Roxanne Hughes, a recent postdoctoral associate with the Magnet Lab’s Center for Integrating Research and Learning (CIRL), has been hired to lead the group. Longtime director Patricia Dixon retired earlier this month.
CIRL is the Magnet Lab’s education and outreach arm; its primary aim is to provide hands-on research experience and access to science for students, teachers and families. CIRL reached 13,000 students last year through classroom outreach alone. The group’s complementary goal is to study why and how those efforts work. Hughes, who first joined CIRL as a graduate student in 2008, is taking the helm of a group nationally recognized as a leader both in educational outreach and research into outreach’s effectiveness.
“Roxanne’s academic preparation, past work at the lab and commitment to broadening CIRL’s reach are impressive,” said the group’s supervisor, User Program Director Eric Palm. “I look forward to seeing the next steps for the innovative outreach programs and effective partnerships Pat Dixon built.”
Hughes began her career as a science teacher, and went back to school as her interest in the policies that affected her classroom deepened. With research into young womens’ comfort level and sense of belonging within science-track degree programs, Hughes found work that kept her in the field she loved — and opened a door to influencing policy, too.
Explained Hughes, “The research that I’ve looked at is really the role of identity on science and engineering careers and how people get motivated or turned off by these fields. It’s an identity issue: Do I fit in with this career or this culture?”
That identity issue, argues Hughes, is central to evaluating what programming works for young people, and on what level it’s working. Do kids come away from a CIRL experience with a superficial understanding of how an experiment works, or can they see themselves comfortably as an investigator, as a scientist? The answer can be important as a young person sorts out his or her own academic interests.
“CIRL has long run spectacularly successful outreach programs, and our group’s research on what happens to the students who use our programming — and how that programming affects their perception of science, math and engineering fields — is already nationally unique,” Hughes noted. “I’m looking forward to broadening that research further and to challenging this group to engage students, teachers and the public in new ways.”
Hughes is not the only one looking forward to the impact she and her CIRL team will have.
“Roxanne is considered by the physics education community to be one of the leaders in learning how to open doors for young women to more broadly participate in the physics and engineering professions,” said Paul Cottle, a Florida State University physics professor who is active in science education. “Talented and hard-working young women deserve these opportunities, of course. But the nation’s economic future requires that we have all hands on board for innovation — including the nation’s best and brightest young women.”