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 Erica Prange.
Contact email Erica@SciStarter.com
Title at SciStarter Tools Database Coordinator
Role at SciStarter I work on the tools database, a project designed to make the equipment needed to complete citizen science projects easy to find by sharing project owner recommendations, tool user reviews, and new maker designs. I also assemble mini-kits: small packages that fit inside a vending machine filled with all of the information and supplies needed to complete a citizen science project at home.
Professional Experience I have a BA in Archaeology from the College of Wooster and a MA in Biology from Miami University. I enjoy interpreting scientific research in a way that resonates with the general public. This has led me to a career in informal education. After working in science centers, parks, camps, after-school programs, and a traditional classroom, I am currently the Manager of School Engagement at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The common thread between my role at CMNH and my role at SciStarter is access to science. I want to help people realize science is everywhere and they can participate in meaningful ways with minimal resources.
Why citizen science? Access to science is important to me and I think citizen science is a GREAT way to accomplish this, because it allows people to participate in a portion of the scientific study themselves. This participation sheds light on how science works and begins to reveal how data can be used to make meaningful change in one’s community. Plus, with so many projects to choose from, there are options to match every interest and ability.
Part of SciStarter’s mission or work/project that resonates most with you Access to science! I love how the project finder allows people to search for something that interests them through a variety of filters (topic, location, etc.). The developing tools database will increase access even more by helping people find the tools they need to complete projects. Personally, I am most interested in the “borrow” and “build” options as an alternative to purchasing equipment.
Something people might find surprising about you My interest in observing the outdoors didn’t start until I was in my early 20s. I accepted an internship in a National Park right after college, which turned out to be a critical decision for me both in terms of setting me on my career path and helping me discover something I was personally interested in. BUT when I started the job, I was barely aware of the living things in my own backyard (yup, this was local – the Cuyahoga Valley National Park). I learned what a spring peeper was (those of you who participate in Frog Watch know!). I learned macroinvertebrates were a thing (water quality monitors: I had no idea there was anything besides fish and crayfish living in my local stream). I also learned the words to a really great song about watersheds. But more importantly, I became inspired by the excitement of my peers and the students we were working with. Through practice, I became comfortable outside and more and more curious each day. So, when I write about access in just about every response, I mean having access to places, supplies, and information, but also access and support to guide new citizen scientists through their first adventures in observation and giving them encouragement to keep practicing.
Favorite place to do citizen science I like participating in local citizen science projects because the data I collect benefits my immediate community and I get to make new friends in the process. Lately, my husband and I have been participating in a stream monitoring project that is only a few blocks away from our home. It’s hard to get any more “local” than that!
What do you hope to accomplish in citsci? Personally, I enjoy learning new things. The whole process interests me; everything from the basic steps of collecting data to the big picture goals of how the data is informing local decisions. Professionally, I hope to continue using citizen science as a means to engage people in science.
I know it’s a hard choice, but name a project in the SciStarter directory that you’ve enjoyed recently and explain why. iNaturalist! Technically there are a LOT of projects in the SciStarter directory that use this platform, but I’ll give a shout out to the Ohio Dragonfly Survey. Cleveland, OH participated in the City Nature Challenge (a global biodiversity spotting competition using iNaturalist to organize observations) for the first time in 2018 and the Ohio Dragonfly Projects was one of the iNat projects that benefited from our collective burst of observations. Also, this app is SO easy to use. Talk about making science accessible!