One of the more transformative Strategic Priorities in the current SOT Strategic Plan is to increase the Society’s influence through science communication (Strategic Priority C). In my final President’s Message last February, I provided an update on the communication activities connected with this priority, sharing that we had initiated outreach to a few groups in hopes of working together to connect with the SOT target audiences: legislators and educators. I am pleased to share an update on the significant progress that we have made with one of those groups.
The North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR) has a long history of successful outreach to K–12 educators and students to foster appreciation and interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. For the past several years, the NCABR Board of Directors has urged the organization to develop a plan to expand these efforts to undergraduates. SOT Council viewed this as a potential opportunity and approached the NCABR President, Suzanne Wilkison, about a possible collaboration wherein SOT would work with NCABR to develop an outreach program to undergraduate science educators in North Carolina. This effort would build upon the successes of the SOT Undergraduate Consortium Task Force and take advantage of the resources being curated by the SOT Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Retention (FUTURE) Committee. The initiative also would intimately involve the SOT North Carolina Regional Chapter. Both SOT and NCABR enthusiastically endorsed this proposal, and a formal agreement has been developed for a two-year pilot program. The objectives of the program are:
- To increase North Carolina undergraduate student involvement in local and national SOT programs
- To increase North Carolina undergraduate student usage of SOT educational and mentoring resources
- To increase the usage of curriculum materials in North Carolina undergraduate science courses that address the importance and meaning of toxicology
- To increase awareness of toxicology as a career opportunity among undergraduate educators and students
As a first step, a Leadership Council was developed, consisting of representation from NCABR, the SOT North Carolina Regional Chapter, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and several SOT members previously involved in the SOT Undergraduate Consortium Task Force. The Leadership Council has met several times and is in the process of identifying and developing a North Carolina Higher Education Faculty and Mentor Network that will serve as the vehicle for meeting the pilot program’s objectives. Most importantly, NCABR views this as a model whereby they can expand interest in other STEM areas within the undergraduate programs in North Carolina. Based on the success of the collaboration, SOT views this as a pilot that could be expanded to other SOT Regional Chapters to effectively communicate key principles of toxicology, the value of our science to society, and the many career pathways available in our discipline.
This pilot program is just one of the many new communication activities that SOT hopes to undertake in the coming years. As you may recall, SOT Council spent a substantial amount of time in 2019 identifying audiences, developing key messaging, and formulating a communication strategy (Strategic Objective C1). The overall strategy is to engage key influencers and increase the recognition and appreciation of toxicology as a science that can have a major, positive influence on human, animal, and environmental health. Key messaging identified as part of the strategy includes:
- Toxicology is a viable and worthwhile path for students to pursue further education and/or careers. Toxicology intersects with many scientific disciplines.
- Toxicology is a science with real-world implications.
- Toxicologists come from diverse backgrounds and work in many sectors.
- All chemicals (natural, biological, synthetic) can be hazardous if exposure occurs at a high enough level. Toxicology is about determining risk, and toxicologists are the experts in conducting such assessments.
- Science can be controversial and is constantly evolving. Scientists make recommendations based on current understanding and the best available information.
SOT Council looks forward to sharing additional progress on the priorities and objectives identified as part of the communication strategy with you as projects are finalized.