Team:William and Mary/Human Practices/Retirement communities
Though sometimes overlooked, older members of our community are still heavily impacted by synthetic biology advancements and their experiences can help provide unique experiences for projects. With this in mind, we wanted to create strong relationships with the retired population in our area. To create an accessible and relevant outreach program we followed the Outreach Planning Guide. An overview version of the guide can be found on the Database Page page
We wanted to connect with the older community that can’t always attend our in-house public forums. These individuals are still an important part of the wider community; they vote, have an impact on the integration of synthetic biology projects, and may benefit from advances in biomedical engineering.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
To ensure our program fit the needs of this community, we connected with Patee Ramsey: the WindsorMeade Lifestyle Coordinator, Laura Mullen: the Williamsburg Landing Manager of Activities, and Melissa Degaraff: the Administrative Coordinator Christopher Wren Association. With each of these individuals we discussed the interests of their communities, the appropriate length of a program, and the background knowledge participants would be bringing into the program. Knowing the background of our community helped us prepare for the kinds of questions we would be asked during the presentation. Particularly with Williamsburg Landing, we were informed many of the residents had strong memories of the Cold War which influenced their perceptions of advancements in science. Knowing this helped us better anticipate their questions and concerns.
Consider How to Connect
These conversations also helped us to evaluate the most effective way to connect with the retirement community. In person conversations were ultimately the best way to create meaningful relationships and facilitate the most learning. Because it would be logistically challenging to coordinate the residents visiting us on campus, we arranged to visit them in their community buildings. A special consideration for this community is their age and how it impacts their hearing; it was important for our team to arrange for microphones and to practice speaking very clearly so we could be heard and understood.
Search the Database & Adapt
We knew we would be presenting to a group of individuals with varying levels of background knowledge; because of this, we wanted to include a presentation as a part of our outreach. However, we were unsure how to create an engaging presentation for a mixed experience audience. For inspiration we turned to the Database
. During our search we found TUDelft's 2017 TEDX presentation. There was a video of one of their team members giving a presentation. Her presentation style, use of familiar personal stories and pop culture references, and level of sophistication when describing the team's project shaped how we approached our presentation. We modified the presentation time from 10 minutes to 25 minutes and integrated the subjects we felt would be most engaging based on our previous conversations with nursing home staff. We did not however, let the entire outreach event become a presentation. After reviewing several other teams’ projects, namely BostonU's 2016 Building with Biology event, it became evident that facilitating discussions can be an excellent way to increase engagement and promote mutual learning. We chose to make the second half of the program a guided discussion using questions adapted from our own Building with Biology Public Forum. This model allowed us to bring everyone up to speed on the science, while also giving the participants a chance to share with us what they knew and thought about synthetic biology. Reviewing these two past iGEM projects solidified our goal of creating an interactive and educational program which encouraged participants to develop their own opinions about synthetic biology.
On September 10th, we presented to 22 of the residents at WinsorMeade and on September 17th we presented to 25 of the residents of Williamsburg Landing. These visits were one hour, with 25 minutes for our formal presentations and 35 minutes for discussion. The participants were eager to ask questions and share their own opinions about synthetic biology. We had a diverse array of perspectives which made for an engaging and high energy forum. We are scheduled to give a 2 hour presentation for the Christopher Wren Association in Spring.
Reflect & Record
These events were an amazing hit with the residents! Both of our nursing home visits surpassed their scheduled time because residents chose to stay after the program to ask additional questions and continue the conversation. At Windsormeade in particular, several participants had done reading prior to the event and had come with specific stories to share and questions to ask based on their readings! Conversations ranged from the threats of bioengineered weapons, to the potential to cure disease. We discussed the scientific feasibility as well as the ethical implications of a variety of synthetic biology applications. Ultimately, our team learned a lot about the fears and hopes many members of the older generation have for synthetic biology. It was especially meaningful to hear about the apprehensions some of the older gentlemen had concerning biological threats. As students working in an iGEM lab, we comply with safety policies; our projects are approved before we begin and we would never consider letting our projects out of lab without approval. However, some of the participants were particularly interested in the legal, not just ethical, barriers that stood between researchers in a lab posing a threat to the community. These conversations shifted our perceptions about the work we do every day in lab, and reminded us why bioethics and biosafety are a vital part of the work we do. When responding to these questions we shared the policies our team complied with. On the other side of the conversations, many of the participants were eager to see where synthetic biology was headed. One of our favorite comments made during the event was from woman from Williamsburg Landing who shared:
“We may be afraid of this now, but people were nervous about vaccinations when they first came around. This could just be the next step in human evolution”.
We have received positive feedback from activities coordinators and requests for new programs. At the end of the event the activities coordinator from Windsormeade shared her feedback via email:
"Jessica, I got 100% super positive feedback from everyone who attended your presentation!!! You were a huge hit!! I am disappointed that I didn’t get by the ballroom yesterday to meet you. With the storm approaching, I have had a lot of preparations and changes to do.
The residents have requested more presentations such as you provided. So, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Thank you so very much for sharing your knowledge and time with the residents of WindsorMeade."
Moving forward with our retirement community programming, we are scheduling longer sessions, leaving 35 minutes for our presentation and 45 minutes for our conversations portion. We will be hosting a 2 hour session for the Christopher Wren Society in Spring.
The presentation used in our event can be found below: