Communication and Documentation
“Document your code!”
This is a lesson I remember from my first computer programming course as a college frosh, now more than 30 years ago. The language was FORTRAN, and the computer was a PDP11/44 but the lessons were the same. If you didn’t provide enough comments in your code for the instructor to understand what your logic was intended to accomplish, or what the variables meant, or what that subroutine was for, you got points off. The essential message was not subtle: no matter how good a job you think you did, you haven’t done the whole job unless you’ve effectively documented it. Being clear and to the point is another message (one that I still have trouble getting, based on responses to some of my communication—including prior drafts of this essay.)
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had substantial reminders of the importance of those lessons of communication and documentation. Since the Affiliates’ Meeting in April, the INSGC staff have been trying to upgrade our processes and activities. We’re responding to the Affiliates’ survey of communications with the Central Office. Although the overall responses were excellent (from the perspective of demonstrating to NASA that we take our performance seriously and assess it regularly), there were some areas of concern (from the perspective of continuous improvement and achieving a model of excellence). It’s clear that we could use our website to better advantage, and thus that is a priority for us this summer with two student interns.
Effective communication is a tricky thing, but great when it works. Angie has reported a much more timely and useful set of responses to our requests for reporting, due in part to our more clear presentations of what, when, and why we need those reports to meet our NASA grant reporting and documentation obligations. Wow… we can get that much more just by being more explicit about what we’re looking for, and how we need to use it?
Some people like their documentation “spiced up” a little bit; others just want the immediate facts, in order, with an agenda of what will be covered and how many minutes are associated to each fact. Recently, I had dinner with one of my former students, who recently started a new job at a major hospital as a quality engineering and improvement manager. He noted that some of the physicians and others at the hospital were frustrated with some of his meetings, because they couldn’t see how, or whether, there was a point to the meeting and what to do about it. (Interesting: that was, almost verbatim, one of the comments from our Affiliates’ survey.) I have had to learn the same lesson in our INSGC Central meetings and those with Dawn and Angie—it’s the agenda that helps focus time and understanding, and improves advanced preparation.
What level of communication works for you? Do people find your style amusing and intelligent, or obscure and elitist? This is an important question when you’re trying to do public outreach and engagement for the general population. There are lots of different audiences (faculty and students who receive awards, administrators who want to know effectiveness of campus cost sharing, people who stop you on the street and ask you questions about airspace utilization), and I want to learn how to connect with them all.
Is this where I mention that one of our primary ways of regular communication with our affiliates, partners, and friends is the INSGC Director’s Blog? I try to put together a new blog entry every month or so, and use it to communicate some of our strategic concerns and general oversight topics. Great, right? Except that Dawn told me a few days ago that people don’t look at the blog entries. (That is the point of website analytics—is anyone actually receiving the message you’re sending?) Well, if we never updated the blog, that would be the expectation. Or, if it was assumed that nothing important ever showed up there. But what if I said that the best way to see what we’re planning for (and why) will show up first, or best, or most explicitly, in that Director’s Blog? Would that get more visits? Perhaps, but the goal of the blog is not more visits. It’s to communicate more effectively with our constituents.
So, what next? Over the rest of the summer, expect additional upgrades to our communications: not just in the use of the available technologies, but in our strategies, messages, and references. This is a critical point in Space Grant evolution, and I believe that one of the ways that INSGC will succeed in the future is to be a powerful and effective source of communication and documentation of STEM engagement in the State of Indiana.
(If you want to know some of what else I had to say, visit the GROUPER Lab blog.)
Just down the street and around the corner was a vacant lot, but has now been recreated into something beautiful. A community garden, filled with flowers, herbs, and lots of vegetables, ranging from yams to string beans and anything in between. Community or urban gardens are becoming more of a common occurrence in the United States, thus creating concern for people like Dr. Gabriel Filippelli of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Dr. Jennifer Latimer of Indiana State University.
Dr. Filippelli started testing sites in Indianapolis in 2010 for heavy metals. In this time, he found ten times the natural level of lead in soil, which is 10 ppm. As most of us are aware lead is toxic to the human body. Lead has been known to cause neurological defects, gastrointestinal complications, reproductive difficulties, and linked to blood problems.
Due to these complications and the increased interest of people wanting the availability of a garden, Dr. Filippelli developed the Garden Safe, Garden Well Guide. Within this guide are tips on how to test you’re planting soil, what to do at specific lead levels, and how to fix the problems instead of relocating your entire plot. Dr. Filippelli does not want people to be scared of the problem, to just be aware of it and know how to handle the situation and to make the best of it.
Dr. Filippelli and Dr. Latimer teamed up to begin a study in Terre Haute and Indianapolis. In these cities two neighborhoods of differing backgrounds will be studied. They will have students help in the research and testing soil plots to better understand the distribution of lead in soils. Currently they believe it is from years of lead being used in paint and gasoline, but are looking into factors like dump sites, power plants, and even dust. Participants in the study are provided a guide and tools to help alleviate the amount of lead in their fresh produce by building raised beds to plant in.
Dr. Gabriel Filippelli
Indiana University - Purdue University
723 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Dr. Jennifer Latimer
Indiana State University
Department of Earth and Environmental Systems
159 Science Building
Terre Haute, IN 47809
The Indiana Space Grant Consortium has previously funded many students, through scholarships or fellowships, to help them achieve their academic goals. We have picked two previous recipients to do a follow-up on and allow others to meet our awardees. First is Jose Mijavila of Indiana University, he received a Base Scholarship this past year. Second is Isa Fritz, who was an employee for INSGC and received a Graduate Fellowship. After that is Ashley Burkett, who received a Fellowship funding for her geochemistry project.
Jose Mijavila is going to be a senior at Indiana University this coming year. He will be completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Neuroscience. He is pursuing his academic interests by participating in the Mackie Research Lab. Using a patch clamp, he investigates the electoral potentials of hippocampal neurons. He synapses the neurons onto themselves to understand the effects that different neurotransmitters and drugs have on retrograde cell signaling across the synapse. This process is called Depolarization Induced Suppression of Excitation, or DSE.
Just recently Jose was elected as Student Body President by fellow Indiana University students. While serving as Student Body President he shall represent students in major university wide decisions like university’s tuition hikes, federal government’s option to double student loan interest rates, safety on campus, and student housing on campus. This summer Jose is busy studying and preparing himself to take the Medical College Admissions Test. In the fall he will be busy with classes, serving as Student Body President, working in a lab, and applying to medical schools, including Indiana University.
Isa Fritz is a past student employee for INSGC, as well as a Graduate Fellowship recipient. For her undergraduate studies, Isa attended Carthage College to study Physics and Astronomy where she joined a research team that got her involved in the Space Grant Consortium program. Her research team studied NASA Mission Priority topics and then tested them in zero-G environments. The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium helped fund her undergraduate research and awarded her a summer research internship to analyze her group’s results.
With the help of a Graduate Fellowship from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium and a TA position in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department at Purdue, the dream of furthering her education became a reality. Isa attended Purdue University to earn her Masters Degree in Astronautical Engineering. After earning her Masters, she got a job offer at Space Systems/ Loral, SSL, in Palo Alto, CA. SSL is a premier designer, manufacturer, and integrator of reliable communication satellites and satellite systems for commercial and government customers. Loving every moment of her job, Isa works in Mission Control during launches of satellites. Most days she spends coding for other programs and carrying out equations and math by hand. One thing she really enjoyed throughout her schooling was community involvement and getting younger students interested in STEM related fields, she wishes to continue this trend with her new job.
Ashley Burkett received Fellowship funding from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium for the 2012-13 academic year. Fellowship funding played a crucial role in the success of her research during the academic year. A portion of Ashley’s funds provided salary, which allowed her to process samples during uninterrupted breaks in the academic year. Necessary laboratory equipment and consumable supplies were purchased with Fellowship funds to facilitate sample processing. Fellowship funding also paid for state-of-the-art measurements of specimen geochemistry.
In order to process and analyze the geochemical data from the measurements, computer and software equipment was required. The computer and software equipment was also purchased with Fellowship funds and the geochemical results that are currently being analyzed will ultimately be published in a scientific journal. Without this fellowship this research project would not have been possible. Through collaborations with the Australian National University and the University of Florida, Ashley was able to obtain diverse and intriguing geochemical data from her samples. The INSGC Fellowship allowed her to process samples in a timely manner, and to gather unique and valuable data from state-of-the-art equipment. Published results from this project will be of interest to a broad array of scientists, and the INSGC Fellowship will be gratefully acknowledged in all publications arising from this project.
Kids of all ages got a day of extremely fast but not-so-furious fun at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track on Sunday, May 19, 2013. Qualifications for the 2013 Indy 500 were held on May 18 and 19 for the racers, and for the spectators it was a chance to see history in the making and for kids to get a great learning experience and meet a few racing legends.
INSGC had the opportunity to show kids and parents alike how NASA technology is used in racing.
Our activities included testing Hot Wheels racing car times on different track materials, seeing what pressure does to an “astronaut” without a space suit, building LEGO Space Habitats, and even taking a ride on Purdue University Calumet’s Moonbuggy, which won the Great Moonbuggy Race Featherweight Award for 2013. Kid’s also got to marvel at the size difference between a racing tire and a tire from the space shuttle.
This collaboration with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the first of the year, with activities planned for the Brickyard and the MotoGP, and we welcome input and activities from out affiliates.
INSGC also recommends checking out the M-STEM initiative: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q2/purdue,-dallara,-ims-partner-for-stem-program.html
Quantitative Literacy is the ability and "habit of mind" to use and evaluate quantitative information and apply it in personal, professional, and public roles. The Indiana Space Grant Consortium provided Saint Joseph College with a grant to start up classroom activities based on quantitative literacy.
Just before the start of the fall 2012 semester, Karen Donnelly, Marge McIlwain, and Jennifer Coy hosted a workshop to demonstrate different possible activities for professors to incorporate quantitative literacy in the classroom. The facilitators and four students were running different programs for nine members of Saint Joseph’s faculty to watch, participate, and learn how to run these programs. During the workshop, attendees were shown how to use and acquire various data from items like temperature probes and microphones, and about utilization of linear and exponential modeling.
Once the workshop was finished the attending faculty committed to implementing a few of the activities into their curriculum. Some examples of projects professors applied include Musical Hypothesis Testing, Cane Toad Population Growth, and UV Investigation. At the end of the year, a few professors actually had their students develop different activities and demonstrate it for their class. A few student-inspired projects include Air Resistance, Grip Strength, Heart Rate and Exercise, and the Force of the Wind. One of the attending faculties took her students to a local elementary school and delivered activities to some of the students there.
If you want to know more about the program or look into a few of these activities the link to their webpage is below: http://www.saintjoe.edu/~karend/QLTech/
Barrett S. Caldwell, Ph.D., Director
Indiana Space Grant Consortium
Gerald D. and Edna E. Mann Hall
203 Martin Jischke Drive
West Lafayette, IN. 47907-1971