current scientific research; educate Americans in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and seed tomorrow’s workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of providing tools for the public to evaluate scientific information, bolstering community science literacy, and engaging the public in conversation about scientific issues.
On April 13, ASTC joined with five other museum associations to offer suggestions to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee on how public engagement with science and informal STEM education can—and should—be a critical part of COVID-19 relief and recovery legislation. The House SST Committee is the authorizing committee for the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), and other Federal science agencies.
Note: In the House, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its Science Education Partnerships Award (SEPA) are under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Department of Education (ED) are under the jurisdiction of the Education and Labor Committee.
We are grateful to our partners in this effort: American Alliance of Museums, American Public Gardens Association, Association of Children’s Museums, Association of Science Museum Directors, and Association of Zoos and Aquariums. ASTC also joined in letters submitted by the Coalition of National Science Funding (CNSF) and the STEM Education Coalition.
Responding to a request from the committee, ASTC and our sister associations urged the committee to ensure that any investment in U.S. research and development to aid in the response and recovery from COVID-19—both near-term and long-term—incorporate funding for public engagement, science communication, and science learning as essential elements. We also provided tangible ideas for how federal agencies, particularly NSF, NASA, and NOAA, can support current grantees, provide relief to informal STEM education institutions like science and technology centers and museums, and bolster the STEM workforce. Read the letter.
Briefly, we recommended that:
- Current NSF, NASA, and NOAA grantees in informal STEM education should be provided flexibility in completing award requirements, including the ability to receive urgent operational support to maintain previous investments.
- Existing expertise in science engagement, STEM education, and broadening participation in STEM from past and current NSF, NASA, and NOAA investments should be used as Federal agencies pursue new discoveries in virology, epidemiology, statistical modeling, and other COVID-19 related disciplines and K–12 education pivots to online learning.
- New scientific research and development funding awarded to Federal science agencies should be accompanied by funding for public engagement in science and STEM learning.
- Informal STEM learning should be considered essential to America’s long-term strategy to build the STEM workforce.
- Operational support should be provided to informal STEM learning institutions who provide internships and fellowships for high school, college, graduate students so they can continue to pursue future STEM studies and careers.
- The talented experts in public engagement, science communication, and informal STEM education employed by science and technology centers and museums should be supported through sustained and increased funding for science engagement.
What You Can Do
In the next (or first!) communication with your member of Congress, make the case for the role of STEM engagement and education. Stress the relevance in both the recovery of our nation from this emergency and longer-term efforts to advance public health and scientific research to prevent and minimize the impact of future similar events. Visit our COVID-19 Advocacy Toolkit for additional talking points. Stay tuned for the next call-to-action!
The ASTC Advocacy and Policy teams always appreciates hearing your successes and challenges in communicating with policymakers, as well as any insights that might benefit other ASTC members. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.