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Spotlight On: Erin Cannan, Bard Center for Civic Engagement

Erin Cannan, Bard CCEErin Cannan, who is Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Civic Engagement/Deputy Director, Bard Center for Civic Engagement is a transplant to the Hudson Valley from Rochester, NY who has been at Bard College since 1995. The Center for Civic Engagement partners with RSF and the Rhinebeck Schools on various student programs, including Science Night Out.

By way of background, tell us about yourself: where you are from, your educational background, what you are studying and what career plans you have.
I am a transplant from Rochester, NY who came to the Hudson Valley to work at Bard College in 1995 as the first-year dean responsible for orientation and student activities for freshman at the College. I eventually became the dean of students and was responsible for the student affairs program for about 13 years. In 2011, we launched a January term, mandatory first-year course called Citizen Science, a three week experience focused on science. I proposed that we incorporate community engagement into the program as a way to enhance student learning. Eventually, I moved into the Center for Civic Engagement as the dean for civic engagement and now host year-round programs engaging the community in a variety of activities including a year-round science program in the libraries and schools which are mostly organized and run by Bard students (science and non-science majors alike). Our goal is to get as many students engaged in science related activities as possible.

When did you first get interested in science, what sparked your interest, and what kinds of things did you do in pursuit of your interest?
I am especially interested in the concept of citizen science more generally (not just the Bard course). Most of us will not be scientists but will be confronted with questions related to things like health, environment, nutrition, public policy and climate that will impact our families and communities. I like connecting Bard students with younger students to help both groups hone their communication skills and deepen their understanding of scientific concepts. The more fluency we have in the sciences the more informed decisions we can make – and what better way to connect than around batteries made of mud or invertebrates or non-newtonian fluids?

Describe when and how you came to be involved with the RSF and Rhinebeck schools, and what you have been doing.
Thanks to the fabulous support of RSF and the Thompson Trust, we were able to pull off a number of programs in the first year of our January course. This has blossomed into a regular program that involves science mentorship, 8th grade science visits and Science Night Out. We could not do our work without the hard work of the district or RSF.

What effect if any has working with kids had on your perspective on science, education or your goals?
Children are natural scientists. Their natural curiosity is infectious and for our students, that curiosity is contagious. In many ways, the Bard students learn so much more from their experiences with the children than the other way around. Children are true role models for all of us – a reminder that jumping in, taking risks and experimenting (what scientists do) is actually how they approach play – it is an important perspective because play is innovation and innovation solutions will be important for this generation. We should all take on a Citizen Science project as a reminder that we can make a difference in the world of science as well as have an impact on community.

Are you pursuing any science or technology-related projects right now?
We are focused on our summer science camps scheduled in the local libraries and recreation campus including a mobile maker space; we eventually aspire to have a permanent maker space on campus. And, for the first time, we have a 2-credit science outreach education course this semester which is an exciting opportunity that will include science outreach activities in the community.

What do you do for fun?
I love to run and especially love to do that outside (even in winter), so I am currently battling ice and puddles and the dark to get outside. I sit on the Eleanor Roosevelt ValKill Partnership Board and the Red Hook Education Foundation and in between I shuttle my kids to every kind of sports field imaginable!

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