Tuesday, August 6, 2013

HiveBio: Where did all the hours go?

I should have started explaining all the time I've been spending on HiveBio things earlier, but here is the long overdue update. In March, I heard about an enthusiastic group of people who wanted to start a biohackerspace: a community lab where people can come to explore biology by doing experiments and collaborating on projects. Lab spaces like this have been successful in other cities, especially areas with a biotech community, so it seems like time that Seattle had our own. A couple years ago, I went to a conference called "Design, Make, Play" where professionals in non-formal and informal education got together to share best practices, so I was quickly convinced that 1) This is a great way for people to get to experience science, 2) this type of community can be successful, despite the challenges of starting a lab with a tiny budget.

I pitched in a few bucks to the Microryza campaign, and decided to go to one of their meet-ups. I had met with one of the founders, but I wanted to know what type of people were involved in the project. At the first meeting, I introduced myself as someone who had a lot of bench experience, but had no interest in designing my own research projects anymore. Since I'm a curriculum writer though, I might be able to lend a hand with education? A few weeks later, I was approached to the be the Executive Director of their Education Programs. Although this sounded like something I should jump at the chance to do, I hesitated. What did they think education would look like at HiveBio? And did they know that I've only been thinking seriously about instructional design for about a year now? And that I am NOT supremely well connected to the science community in Seattle? The fun and scary thing about hanging around with hackers is that they necessarily have crazy ambition, are used to working with very limited resources, and are successful because they make unexpected connections. So yes, they wanted me to build a program from scratch, but there weren't too many constraints, and they have basically started aligning all the key people of Seattle to the project already. This outsized ambition in contagious.

As an aside, when I finished graduate school, I spent some time volunteering that Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh. It was super fun, but it felt more like fun than working for a good cause. When I mentioned this to my supervisor, he corrected me. No, actually, providing students the opportunity to develop a passion for science is a matter of economic equality. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs pay more than the average American job, women in STEM have a smaller pay gap with men, and the same is true of minorities who work in STEM. In fact, there is a great need for STEM workers, which can be be more easily filled by increasing the number of talented women and minorities working in STEM. Further, having diversity in STEM is was provides us the opportunity for innovations that will solve problems like world hunger, homelessness, climate change, and our changing energy needs. Basically, if you worry about the future of our youth, giving them access to STEM can help them to level their own playing field. At Design, Make, Play, I saw research that demonstrated that learning in informal and nonformal learning environments plays an important role in cultivating an interest and pathway to success in STEM, and this liberated me to believe that the hours I was spending shooting rockets with 4 year-olds was actually making a long term difference.

This encouraged me to find a position in nonformal or informal learning environments, but nothing presented itself. However, during that time, I found work developing content for a nontraditional, formal learning environment, and I thought this might be a good step. It also left me with plenty of time to pursue my outlandish philanthropy goals.
Since I agreed to lead Ed programs at HiveBio, there has been a lot to do. There are meetings with the leadership, and potential instructors. There are documents to create (guidelines for instructors, protocols to format), and plans to create. One of my greatest feats so far has been securing the donation of some unwanted equipment from my office, which was moving to a new, smaller location. The old computers and office equipment I estimated had a value of about $1500 for the thermometer. All the computers had password protected copies of office on them, so my husband spent hours wiping them, reinstalling Linux, and assessing the value of their respective parts. I am going to be spending much more than 20 hours a month working on this program.

I'm really excited to have somewhere to apply my ambition, and I'm excited about what HiveBio will do for the community.

If you are excited about this too, I highly recommend you join us for our lab warming party, August 17 at HiveBio. (Update: Soon)

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