“Citizen science” is currently a popular buzz phrase in the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research. The phrase refers to projects in which everyday citizens participate in scientific research by collecting data that scientists later analyze.
A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine highlights some of the benefits of citizen science. These benefits include enriching the everyday citizen’s scientific awareness, engaging the public in science, contributing to a community’s scientific literacy, and advancing scientific research.
Another of the report’s findings is that when citizen science projects are carefully designed to involve underrepresented populations, they can successfully help these populations become more involved in STEM. The report explains that designing projects to take into consideration matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion can go a long way toward encouraging diversity in STEM fields.
Among the many citizen science projects currently underway, several focus in particular on underrepresented urban youth. Read on to learn more about three of these projects.
1. Celebrate Urban Birds
Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is offered through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The program targets urban residents new to scientific research. Participants, who can start when they are as young as preschool age, collect data that allows scientists to understand how different environments influence the location of birds in urban settings.
CUB has been active for 10 years and in that time has distributed more than 500,000 education kits to participants. CUB has also partnered with over 12,000 community organizations and awarded dozens of grants.
Only five steps are required to participate in CUB. The first is to learn how to identify the birds most commonly found in the participant’s area. CUB sends a list of these birds to each participant and provides educational resources that teach how to identify birds.
The second step is to choose a time and place for watching birds. The place should not be larger than 50 feet by 50 feet, or the size of half a basketball court. The third step is to set aside 10 minutes to watch and count birds in the chosen location. The fourth step is to repeat the third step on three different days, preferably in the same week. The fifth step is to report the findings.
In addition to the day-to-day activity of watching and counting birds, CUB also facilitates special events. These events include bird festivals, clubs, workshops, and pedagogical projects that take place around the globe, including in Mexico, Peru, Panama, and Colombia, as well as in several locations within the United States.
CUB also provides online resources related to birds, including bird count participant kits, resource kits for hosting events, FAQs about leadership workshops, a list of recommended reading materials, and links to live and recorded webinars.
2. City Nature Challenge
City Nature Challenge is sponsored by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences. The purpose is to find and document animals and plants in cities worldwide.
People in more than 100 cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Maui, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, are scheduled to participate in 2019. Visitors to and residents of these cities will explore their natural urban environments and record every species seen between April 26 and April 29.
In 2018, more than 17,000 people in 68 cities around the globe participated, submitting more than 431,000 reports. In 2017, meanwhile, 4,525 observers participated by submitting more than 128,000 reports that documented over 9,000 species of plants and animals.
Each year, the participating cities compete with each other to see which one can attract the most people and record the most species. The aim of City Nature Challenge is to find and document species existing in cities in order to study and protect each one. It depends on scientists and citizens alike to carry out its mission.
3. Urban Archeology Corps
Urban Archeology Corps (UAC) is run by the U.S. National Park Service. Open to youth aged 15-26, participants take part in archeological research projects in urban national parks.
Participating parks are Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park in Chickamauga, GA, and Chattanooga, TN; National Capital Parks-East in Washington, DC; Richmond National Battlefield Park in Richmond, VA; and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Calabasas, CA. At each of these sites, local organizations in recruit participants from the surrounding urban communities.
UAC has several aims. One is to enhance connections between these urban national parks and their surrounding communities. Additionally, the program aims to provide employment opportunities in archeology and the National Park Service to diverse youth.
Finally, the program aims to increase caretaking of these urban national parks and their surrounding communities. The youth who participate in the program gain valuable skills and experience in historical research, interpretation, excavation, outreach, and teamwork.