Blog Post

Meet the Board: Sarah Kirn

The Citizen Science Association is a rapidly growing organization with many new names and faces. Some of those faces are volunteering their time to lead this organization as Board Members. This post is part of an ongoing series we call “Meet the Board”, where you can learn more about the great people guiding the organization.

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In this blog, you’ll meet Sarah Kirn. Sarah is the Education Programs Strategist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). She was a GK-12 Teaching Fellow, has a Master of Oceanography from The University of Maine, and is a licensed boat captain.

CSA: Sarah, tell us a little about yourself. How/why did you first get involved with citizen science?

Sarah: My involvement with citizen science dates back to my job interview at GMRI in 2002. I was interviewing for the job of managing a program that got kids collecting environmental data with handheld personal digital assistants, or PDA’s as they were then known. At that time, the collected data weren’t going anywhere. My imagination, however, was captured. I’d been an instructor at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School sea program and saw up close and personal the impact on young people when asking them to do real work in service to others. What would happen, I wondered, if we could get kids involved in real research so that they had the opportunity to experience the excitement of discovery like I had just done in graduate school?

CSA: You are the Education Programs Strategist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. That sounds like an intriguing job. How does citizen science fit into your strategy for GMRI?

Sarah: Citizen science is a core component of GMRI’s overall strategy. Our mission is to better understand and steward the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and support the families and communities who dependent on it. We pursue scientific research to better understand the ecosystem and populations within it. We work with fishing communities to empower their participation in fisheries management, and throughout the seafood supply chain to ensure that communities are prospering from Gulf of Maine-caught seafood. We provide and support science education programs, curriculum, and teacher support as an investment in the future of our region. Citizen science contributes to our science, community, and youth learning goals.

CSA: You once created a citizen science project that engaged people from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Tell us more about that project. How did working on that project influence your thinking about how the Citizen Science Association might engage with our sister organizations like the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) and the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA)?

Sarah: One of my favorite learning moments in that project was in a meeting I had in the first few months with a scientist from the Northern Region Fisheries Board (Ireland). We were talking about what data our program could help them collect: images, written observations, water quality measures, latitude and longitude. The man looked at me and said, “We don’t use latitude and longitude.” I paused. Of all the data that I’d assumed would be globally useful, latitude and longitude might have been top of the list! “So what do you use?,” I asked, feeling a bit incredulous. “We use the Irish National Grid.”

That moment sticks with me because it was such a clear reminder that the way any of us does any given thing is but one of many options. And it’s easy to forget that when we stay inside our home cultures – whether we’re talking about US culture, or academic culture, or K-12 schools culture. There is so much to be gained by broadening conversations beyond the ones you inhabit on a daily basis. I think this is one of the transformative powers of citizen science – it brings scientists, technologists, educators, outdoor enthusiasts, environmental activists, casual observers, etc., etc., together in a shared effort. I want to see the CSA capitalize on this to support individuals in crossing boundaries and learning. Engagement with ECSA and ACSA expands these opportunities exponentially.

CSA: You have chaired the CSA Educational Working Group since 2014. What do you think readers of this blog could learn from the working group? Are there any particular resources the EDU Working Group has produced that you think our readers should check out?

Sarah: I’m very proud of the white paper that the Education Working Group just published. It reflects the input of almost a hundred people – Education Working Group members, people who shared ideas at the 2015 conference (including a group of high school students!) or online, and many others. This short document captures our group’s collective ideas on what is important to consider and do when you are designing and using citizen science programs for learning, and does so in a way that doesn’t tell anyone what to do. As one of our many contributors pointed out, it’s dangerous to declare anything a “best practice” in a field as young and as diverse as ours. We want to encourage innovation and experimentation.

CSA: What do you think (or hope) the Association will look like in five years?

Sarah: I want to see the Association become an organization that embodies its values on every level (Side note: The Board is in the process of drafting a values statement). Fulfilling the promise of citizen science (rigorous science that empowers all participants) will draw from and contribute to myriad disciplines: informal and formal education, the psychology of empowerment and motivation, data and metadata standards and management, community organizing, technology, scientific disciplines of all kinds, etc., etc. Just as citizen science connects scientists and the public, I’d like to see the CSA connect people and ideas across disciplines, geography, culture, etc.

CSA: The Citizen Science 2017 Conference is just around the corner. What are looking forward to most about the conference?

What I’m looking forward to most is a hard question… I love going to new places and meeting new people and seeing friends (I won’t call them old!). I look forward to a chance to talk with other Working Group leaders to identify areas of mutual interest and need, and learn from how other groups are tackling their challenges. I’m excited to hear presentations and panels. And then there’s the in-person Board meeting! I feel so lucky to be part of this wonderful group of people doing such important work on behalf of the CSA community.

Want to learn more about Sarah? Follow her on Twitter: @sierralimakilo

Check out Sarah’s work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Vital Signs Project.

Interviews are conducted by Sarah Newman on behalf of the CSA Web/Communications Working Group. You can find Sarah tweeting about citizen science @snewman14, @CitSci, and @CitSciAssoc

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