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For Immediate Release
February 17, 2016

'Portal to the Public' Develops Faculty Skills, Shares Research with Community

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—A national program run locally by Science Central that helps connect public audiences with current science in their own communities has been implemented at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). The Science Central Portal to the Public program helps make the connection through direct interactions with local researchers and experts. Science Central initiated the multi-year program via numerous grants received from the Portal to the Public Network (PoPNet) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Portal to the Public framework is a part of over 40 institutions around the United States that form PoPNet, a diverse community of practitioners dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies for scientist-and-public engagement. Science Central, a regional resource located in downtown Fort Wayne that provides inspiring and fun hands-on science education for people of all ages, has coordinated with IPFW as its latest partner.

“Portal to the Public allows us to share with the community who we are as an institution and broaden how the general public conceives of science,” said Shannon Bischoff, associate professor of linguistics and director of the Institute for Research and Scholarship, and Creative Endeavors (IRSC) at IPFW.

IPFW participated in the program with an inaugural group of 12 faculty in various areas of expertise. The faculty taking part in Portal to the Public include:

  • Ben Dattilo, Geosciences
  • Karol Dehr, Appleseed Writing Project, English and Linguistics
  • Damian Fleming, English and Linguistics
  • Max Fowler, graduate student, Computer Science
  • Connie Kracher, Dental Education
  • Suzanne LaVere, History
  • John Licato, Computer Science
  • Mark Masters, Physics
  • Andres Montenegro, Visual Communication and Design
  • Punya Nachappa, Biology
  • Peter Bella, Visual Communication and Design
  • Ryan Yoder, Psychology

“Portal to the Public provides a unique opportunity for both children and adults to meet one-on-one with college professors, while learning about current research being conducted in our region and throughout the country,” says program participant Connie Kracher.

Adds Suzanne LaVere, associate professor of history, “I was especially happy that Science Central looked beyond disciplinary boundaries and included non-scientists in this program; I learned how to communicate my research on medieval manuscripts to a general audience, and loved hearing both kids and adults make connections between medieval writing and education and the way they write and learn today.”

The skills the faculty have learned will be put to the test when the group participates in the first ever IPFW Sponsorship Day at Science Central on Saturday, February 20, when IPFW hosts a free day at Science Central for the area community. Special presentations by the IPFW Portal to the Public faculty will take place throughout the day.

Faculty have been training to work on their presentations, keeping in mind their audience can range from the age of 3 to 103.

“I liked the group interaction during the training phase,” said Ben Dattilo, associate professor of geology. “The exercise was to prepare us to capture interest and engage directly with the public: a mixture of parents and children of all ages.”

And even graduate students at IPFW are involved as they hone their skills in preparation for becoming future professors.

“As a graduate student, the Portal to the Public experience was doubly beneficial to me,” said Max Fowler, a graduate student in computer science at IPFW. “Portal to the Public led me to consider how to explain computer science concepts in a physical way, helping me better understand my own work in data visualization.”

Jenny Young, the education director at Science Central, saw a natural partnership between IPFW and Science Central when it came to the program.

“Our mission at Science Central is to be northeast Indiana’s gateway to STEM,” said Young. “By bringing scientists to Science Central we are able to showcase the people doing cutting-edge research in our local area.

Indiana University and Purdue University also have a Portal to the Public program with Science Central, but according to Young and Bischoff IPFW has the largest number of faculty participating.

“This is an investment in the university and the community,” said Bischoff.

For more information on Portal to the Public and the upcoming IPFW Sponsorship Day at Science Central, contact Bischoff at 260-481-6989,, or Young at 260-424-2400,

About Portal to the Public
The Portal to the Public approach is a tested strategy for connecting public audiences with the scientists working in their communities. New sites join an active community of practitioners dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies for scientist-and-public engagement. Portal to the Public activities can build and strengthen long-term relationships among regional STEM-focused institutions. The professional development elements, along with other components of the framework, can be used to support a wide variety of institutional needs and goals. The Network continues to expand and would like to connect with new institutions and other ISE organizations. Find out more information on joining PoPNet here.