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Despite a Global Pandemic, SSAI Education and Outreach Efforts are More Successful than Ever Before!
SSAI has maintained its thriving Education and Outreach Programs throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic and achieved record-setting attendance at several new virtual events.
When SSAI staff rapidly pivoted to organizing and running a virtual Applications workshop for NASA’s PACE mission, our NASA customer said that it was “…the best online workshop I have ever attended.”
For over 40 years, SSAI has heavily invested in exploring the science behind Earth’s complex systems, as well as in understanding our place in the universe. Of equal importance, SSAI prides itself on sharing that information with the scientific community, policy makers, and the public at large; thereby enabling any individual to make a meaningful contribution to society. Prior to the 2020 global pandemic, SSAI was endlessly involved in coordinating and participating in countless in-person education and outreach events—ranging from children’s programs and young adult internships to professional conferences and technical trainings. When the pandemic prevented the public from attending SSAI’s outreach events, SSAI brought the events to them.
Before the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, organizing, executing, and participating in monthly and yearly events, such as the Goddard Sunday Experiment, as well as various Earth Day Events throughout the region was business as usual for SSAI personnel. Yet, with the onset of lockdowns and the inability to congregate, these types of gathering were no longer possible. So what did we do? Instead of bringing the public from their homes to our events, we brought the events into the public’s homes.
To begin, two of SSAI’s staff were awarded the NASA HQ Group Achievement Awards for their participation in NASA’s EarthDay@Home effort in April 2020, which required pivoting NASA in-person Earth Day activities to a completely virtual experience with very little prior notice or precedent. At that time, few envisioned what would follow the sudden lockdown orders of March 2020, but SSAI staff reacted quickly and helped put together a wonderful virtual experience for the public.
Then in May 2020, SSAI was tasked with organizing and running an Applications workshop for NASA’s PACE mission. As it became clear that an in-person workshop would not be possible, the task staff quickly pivoted to organizing a workshop entirely online. More than 750 people, from 30+ countries, registered for the 2-day event. The NASA customer said that it was “…the best online workshop I have ever attended.”
In addition, SSAI’s Earth to Sky team, with support from outreach specialists, hosted a highly interactive 2-day virtual climate communications workshop in association with the National Association for Interpretation Annual Conference. Several attendees remarked that this booth was the best in the conference and others returned multiple times to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Later in 2020, SSAI staff led a team in coordinating and planning the highly successful first all-virtual NASA Applied Sciences Week. More than 550 people gathered virtually to exchange ideas and discuss ways that Earth observations can be harnessed for societal good. The week’s events included 4 days of plenary meetings, 3 days of break-out sessions, a volunteer mapathon, and an end-user panel.
Moreover, SSAI staff led the design and development of the NASA Earth virtual booth for SCIFEST, in addition to moderating, answering questions, and updating content throughout the event. This booth drew the highest number of visitors in the Hall, boasting over 4100 visits in just 5 days. One participant commented “This is definitely my favorite booth. I love everything it has and all the activities.”
Notably, another SSAI-staffed outreach effort, My NASA Data, saw a huge increase in usage in 2020. My NASA Data is a website supported largely by SSAI staff that helps citizen scientists and educators share NASA data in meaningful ways. Story users grew an unprecedented 507% in 2020 due to the increased demand from educators, students, and families during the pandemic. The My NASA Data Visualization Tools team received a NASA Achievement award in recognition of their efforts in helping to increase the visibility and utilization of available NASA science data to inspire the next generation of NASA Earth Explorers. Several members of the My NASA Data team were also recognized with SSAI’s 2020 Chairman’s Innovation award for their work overhauling the My NASA Data website.
While the successes described above represent SSAI’s continued contribution and commitment to education and outreach, as well as the creativity involved in such efforts, they are but a sampling of the many methods by which we have circumvented the pandemic challenges and continue to accomplish our core objectives. Going forward, SSAI plans to re-instate live events when safe to do so but will also continue hosting these virtual activities that have proven to be so engaging and successful.