CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received $4 million to lead a national program that will engage educators, artists and writers in polar science activities and increase the impact and visibility of the scientific work underway in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The program, Polar STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, is funded by the National Science Foundation via a five-year cooperative agreement.
Through the program, middle and high school educators, artists and writers will have opportunities to collaborate with each other and with polar scientists through research station residencies and virtual and in-person professional development experiences, said Julie Risien, lead principal investigator of the Polar STEAM program.
“What we’re offering in this program is a real integration across the arts, humanities, education and science,” Risien said. “We want to prepare participants for their field experience, ensure they are able to produce something valuable from that experience, provide mentorship on their return and ensure that they have the opportunity to share their work broadly.”
Polar STEAM is a reimagining and expansion of two past NSF programs, the Polar Educators program and the Antarctic Artists and Writers program. The Polar Educators program provided opportunities for educators to engage with Antarctic and Arctic research and share their experiences. The Antarctic Artists and Writers program provided artists and writers access to U.S. Antarctic bases and the surrounding areas and encouraged their engagement with the polar scientific community.
NSF has supported Antarctic residencies for a wide range of artists and writers since the late 1950s. Past participants in the Antarctic Artists and Writers program include photographers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, poets, novelists, children’s authors and musicians, among others.
Polar STEAM will expand the reach of the Polar Educators program for informal and K-12 science education by also including faculty from community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions and by adding a virtual track so that educators who cannot travel to remote polar regions might also participate.
OSU is well-positioned to lead the program. The university has a strong polar science program, including the NSF-funded Center for Oldest Ice Exploration, or COLDEX; a rich history of hosting artist residencies, including more than 80 at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest; expertise in formal and informal STEM learning; and an award-winning teacher development program known for its work with underserved school districts and communities, project leaders said.
In addition, OSU is building a $70 million, 49,000-square-foot arts complex to integrate the arts, humanities, science and education. OSU will use the complex to host a major national exhibition featuring polar arts, history and science in 2025 as part of the Polar STEAM program.
“With our Arts and Education Complex now under construction, we’re well positioned to tie the arts and STEM research activities together,” said Peter Betjemann, the Patricia Valian Reser Director of Arts and Education. “That has been part of the strategy we are using for this complex, and this kind of exhibition is the core type of programming we want to present in this new facility.”
One of the goals of the reimagined Polar STEAM program is to provide support and community for participants once they return from field experiences so they have opportunities to reflect, share and learn from one another.
“At the end of five years, we hope to have built intentional relationships between educators, scientists and artists and writers,” Betjemann said. “And we hope to maintain those relationships beyond the participants’ field experiences.”
The project officially kicked off Sept. 1. Organizers are hiring staff and hope to begin recruiting participants in early 2023 for Arctic field experiences starting in summer 2023.
Polar STEAM is a partnership of OSU’s STEM Research Center, the Arts and Education Complex, Pre-College Programs, the Colleges of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and the College of Liberal Arts.
Additional co-principal investigators are Kim Bernard of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and Susan Rowe, director of Pre-college Programs at OSU. The program will be externally evaluated by the Science Education Resource Center at Carlton College. The project also is a complement to the OSU-led COLDEX and other OSU-led research programs in the Arctic and Antarctic.
A network of experts, representing a diversity of expertise for inclusivity work, broader impacts of polar research, education, arts and science partnerships and science writing, will serve as advisors on the project.