Principal Investigator: Martha Merson

Co-PIs: Nickolay Hristov, Dr. Louise Allen

Funder: National Science Foundation


iSWOOP is a professional development program that helps park rangers bridge the gap between the public and the researchers at Acadia National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Indiana Dunes National Park, Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park.

iSWOOP is a way to bring scientists, educators, and interpreters together to foster a better understanding of science that’s going on in national parks, to really enhance STEM learning for visitors.

—Dr. Louise Allen
Winston-Salem University

 This project is meant to advance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning among national park visitors. iSWOOP brings together educators, scientists, and National Park Service (NPS) interpreters to incorporate site-based science into programs for the public.

Project staff seek to build expertise within the interpreter and ranger community. Staff engage with the researchers on site, and host sessions to help the rangers interpret complex data, and then to ask informed questions of the researchers. When the rangers come to a deeper understanding of the research, their interactions with visitors are also transformed. Rangers learn from iSWOOP to guide visitors to answer their own or each others’ questions in order to build scientific literacy.

iSWOOP supports the NPS in fulfilling its educational vision by enhancing interpreter-visitor interactions in four ways, providing interpreters with:

  • Direct contact with scientists doing research in the park in an interactive format;
  • Field-based experiences, increasing their awareness of scientific park-based research;
  • Compelling visual data and graphs which can function as a jumping off point for STEM learning;
  • Ongoing opportunities to reflect on and then improve their interactions with visitors, increasing their strategies for leveraging visitors’ questions for active inquiry.


Shaping Outreach and Education Collaborations with National Park Interpreters—Report

Recognizing that 1) scientists who engage the public, once looked upon with suspicion by their peers, are increasingly applauded for strengthening the link between the research enterprise and society, 2) funding agencies often require scientists to justify their research in terms of broader impacts, and 3) national parks offer a willing workforce of interpretive rangers poised to interpret site-based science, the iSWOOP project set out to understand scientists’ preferences in order to shape the structure and invitations to collaborate on outreach and education. 

iSWOOP staff sent email invitations to complete an online survey  to 2,189 investigators who had submitted an annual report to the NPS Research and Permitting Reporting System (www.irma.nps. gov) on permitted research conducted in 2016. We analyzed surveys from 354 respondents, using latent class analysis, exploratory analysis, and descriptive statistics.

The report describes three types of profiles related to planning and budgeting for outreach, lists preferred formats for outreach, and names the the most compelling reason to do outreach and education. (Spoiler alert—reaching thousands of people was less important than inspiring others and influencing policy.)

Download here.

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