We are pleased to announce the receipt of an unrestricted gift in the amount of $25,000 from The Whitman Institute to support the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) project.
Being involved in COPUS has been an extraordinary experience, but it is not all that easy to explain – probably because it is so simple. It is all about connecting people and ideas and the common thread is sharing science.
The idea for COPUS began in 2006 at UCMP with an NSF-funded meeting of a small eclectic group of people all perturbed by a growing anti-science sentiment. Eventually it evolved into its current form and the Year of Science 2009, but even more importantly it initiated new relationships and collaborations, most of which do not advertise any formal connection to COPUS, so it is kind of hard to see all that COPUS has and continues to accomplish. For instance, here at Berkeley, several of us got together to decide how our campus could use the concept of the YoS09 to promote the depth and breadth of science that takes place on our campus – as a result, the Science@Cal initiative was born. Now, each Cal Day, science units on campus coordinate their efforts; we are planning a science festival on campus as a satellite event to the USA Science and Engineering Festival on October 23rd; and each month those of us involved in education and outreach get together for a brown bag lunch to discuss projects, share ideas, and learn from one another.
Locally, COPUS and the YoS09 also initiated a thematic approach to local science cafes, events at the California Academy of Sciences, and home page highlights on the website of Lawrence Berkeley Lab. But perhaps most importantly, COPUS initiated the emergence of Bay Area Science, a loose network of more than 100 science organizations in the Bay Area, sharing a common website and event calendar, interacting informally, and now working together toward a 2011 Bay Area Science Festival.
This COPUS "underground movement" has taken place in many different regions of the US – all sparked by connecting people and ideas. For those of you who have read The Starfish and the Spider by Brafman and Beckstrom, COPUS definitely follows the starfish model – there is no Director or CEO – those who are the most active (and that can be any body) influence the directions that COPUS will take, always striving for finding effective ways to engage the public in the wonders of science. It amazes me to realize the number of people that I now interact with because of COPUS – from an ex cheerleader for the Philadelphia '76ers now known as the Science Cheerleader, to a vibrant mom of two in Florida, a bioengineer at MIT, a chemist in Northridge who teaches science to cops, and a scientist who uses "science zines" to focus on science concepts for art students in Chicago. They are all part of my extended COPUS family and help me to see new ways to communicate about science.
Some people instantly "get it" and jump on board, easily finding a way through which they can gain and/or contribute to the efforts of COPUS. For others, it is less obvious. But we were amazed and delighted when we received support in 2008 from two foundations – the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and The Whitman Institute – thanks to two individuals, who "got it:" Soo Venkatesan, now a project manager for the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and John Esterle, the Executive Director of The Whitman Institute. They each facilitated an investment in COPUS, recognizing the potential of such a unique grassroots effort. We are very grateful to both Soo and John and in particular to The Whitman Institute (TWI) for this recent gift. There is an elegant match between what COPUS is trying to do and TWI, which is a private foundation located in San Francisco, dedicated to promoting ways for people to develop their capacity to think critically.