Citizen Science is a big winner at White House Science Fair

March 30, 2015

At the fifth-annual White House Science Fair last week, citizen science was recognized as a powerful mechanism to enable new scientific discoveries and empower students to do science.

One young exhibitor who is a Teen Science Scholar at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Tiye Garret-Mills, presented her innovative leaf imaging project to President Obama explaining that "one of the reasons why [her] project is important is because recently in science there has been a big leap to get citizens in science…because there simply aren’t enough scientists to do it. So, by having citizens collect data, scientists can analyze it and draw their own conclusions.”

In addition to featuring students like Garret-Mills, Obama also announced over $240 million in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives and featured citizen science as an example for how federal agencies, companies, and other organizations are creating new ways to engage students. A related fact sheet was released by the White House Science and Technology office stating that, “citizen science and crowdsourcing projects are powerful tools for providing students with skills needed to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Volunteers in citizen science, for example, gain hands-on experience doing real science, and in many cases take that learning outside of the traditional classroom setting.”

NEON’s Project BudBurst is among many citizen science programs highlighted in the fact sheet. Project BudBurst is a national plant phenology program that empowers people across the country to collect and contribute plant phenology data to a national open access database. Involvement in Project BudBurst includes hands-on experience in collecting phenology data that contribute to ongoing research by scientists interested in observations made by individuals across the country.

Project BudBurst—in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)—has created a citizen science course to educate hundreds of FWS staff, volunteers, Friends groups, and others to use Project BudBurst to contribute observations from national wildlife refuges, schoolyard habitats, local communities, and other areas of interest. The FWS course includes detailed information about the importance of citizen science, plant phenology and climate change. The online course will be offered by NEON’s Citizen Science Academy, an online platform that hosts educational resources for incorporating citizen science into education programs. 

Reflecting on another successful White House Science Fair, it is exciting to see the growing attention and enthusiasm for the field of citizen science. Other noteworthy citizen science programs that were recognized include:

You can read about each program’s initiatives in the White House fact sheet or on their websites.

Thank you to everyone who has helped NEON’s citizen science programs get where they are today; we couldn’t have done it without our amazing participants and partners. Here’s to a bright future full of scientific discoveries!

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