From Soil Science to Science Outreach: January 2014 SOTM – Krisztina Eleki, Marina Damiano, SOTM News

Krisztina Eleki is the Director of Programming at the Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST), a non-profit organization founded in 2006 that is dedicated to promoting science and technology through discussions, programs, and leadership dialogue among scientists, institutions, and the public.

The path to Krisztina’s current position in science outreach at C2ST was indirect, however; and it all started with a passion for being outdoors. “Nature inspired me to study plant and soil science and then environmental science,” says Krisztina. But while in graduate school, she realized how large the gap is between science and the general public and decided to dedicate her career to bridging this gap. To support her decision, Krisztina earned a Masters of Public Administration and Policy concurrently with her PhD in Environmental Science.

With her new inspiration in mind, Krisztina took her first outreach position as a life science curator at the California Science Center, a major informal learning institution in the South Land area of Los Angeles. After 2 years her husband received a research assistant professor position at Northwestern University. Still interested in outreach, Krisztina saw an open position at C2ST and knew it would be the perfect fit.

Krisztina’s primary responsibility as the Director of Programming at C2ST is to identify, organize, and implement program content and activities to support C2ST’s mission and future goals. She establishes and maintains working partnerships with institutions in Chicagoland area, such as Argonne National Lab. and the Art Institute. “More R&D funded research occurs within a 300-mile radius of Chicago than the East and West costs combined. It is essential to give visibility to, and raise public awareness of, science and technology in the Chicagoland community. C2ST is the catalyst for generating awareness of Chicago as a center for innovation,” says Krisztina.

In addition to promoting science in Chicago, another one of Krisztina’s goals is to use C2ST’s educational programs to introduce science to Chicago area students and encourage them to pursue careers in science. “There are several turning points in furthering science education” says Krisztina, “One of the major ones is in middle school and the other in college. Generally, these drop offs are steeper for women and minorities.” Encouragingly, however, Krisztina sees her educational partners focusing more on inspiring girls to become engineers. To advance future generations to the next level of scientific education and training, Krisztina advises current scientists and teachers to be mentors and involve their volunteers, interns, students, and technicians in projects and decision-making processes. “On a professional level, network with and promote women. Increase their visibility so they can inspire others.” Krisztina invites readers to pencil into their calendars C2ST’s Women in STEM conference to be held in Fall 2014. There will be opportunities to learn from and network with colleagues across all STEM fields.

When she is not reaching out the public, Krisztina is reaching out to her family, encouraging her 3-year-old daughter to build structures and fix toys. In her spare time, she still maintains her connection to the outdoors and enjoys going on walks with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

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