The Outreach and Service Awards are given annually to members of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) who have made significant contributions to the Center’s outreach and service mission. The 2022 winners are Kevin Myers, a scientist in the Donohue and Noguera labs at UW–Madison, and Pavani Tumbalam, lab manager in Kurt Thelen’s lab at Michigan State University.
Myers is active in several educational and outreach programs, both locally and across the country. For several years, he has participated in the Skype-A-Scientist program and visited with classrooms from fourth grade to high school seniors and even a group of incarcerated students. He is also a National Microbiome Data Collaborative Ambassador, a role responsible for raising awareness of microbiome metadata standards and their importance to current and future research, and for communicating changes to the standards requested by the community.
Within GLBRC and the Wisconsin Energy Institute, Myers is the chair of the Equity, Diversity, and Community (EDC) Committee and serves on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of UW–Madison’s Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research and Graduate Education. He also started and runs GLBRC’s Bioinformatics Office Hours to help members of the Center with bioinformatics or computational questions and is part of the GLBRC Mentoring Program.
“Outreach is important to me because I feel we need to reach beyond the lab to make science the best it can be. I love talking with people about science and what I do, but also showing them scientists are people, not robots,” Myers says. “I believe that anyone can be a scientist, and it’s on us scientists to do the work and perform outreach to make science a welcoming place for everyone.”
Tumbalam has been a volunteer instructor for the MSU Grandparents University Program for more than five years, teaching curious learners of all ages about bioenergy through hands-on laboratory activities. Participants consistently give high ratings to her module, which includes the opportunity to convert soybean oil to biodiesel. Tumbalam also participates in the annual MSU Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Department Open House for the state annual Future Farmers of America (FFA) conference, providing short, hands-on educational tutorials on renewable energy for small groups of high school students throughout the daylong event.
Through both programs, Tumbalam exposes youth to the concept of renewable energy, gives them hands-on experience in a laboratory setting, and gets them excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and potential careers. Over the years, her efforts have exposed hundreds of people to the societal importance of renewable energy and fostered student interest in careers in STEM and bioenergy. Principal investigator Kurt Thelen calls her “a teacher at heart,” with an ongoing commitment to education, partnership development, and creative programming in bioenergy.
“Outreach helps improve learning and builds a wonderful platform for a healthy and unconventional exchange of ideas. It provides a great program for curious young minds to get information in a collaborative setting,” Tumbalam says. “Educating young people is like transforming future generations endlessly!”