Three weeks. That's all it took.
Three weeks ago I did a thing, as opposed to doing nothing and not acting on my idea, and I built this site. Two weeks ago I started building a database of all science, technology, engineering and maths graduate programs at universities in Ontario. I'll be expanding from coast to coast to cover all of Canada, but I started with where I am from. About a week ago I started emailing those graduate program's coordinators, administrators, directors, receptionists, or using whatever contact information I could find online requesting that information about the Conference2Classroom initiative be forwarded on and inviting graduate students to register.
A few days ago we had a registration from a participant in the Entomological Society of Canada/America Joint Meeting in Vancouver. This conference is next week. Very quickly I identified schools near the conference and reached out to them inviting them to register their classroom with us. The next day we had found a classroom to match our entomology expert with.
Three weeks. That's all it took from acting on my idea to create Conference2Classroom to confirming our inaugural activity.
And now I have proof of concept! I have gone from hoping and thinking that this initiative would be well received and work, to knowing it has been welcomed and that it can work. And now I am even more motivated to make it work, and to make sure it is awesome.
This week we have started reaching out to graduate programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. So far we have emailed Brock, Carleton, Lakehead, Laurentian, McMaster, Trent, Windsor and Wilfred Laurier universities to encourage graduate students to register with us. And we have seen our first registrations roll in!
Graduate students are a great target audience to start. Attending conferences is an important aspect of their development as a researcher and an integral part in their academic trajectory. You get to share your work with your research community, learn about other research being done, speak with people in your discipline, and there are often opportunities for feedback and mentorship. A significant portion of participants in many conferences are graduate students. Not to mention participating in conferences is important to their grant applications, but so too are community outreach activities. We hope to leverage all of this and look forward to getting graduate students involved with us and in classrooms across Canada.
While we have not yet begun our email campaign on the classroom side of things, our social media presence has benefited us and we have seen our first registrations on that side of things too.
It is nice to see Conference2Classroom get some traction so early on. We've a long way to go, but it is encouraging to see how receptive people have been.
Good ideas come to people all the time. Making an idea a reality, on the other hand, involves a lot more work and probably occurs less often. Step one towards actualizing Conference2Classroom was to build a website, check. This in and of itself is a relatively simple action, but it also acts as a big motivator for me. I have put my idea out into the world, I've made a commitment to this initiative and this propels me forward.
Next steps will involve a lot of legwork. Phase one is all about establishing Conference2Classroom. This means reaching out to schools to register their classrooms, reaching out to professional associations to register their conferences, legitimizing my idea in an acceptable structure (nonprofit? charity?), contacting potential sponsors and applying for other types of funding. It is my hope that once I get the ball rolling and this initiative gains more interest and recognition that I can transition to the next phase of developing Conference2Classroom.
Exciting times are ahead!
And if you find yourself reading this blog post and interested this new initiative I suggest registering, donating, getting in touch, and of course sharing this with anyone you know who might be interested too.
Earlier this month I attended ForestSAT hosted at the University of Maryland. This was my first international conference, as a PhD student this represented an important step in my academic trajectory and my development as a researcher. I spent my days and nights living and breathing research, filling my days attending talks given by experts in remote sensing of forest environments from across the globe. Everyone was keen to share their projects, and everyone was equally eager to hear what others were doing.
It was an amazing conference, and yet I couldn't help but feel that there was a missed opportunity.
I grew up in a small city in southern Ontario. It was a blue collar kind of place and I am from a blue collar kind of family. My father is a sheet metal worker and my mother is a homemaker. The realm of possibilities for what I would be when I grew up matched the scope of my experiences and encounters growing up. That is to say, what I thought I could be was pretty limited. And to be honest not much of it sounded very appealing to me.
I came into remote sensing kind of unintentionally. My path in undergrad was circuitous, and my path to undergrad was as well. But at the end of it all, I left Trent University with a Joint Honours BSc in Geography and Biology and a Minor in International Development Studies. During my time at Trent University I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant to Steven Franklin, who became my undergraduate thesis supervisor and mentor. Steven Franklin does remote sensing. I looked at a Landsat time series to identify forest changes for my undergraduate thesis.
It seems silly to say now, but growing up I had no idea that this was a thing! I knew NASA existed from movies and TV shows. I knew they went to space. But what they did, what they collected, and what was done with that data never entered my mind as a kid. I never fathomed that what NASA did was somehow related to jobs in the real world. But I wish I knew this was something in the realm of possibility. I wish someone had told me.
I wish someone had told me?
I wish someone had told me! I wish that I had someone come to my school and talk to me about their work doing exactly that! Barring me inventing a time machine, it is too late for that now. But now I have the opportunity to be that person who goes to schools. I get to share my enthusiasm and inspire future generations.
And that brings us back to ForestSAT. While at this conference I recognized the palpable passion in each expert for their work and an enormous missed opportunity to engage with the community that was hosting us. I wanted to go from the conference to the classroom, and bring others with me. Conference2Classroom was borne from that feeling. Conferences bring together so many experts who are there to share their work, our mission is to enable them to share it with students in the classroom.