In the spring of 2021, Fiona Bell, a PhD student with the ATLAS Institute, presented her bioplastics research to residents of Balfour Senior Living in Louisville, Colorado. Delivered remotely on a widescreen television during the pandemic, Bell began her talk with a brief overview of the world’s reliance on petroleum-based plastics and followed with an explanation of the sustainable bioplastics she developed.
“Despite the virtual platform, the seniors were engaged in the presentation,” Bell says. “They were very interested in future applications of my research, including biodegradable electronics and scaling bioplastics production up to commercial production.”
The presentation was sponsored by the ATLAS Community Outreach and Resource Network (ACORN), a new outreach team organized by Shaz Zamore (preferred pronoun "they/them/their"), PhD, a teaching assistant professor who has focused their career on facilitating access to STEM education for those who can’t easily access it–seniors living in retirement homes, incarcerated youth, low-income residents, underrepresented minorities and those attending K-12 Title I schools.
“ACORN is what I wanted to do from day one when I started at ATLAS,” Zamore says. “I’m really, really excited that this is getting off the ground.”
ACORN's mission, Zamore says, is to connect ATLAS research and STEM education with the surrounding community, focusing on the needs of underserved communities, especially performance disparities in the K-12 classroom. Students from high socioeconomic backgrounds tend to outperform other students due to better access to resources, Zamore adds.
Over the summer, graduate student Isha Kanu (MS-Creative Industries) worked with Zamore to collect materials from ATLAS students, faculty and research groups, including DIY instructions, activities, curricula and recorded talks and performances, with the idea of turning those recordings into activities or public events while prioritizing underserved communities.
Zamore has also established a business partnership with Impact on Education, a local foundation that supports the Boulder Valley School District with community funding and resources to help eliminate technology, resource and opportunity gaps.
In the future, ATLAS students will have opportunities to tutor STEM subjects to Centaurus High School students, especially those who have struggled to keep up during the pandemic. Plans are in the works to also engage with youth involved in the St. Vrain trade programs and at a juvenile detention center.
In another ACORN presentation to Balfour Senior Living this summer, Suraj Greenlund, a master’s student in the Creative Industries track, (preferred pronoun "they/them/their"), presented NASA-sponsored research they performed at Georgia Tech that analyzed astronauts' heart rates and other medical data from the Apollo Moon missions.
“I really enjoyed presenting my work to the residents, “ Greenlund said. “The best part was seeing everyone's excitement and nostalgia while I was discussing the Moon missions.
“I would definitely love to do more ACORN talks. It was my first time presenting my work in a non-professional setting, and I loved every bit of it.”
ACORN is looking for website designers and those who know how to build database architecture, as well as industry partners. ATLAS undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff who are interested in joining ACORN can fill out this interest form to receive updates and invitations to the group’s meetings.