Team Member Spotlight: Jill Nugent

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 Jill Nugent.

Jill Nugent

Picture of Jill Nugent
Pictured: Jill Nugent

Title at SciStarter Social Media Volunteer

Contact email

Twitter Handle @ntxscied

Role at SciStarter In addition to helping with the social media, I also write a monthly citizen science article in NSTA’s Science Scope Journal that features a citizen science project from the SciStarter database that is an excellent fit for the middle school science classroom. This spring, I also enjoyed writing an article in the Connected Science Learning Citizen Science Issue with Darlene and Lea from the SciStarter Team! We have many exciting things in the works, so be sure to visit Lea’s recent profile for a sneak peak. Stay tuned. More to come!

Professional Experience Currently, I serve as an administrator for online university science courses and science programs. I also teach. This fall, I am teaching Conservation Biology. In fact, it was in a Conservation Biology course in grad school that I had an ‘aha’ moment about citizen science. In a nutshell, our professor told us that scientists in fields such as conservation biology can no longer only engage and share research with other scientists, but instead must also involve the public. I was also working at a natural science museum at the time where we engaged folks in citizen science.  Working there led me to learn more about science education.  To date, I’ve (1) worked in a natural science museum, (2) served in a university biology department where I taught and coordinated lab courses for pre-service teachers and non-science majors, (3) served as a science specialist for a large school district, (4) taught as university faculty for undergraduate and graduate online competency-based science courses for future educators, non-science majors, health science majors, and classroom science teachers of grades 5-12. Additionally, I’ve served as faculty member, director, assistant dean, and associate dean of science in online STEM university courses and degree programs. Beginning this fall, I’m looking forward to serving as a part of the Education Working Group for the Citizen Science Association.

Why citizen science? Citizen science serves as a catalyst for both science and science education. Citizen science accelerates scientific discovery and engages learners of all ages in the authentic process of science, while also cultivating curiosity and interest in science. I have found that citizen science is an excellent way to bring the science practices of the NGSS into the classroom. Citizen science also provides a way for learners to develop and apply 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Citizen science also provides opportunities for everyone to “make a difference” in the world. In fact the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), often referred to as the “Global Goals,” provide a guiding framework or map for making an immediate difference in the world. For example, by engaging in citizen science projects such as FreshWater Watch, you are working on elements of Global Goal 6 (Water).  When you participate in the City Nature Challenge, you help to document Earth’s biodiversity, and are working on Global Goals 14 and 15 (Life Below Water and Life on Land). The City Nature Challenge’s collective worldwide collaboration addresses the essence of Global Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). There are countless connections between current citizen science projects and the Global Goals. Anyone can find a project (or an event) and get started with making a difference today.

Part of SciStarter’s Mission that resonates with you most Everything! I love that SciStarter is all about science for all. SciStarter helps to make participation in real-world science discoverable and accessible for all, across all ages and geographic locations. The work of SciStarter helps to build capacity for science literacy across the globe, something that is critically important in the 21st century and beyond. SciStarter has done a phenomenal job in cultivating partnerships to reach and engage greater audiences in science. Examples include projects and partnerships with SciGirls, Girl Scouts, NSTA, libraries, and so many others! I am passionate about citizen science in science education across all levels and contexts, and SciStarter is a global innovator in this area. I am honored to serve with the team in support of this important mission.

Something people might find surprising about you Something silly is that I once won a bird calling contest (it was a hoot!). A recent surprise (even to me!) took place this spring when I found myself at a complete loss of words (usually not an issue!).

2nd row! At the April 2018 at the University of North Texas Distinguished Lecture Series, Dr. Jane Goodall
2nd row! At the April 2018 at the University of North Texas Distinguished Lecture Series, Dr. Jane Goodall

I met one of my life long idols, Dr. Jane Goodall, and after hearing her inspiring talk, I was lucky to meet her afterwards and all that all I could vocalize/verbalize when I met her and shook her hand was “thank you” about a dozen or so times! Truly a bucket list item and a dream come true. I think that her talk’s message, a call to action, would resonate with the citizen science community.

Favorite place to do citizen science So many; maybe the answer is everywhere! If I had to choose, I would say on my family’s land in Texas. In fact, we have decades worth of phenology data across taxa for that location. For example, each spring we document the arrival date of the first barn swallow, Hirundo rustica. Though usually falls around St. Patrick’s Day in March, it can vary depending on weather influences and other conditions. I love wandering the property and making observations across all seasons. Another top location would have to be the remote mountains of central Mexico (Michoacán) in the monarch butterfly overwintering range. It is so beautiful there. I enjoy the expansive landscape and seeing the monarchs en masse. As a lifelong horse person, I love the equines that are a part of life in and around the sanctuaries. My first trip and introduction to Michoacán was with Dr. Tom Emmel from the University of Florida, (who unfortunately passed away this spring, but whose legacy lives on in his work and students). I learned so much from him, and just tried to listen and absorb all that I could. I would love to take students there someday as he would do; I am so inspired by his work there.

Monarch butterflies, El Rosario, Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
Monarch butterflies, El Rosario, Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Fortunately, technology has enabled me to Skype “live” from the monarch overwintering sites with students in the United States who have studied the species and the migration, and so that has been a great way to take learners on a virtual science field trip to see the area where the monarchs overwinter. This also allows for discussion, questions, and answers in real time.

What do you hope to accomplish in citsci? Probably topping the list to complete in the near future is my dissertation on citizen science. I’ve been looking at the area of 21st century science education and the influence of citizen science participation on pre-service teacher interest in science, self-efficacy for learning and doing science, as well as some global science literacy measures in the context of a university biology course. After the dissertation, I’d like to continue work in this area, and I am particularly excited about the work of SciStarter’s Education Team and projects as well as the work of Students Discover, the NAS committee work on “Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning,” and the recent report from BSCS, “Designing Citizen Science for both science and education.”  I see a myriad of possibilities and opportunities at the confluence of science, citizen science, and science education in the 21st century and beyond, across formal and informal learning environments. In fact, I think that the Crowd and the Cloud started something really innovative by featuring citizen science on public television and inviting the audience to move from “viewer” to “do-er” of science. In the future, I think public television science and nature shows will include or even be centered around citizen science, and will feature programming that will be much more interactive, contributory, and collaborative. Advancements in technology and media will facilitate that possibility into reality! The possibilities are endless.

Project enjoyed recently Another tough one! I really enjoy using iNaturalist and sharing it with others, especially during the City Nature Challenge. It is such a great connector and a powerful tool to document biodiversity. This summer I also thoroughly enjoyed sharing SciStarter directory citizen science projects with classroom teachers and science specialists. For example, the science education leaders with Coppell ISD explored the Project Finder and collaboratively engaged in curriculum writing this summer to incorporate citizen science throughout the elementary, middle, and high school science curriculum. The students are in for an exciting year of real world science, and I can’t wait to hear about their experiences and discoveries! Here is a recent example in the news of an 11-year-old Northern Texas citizen scientist whose observation on iNaturalist has led state experts to begin an invasive species study!

Categories: About Us, Citizen Science, SciStarter News, Staff Spotlight

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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.