April is National Volunteer Month, and we’re celebrating Berkeley Lab volunteerism. We’re also spotlighting how the Community Relations team works with Lab groups to build volunteer programs to meet each group’s unique needs.

 


 

When the co-chairs of the Early Career Employee Resource Group’s (ECERG) outreach committee were looking for ways to expand their community outreach, they knew exactly who to call: the Government and Community Relations Office. Outreach co-chairs Sharon Greenblum and Revathi Jambunathan wanted to provide early career researchers a venue to hone their skills at explaining science to a general audience while at the same time helping members of the community interpret science news.

“We wanted to reach out to the community in general to share what we do at the Lab, [and] to engage them in science,” Sharon explained. “We really wanted to meet people where they are. We wanted scientists that work at Berkeley Lab to hear from the public about how what they do impacts people, and actually engage in conversations.”

Jenn Tang and Joselyn Delgado in Community Relations were excited by the possibilities, and helped organize volunteer opportunities at the Berkeley Farmers Market. “A priority for the Community Relations team, which meshes well with what the ECERG is doing, is to get out into the community and talk with some of the folks who are our neighbors about the positive impact that our science has,” Jenn explained. “The conversations we have help us build awareness about, and distinguish, the unique role that Berkeley Lab has here in the Bay Area.”

The results have been big for the community and for the members of the ECERG. “We wanted to bring a topic from different research areas for each farmers market,” said Revathi. “The first two topics were ‘Carbon Capture and Energy Storage’, and ‘Energy Efficient Buildings’. It was also an exciting opportunity for us to learn about research from other divisions and its impact. As early career researchers, we are sometimes so focused on the details of our work. But, preparing for these events allowed us to look at broader impacts. For example, what is the government policy about carbon capture and storage? We don’t think about that that often. Or what does the public really care about when it comes to energy efficient buildings?”

Sharon agreed, “We had really good conversations about the implications of our work here and the future of science, and we heard really interesting perspectives from people who work in adjacent fields.”

More outreach events are planned, with potential topics proposed and decided on in a shared spreadsheet. The proposed topic for the next event in June is ‘Biofuel and Bioenergy’. Sharon and Revathi stress that volunteers do not need to be experts in the topics being shared, just willing to learn. “There isn’t a forum quite like this where it’s casual, and the whole goal is to talk about things in as approachable a way as possible,” said Sharon. “Talking to the other Berkeley Lab volunteers and hearing about their experiences has been wonderful. Bringing people together in this fun, farmers market environment sets the stage for being able to have conversations that are not just focused on technical details, but who the scientist is as a person, how they got there, and why what they do actually matters.”

Those who have already participated at the farmers market had their own advice for potential volunteers. “Bring your excitement!” said Reva Deshpande, an early career researcher with the Energy Technology Area. “Prepare for discussions that would question your understanding of your subject.” Richard Brown, a staff scientist with the Energy Technology Area added, “Bring some cash and a shopping bag to do food shopping after your shift.”

Sharon and Reva are excited to keep the momentum going, and to learn from their fellow researchers as well as the community. Revathi shared that she was struck by how open people were to discussion, once they felt like their perspective was really being heard. As she summed up, “The best form of communication is sometimes just to listen.”

 


 

Resources

  • Interested in partnering with the Community Relations Office on a volunteer event? Email joselyn@lbl.gov
  • Check out all the Lab’s volunteer opportunities at service.lbl.gov

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