October 2019

4×4: Self-Care and Equity Work

Our “4 x 4” interview blog format aims to incorporate multiple perspectives on current topics in our field by inviting four thought leaders to answer four questions related to a chosen theme. This playful approach seeks to navigate pressing topics with the personal touch of a conversation. Our first theme features four approaches to “self-care.” Previous posts in the 4 x 4 theme of self-care as it intersects with appreciating nature, parenthood, and networking.

MER board member Brindha Muniappan recently reconnected with One Sky Institute colleagues at the second Inclusive Science Communication symposium. She was reminded how valuable a professional community can be, both for advancing ideas and initiatives around STEM education and for the support provided by educators who can share experiences about the challenges in doing equity work. Brindha connected with Ben Koo, Academic Coordinator of the Science & Health Education Partnership at the University of California, San Francisco, to share some insight about the value of engaging communities in equity work and the importance of perspective. 

Group of people in an elevator leaning toward each other and smiling for the photographer.
Members of the One Sky Institute newly arrived at the Inclusive Science Communication symposium in Kingston, RI in September 2019.

Brindha: We were both working in academic institutions when we joined the One Sky Institute, looking to create ways of increasing equity and inclusion in our programs. I wanted to better position my museum in the local community as well as find colleagues who could help me expand my ideas about broadening participation. How has being part of the One Sky Institute influenced your thinking about equity?

Ben: Equity in STEM has always been at the heart of my professional passions and what really drives and motivates me day to day in my work. The One Sky Institute really expanded my views on equity and inclusion and provided important context and vocabulary. More importantly, it connected me to a wide variety of individuals and organizations doing some very exciting and cutting edge work around equity and inclusion. I came across the One Sky Institute at a key moment in my professional life, where I was feeling quite isolated and discouraged about efforts for equity in STEM and was contemplating leaving the field altogether. My participation really rejuvenated me professionally and brought new hope and drive to continue my efforts to increase equity and inclusion in STEM education knowing that there is a growing community of professionals who are dedicated to this as well.

Brindha: Did your equity work have an effect on your efforts in education and outreach?

Ben: Yes, it has really opened my eyes to the assumptions we make about the communities we work with. In our case, this work really challenged me to think bigger about how youth can be involved in an outreach program experience, beyond being learners to being leaders and co-designers. I am beginning to look at almost every science education or outreach project to see how we are positioning our participants in relation to the program leaders and experts. I think there is a tremendous importance and value in engaging communities and our participants as partners and collaborators.

Brindha: It can be daunting to think about how to create all the equitable changes we want to see. How do you care for yourself and keep from being overwhelmed?

Ben: For me, a professional learning community such as the One Sky Institute group, and having the support and backing of others who share or back my vision for equity and inclusion, has been so important. I find that this support helps me feel grounded and nourished. I also have found a lot of value in finding time and space to live life outside of my work! One of my passions is to rock climb – indoors and outdoors. It’s a strenuous activity that requires both mental and physical focus and also connects me to another community of people.  

Brindha: I agree! Finding the right balance of work and home/non-work is critical for personal well-being. I feel fortunate to have found you and the ~25 other members of the One Sky community and will continue to bounce ideas and solicit advice about equity work even though the project has ended. Do you have any advice for readers who want to learn about broadening participation and make changes in their work or personal lives?

Ben: I encourage people to reach out to as many people as possible who are doing the work in broadening participation in STEM! Find others in your local area who are doing exciting and interesting work on equity and inclusion and work to build connections and community. CAISE (The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education) has some really great resources about broadening participation including toolkits and links to other resources and articles. Many of the individuals involved in those efforts are leading and innovating around equity and inclusion from a variety of angles and perspectives and would be great people with whom to get connected.

Ben Koo is an Academic Coordinator of the Science & Health Education Partnership at the University of California, San Francisco. As a science educator with over 10 years of experience connecting scientists with local teachers and students, he has been improving and changing traditional science education. Ben has a specific passion for developing and implementing culturally-relevant strategies that promote the success of underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Brindha Muniappan is the Senior Director of the Museum Experience at the Discovery Museum in Acton, Massachusetts and when she became part of the inaugural One Sky Institute cohort, was the Director of Education and Public Programs at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.