Team Member Spotlight: Lea Shell

Want to get to know the people behind the curtain a little bit better? Tune in to our “team member spotlight” series! You’ll meet the people who make SciStarter work and learn what makes them tick. One thing we all have in common? A love for citizen science. This week, we’re featuring Lea Shell.

Lea Shell

Title at SciStarter Education Co-Director and Editorial Team Member

Contact e-mail

Twitter Handle @DoRealScience

Role at SciStarter I write the biweekly newsletter for all of our participants and practitioners and approve new projects. I’m also working with Jill Nugent to get more citizen science into the classroom using integrated tools that teachers are already using to track their students’ progress, and we’re working on a podcast together about the same topic (and much more… once we get started talking it’s hard to stop us!). I’m also a standards nerd and like to see what state and national standards a citizen science project might align with; it’s like a fun puzzle to me!

Professional Experience I have my B.S. in Entomology from UC Davis (Go Ags!) and my M.A. in Teaching. I wanted to get outside of the lab when I was an undergraduate and show everyone what I was seeing under the microscope. I started taking pictures of insects and even taught courses to high school students about entomology and art. My favorite intersection of disciplines is science and art; it doesn’t make very much sense that they are separate disciplines to me. They both require a ton of innovation, creativity and curiosity as well as the need to tell a story and answer (or pose) a question. I taught high school in Mississippi and taught Geometry and Algebra II, because at the time that I was teaching it was a fireable offense to teach evolution; I couldn’t lie to my students and biology without evolution doesn’t make sense to me. Before joining SciStarter I worked for Rob Dunn and Holly Menninger at North Carolina State University for five and a half years managing participant communication as well as being a part of Your Wild Life and Students Discover. I also did one interview a week with scientists for my series “Before They Were Scientists,” where they talked about their middle school lives. Students Discover was an incredible experience that connected early career scientists with educators to embed citizen science in the classroom. I had a tremendous amount of fun working with everyone. In the process, I took lots of pictures  and even made one music video.

Why Citizen Science?  Citizen science empowers and puts the research into the hands of anyone. I love that anyone can take a picture with their phone and find out what animal/plant/bug/fungi/moss they’ve found is using iNaturalist. I love that scientists need the data produced by participants. It takes the science out if its silo and democratizes it. I feel like it’s one of the most effective ways to engage students in science; it’s not cookbook, the lab notebook doesn’t go into the trash at the end of the semester, the data collected go to actual scientists doing important work on topics ranging from microbiology to astronomy. 

The Part of SciStarter’s Mission that Resonates the Most I really appreciate that anyone can go into the Project Finder and find something that works for their life and interests. It’s like a dating site, but for science. I think it allows anyone to find what they’re looking for and it’s surprising how many projects come up when you search for a topic or location that you’re interested in. Some people don’t want to do a bird project, or a bug project, but they like to play games, there are so many options for anyone!

Something People Might Find Surprising  Once I was featured as a “fancy scientist” by Dr. Stephanie Schuttler for my days as a hostess in antebellum houses in Mississippi — I wore hoop skirts, corsets and giant petticoats and had to talk in a fake Southern accent (that I’m sure everyone saw through, I’m originally from California) about furniture and crown mouldings.                                  

Lea With Daughters
Pictured: Lea with her daughters

Favorite Place to Do Citizen Science My favorite place to do citizen science is traveling or with my kids!  I love filling up my map of observations on iNaturalist; it’s like the ultimate geocache or PokemonGO for me! 

Pictured: Lea’s iNaturalist map

Project Enjoyed Recently I know I’ve mentioned iNaturalist already, but I have really enjoyed using it. The commentary and discussions I have had with people to identify insects have been a lot of fun and I get to nerd out over antennal segments when I’m missing the lab. I also feel like this is a question where I kind of cheated, because iNaturalist has thousands of projects run by scientists all over the world. 

Categories: About Us, Citizen Science, Staff Spotlight


About the Author

Caroline Nickerson

Caroline Nickerson

Caroline Nickerson is an advisor at SciStarter, where she assists with the Citizen Science Month Program, SciStarter’s Corporate Volunteer Programs and other programmatic and outreach efforts. Caroline is a Master of Public Policy graduate from American University, where she was a Reilly Environmental Policy Scholar, and is a current PhD student at the University of Florida. She also works with the UF-VA Bioethics Unit, the Christensen Project, Florida Community Innovation and other organizations. She was the 2019 Cherry Blossom Princess representing the state of Florida and the grand prize scholarship winner at Miss Earth USA 2021 as Miss Louisiana Earth.