On outreach, volunteering, and the importance of bug stickers

When I was in grad school (studying chemical and biomedical engineering), I was struggling with the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question. I love science, but I also think there is a huge disconnect between scientists and other people. I was in my 20s before I knew what an engineer was, and as a kid I knew scientists existed, but I had no idea you could actually be one. Scientific literacy is super important, especially right now with man-children in our government saying science is up for debate… 

This is the reason I got really into museums and their role in public education. Almost the entirety of my scientific knowledge until I started studying engineering was from trips to museums, so naturally I wanted to be involved in exhibit planning and outreach programming. I was serious enough to enter the museum studies program in grad school, but struggled with the thought of finishing grad school with massive amounts of debt to work in a notoriously underfunded field where my salary would actually be less than my fellowship stipends. 

When I graduated, I cut my losses and got an engineering job. But when 2017 rolled around, I signed up for the Texas Master Naturalist training course. I had met some master naturalists at a few bioblitzes, and looked up with that meant. Basically, master naturalist are educated volunteers who work on service and outreach projects to preserve and encourage appreciation for the natural resources of Texas. I eagerly awaited the start of the first training course after I graduated and had free time again, and once the course started in January, I dove in head first. By the time I finished training and became certified, I had already racked up tons of advanced training and volunteer hours, and was already involved in more service projects and administrative tasks than any other person in my training class.

What is amazing to me is how I ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do in a museum, except it’s even better. In my master naturalist chapter, there are only a couple other people into bugs, and I am by far the most fanatical about the topic. I bring bugs for show-and-tell almost every chapter meeting, and am getting people who actively disliked bugs to look at them a little closer to appreciate them, and it’s awesome. 

But what I really love is talking about bugs with kids. Kids are so curious and so excited about learning (especially about “weird” stuff), but a lot of adults are boring and uninterested in having conversations with kids about things like spiders and poop. I brought a bunch of my bugs to an Audubon event in May, and kids were swarming my table the whole day. They were excited about bugs, I was excited about bugs. I had them try to find my camouflaging stick insects. I let them manhandle my dragonflies. I let them look at caterpillar poop in the microscope. I listened to them tell me about seeing a leaf-miner eating a leaf. I showed them how to use a sweep net, then we looked at what they caught in the microscope and it was the best thing ever. I loved it and this is what I was  meant to do.

One of the Master Naturalist projects I got involved with is Junior Master Naturalists. It’s basically what it sounds like: we have an after-school program with 5th and 6th graders, and share with them essentially the same topics we learn during our training. The organizers wanted them to keep an observation journal, but said that so few kids actually used theirs last year. I suggested making templates for observations that would help guide them through the process of recording nature, and replacing any and all powerpoint-style presentations with printing out pages they could put in their binder to reference later. To encourage them to actually make observations for their journals, I suggested having a passport-style check-in page, where they get a sticker for making observations between sessions. Since I suggested it, I took it upon myself to make the journal pages (and they turned out AWESOME). And I also took it upon myself to provide the stickers.

Yesterday was the first Junior Master Naturalist session. Last year, there were only 8 kids in the program. Yesterday, we were expecting 12 (already more than we anticipated!), but 17 kids showed up. The topic for the session was journaling and entomology. The activity: I handed out mystery specimens in cups, and the kids were to make their first observation of the bug in class by drawing it, describing what they saw, and writing about what they thought it was. I brought everything from a dotted wolf spider exuvia to eastern leaf-footed bug eggs. After making observations, we split into three groups. Two groups got to look at specimens in the microscopes: a female butterfly that had died and had part of her abdomen eaten away, so you can see the eggs inside her (!!), and a cluster of Zelus assassin bug eggs that had been parasitized by wasps. The third group got to huddle around the tank of caterpillars I brought, which also had a stick insect nymph, a leaf beetle, and a chrysalis. We talked about molting, camouflage, parasites, and all sorts of things. 

At the very end of the session, I went around and gave everybody their stickers for writing their first journal entry. They LOVED them.

I had initially bought these for myself (I mean, come on), but when the idea of the journals came up, I knew what these had to be used for. I have a lot of frustration about science information being dumbed down for kids, and a lot of my struggles with entomology now are because I was always told something completely incorrect when I was a kid. That’s why I’m really focused on being scientifically accurate when explaining things, even if they’re a little complicated. But it’s hard when you’re dealing with things with animals on them, because the designers have usually never seen a bug/fish/bird in their lives so the items are woefully inaccurate. It’s impossible to find anatomically correct insects on clothing, as toys, as stickers, etc., so when I saw these stickers I HAD to buy them.

I’ll probably never know what kind of effect I’m having on the kids I interact with at events like these, but I hope what I share with them will encourage them to explore science and nature on their own as they get older, and stay unapologetically as excited about these things as I am. Shoutout to @marycapaldi for these amazing stickers.

Oh, and PS: Master Naturalists have milestones when you reach a certain number of volunteer hours. You need 40 a year to stay certified, and you get a special pin when you reach 250, 500, 1000, etc hours. I’m getting my 250 hour pin at our next meeting. Hoping to get my 500 hour pin by the end of winter. :)

October 6, 2017

The Augmented Reality Sandbox at Concord University

Today was the first time since its update (and first time at all for us) that we have gotten to play with the AR Sandbox.
An Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor captures the image of the sand in a live feed. It links to a projector that projects images (contour lines/colors/etc) onto the sand. It uses a software (I’m not sure the name off the top of my head, but it is free) that is responsible for the projections. Though the software itself is free, it requires very specific components to work properly (only runs on a certain version of Linux, requires a specific version of Kinect sensor, graphics card, etc). I can get more information if needed :)
This nifty tool provides students and others an opportunity to build mountains, valleys, and other structures and see contouring in real time as well as how structures affect the area in general. By holding your hand over the map, you can also generate rainfall!!
It was the big hitter of the geology department today.
(I’m trying to upload a video but it is not wanting to go up.)

There we go!!

sex worker and houseless/low income pop-up shop and meal!
all clothes are clean and smell good!

please share for people who may need it but please do NOT plan on attending if you are NOT:

a sex worker
a low income person in need of professional office wear and/or warmer clothes

no one hungry will be turned away, regardless of age


Would you like to write for The Earth Story?

Our page, the Earth Story, could use your help. We are looking for new writers interested in joining our team to help us tell new stories.  

You don’t need a science degree or experience in writing, but what you do need is enthusiasm, ideas, and time. You could be interested in anything related to the planet, including Geology, Oceanography, Meteorology, Environmental Science, biology, education, or any other branch of science that tells the story of Earth. You will be joining a team of fellow enthusiasts and we promise to make you feel at home!

Keep reading

Hi, my name is Millie and I’m an #actuallivingscientist studying how dopamine neurons in the brain respond to different types of stressors, and how these responses may differ between sexes. 
Upper right: hand- pulled glass recording electrode 
Lower right: Plate of brain area (VTA) where I find dopamine neurons to record from. #neuroscience #outreach #scicomm #femalescientist #womeninscience #academia #electrophysiology #researcher #STEM

The wrong way to witness

A simple parable about speaking to people outside the faith:

Imagine that your young son goes missing, and you come to your friend, with tears in your eyes, and you tell him that something terrible has happened to your son. He may even have been kidnapped! So you ask your friend to help you find your son, to set your son free, and to bring him home again.

Then imagine the following conversation takes place—

Friend: I found your son.

You: Yes! Thank you! Where is he? Let me embrace my son.

Friend: Well, here’s the thing, when I found him, he was indeed kidnapped, but what’s more, the kidnappers had brainwashed him into thinking that they were his real family, and that this was the best life for him, and that you didn’t really love him or want him back.

You: No! Tell me that you rebuked that lie and told my son the truth!

Friend: Oh, I told him the truth alright. I told your son that he was doing wrong and bad things, that these people he was devoted to were wrong and bad, and that he had become as wrong and bad as them.

You: What have you done?

Friend: I just told him the truth!

You: You didn’t tell him the truth, you made it seem like I don’t want him, when I DO WANT HIM VERY MUCH. All you did was condemn his behavior. That wasn’t the mission. Why didn’t you tell my son that I love him? Why didn’t you tell him that I want more than anything for him to come home? Why didn’t you make it clear that I don’t care what he has done, I just want him to return to me, and we can work together to make everything else alright? 

…In the end, as we try to free those who are captive to their sin, we will have to answer these same hard questions. God holds us accountable, not just for what we say when we’re witnessing, but how we say it.

If it was your son, you’d want it done right too. If you make a mess of things, yet find yourself responding, “but I quoted scripture when I did it, doesn’t that make it right?”, the answer to that is no, it makes things far worse.

Here is what scripture actually says about speaking to people outside the faith:

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 So from now on we don’t look at anyone the way the world does. At one time we looked at Christ in that way. But we don’t anymore. Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come! It is all from God. He brought us back to himself through Christ’s death on the cross.

And he has given us the task of bringing others back to him through Christ, that God was bringing the world back to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with the message, that people may be brought back to him. So we are Christ’s official messengers. It is as if God were making his appeal through us. Here is what Christ wants us to beg you to do: Come back to God!


Geodesy - the science of “measuring the shape and gravity of Earth (often now from space), is a really useful tool for seeing what is happening beneath the planet’s surface. You can look at how ice caps are shrinking, how volcanoes are behaving, and a bunch more. This video introduces you to geodesy and all sorts of uses for it.

Shaken by my atheist roommate

Anonymous asked: Hey Unka Glen, I’ve got a problem with my spiritual life. My roommate is an atheist, and he’s always debating me about my faith, and the truth is, sometimes I feel uncertain after we talk. I still believe, but it’s like I don’t know what to think about it, and how to have peace about it. Any advice?

Unka Glen answered: Sure. Stop having this same conversation over and over. Instead, let’s recognize some important truths:

When atheists talk to me about religion, roughly 100 percent of the time it’s so I could talk them out of atheism, not the other way around. Think about it, if you see someone who believes in something that gives them comfort, purpose, meaning, and a solid moral compass, do you really say to yourself, “I need to crap all over that!”?

So ask him, why do YOU keep bringing this up? Why are YOU so hung up on this? What’s your actual, honest problem with Christianity? And don’t give me an intellectual answer to that question, because…

At long last, Christianity is a relationship with God, and like all relationships, it’s not subject to scientific or intellectual scrutiny. Now, true enough, you can point out that a person has an unhealthy or dishonest association with a religion (and lots of people do), but that’s not what he’s talking about.

He’s trying to comment on your relationship with God when he doesn’t know your heart any more than you know his. He doesn’t know what you’ve seen and felt and experienced. It makes no scientific or intellectual sense to say, “I have never seen or experienced this, so therefore it does not exist. It seems untrue to me, so therefore it’s untrue for everyone else.”

People aren’t aggressively atheistic for intellectual or logical or empirical reasons, it’s because anything else seems impossible. Someone said that they just weren’t good enough when they already felt like they weren’t good enough, someone said that their particular sin put them on the outside looking in, someone hurt them, and that someone claimed to be a Christian.

So if you debate someone in an intellectual way, you’ll only be offending those hurt feelings over and over. It’s disrespectful to people who are suffering to tell them that their pain is “wrong”, even if they aren’t expressing that pain to you, even if they’re acting like a jerk, even if they’re crapping on your faith. Hurting people hurt people. And it’s not too much to ask for you and me to be a little understanding about that.

Bonus story: A friend of mine, a fairly famous dude, who was raised Jewish, but later became an atheist, would always ask me about Christianity when we’d see each other. He would even show up to places where I was preaching (and freak everybody out).

One day, I turned to him and said, “you’re an amazing person, but you’re a lousy atheist. Deep down you want to believe every word I say, I can see it in you, but something is holding you back, and I wish you’d tell me what that is.” He sighed heavily, and said, “I had relatives that were killed in concentration camps in Auschwitz. I could never tell my family that I’ve become a Christian”.

It’s not about debating or “converting” people, it’s about helping people find a way to accept Christ when being a Christian seems unacceptable.

To The Anon Who Asked About My Hobbies ||

*tumblr did a weird thing and deleted your question while i had it in drafts but i agree about the adult coloring books!

https://chronicallyliv.tumblr.com/post/164410714317/hi-there-whats-your-favorite-song-and-why-and <—in this link you’ll find info detailing my hobby involving LGBT+ activism and LGBT+ outreach/mentoring. For those who don’t know, during my senior year of high school, I was the president of my high school GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), now currently named GSTA (Gay Straight Trans Alliance) at that specific school because inclusive progress is what we strive for. We broke ground in so many areas during that year and my work with them has always been my pride and joy honestly 🌈😊 I was pretty protective of my rainbow doves and always made sure they were safe in their home and school lives + that they felt comfortable coming to me for help. Most of them were younger than me so I mothered them whenever I got a chance lol Even though I’ve been out of high school four years, I take the activism and mentoring work I did and apply it to whatever I can, whether it’s giving advice, educating the masses, or just being a friend to someone who needs one (: My other “hobby” is involved with chronic illness education/awareness, with a secondary focus in mental health awareness (I only say secondary for symantics, my primary ailments entail chronic pain but as I learn more about mental illness, I teach with the skills I’ve learned along with the experiences I’ve already had helping others during grade school but I usually combine both physical + mental anyway). Most days I combine the two in some form or another. And even though I miss college, it’s a pretty sweet gig knowing I’m helping people in the process ^-^

Tl;DR || I take pride in my work with LGBT+ activism/outreach + chronic illness education. My hobby is more like a calling. 🌈💞


Geologic and scientific exploration of Massanutten Mountain, Shenandoah Valley and mountains of Virginia

Embrace everybody.

Anonymous asked: I read an article in a Christian magazine about ministering to LGBT people, and I realized that I had my own biases in that area. Do you reach out to gay people in your ministry, and how does that work?

Unka Glen answered: We do have LGBTQ men and women at our meetings.

[our Prayer Captain, Miss Loretta, prays with one of our men at Christmas-time]

In addition to that, many of our men have been molested by other men, and others have prostituted themselves out to other men for money to keep their addiction going, and when Christians talk about homosexuality, those guys think that they’re included in that conversation.

When we let people talk about homosexuality in the abstract, suddenly we hear phrases like “culture wars”, and “values under attack” and “gay agenda”. All of that B.S. (which stands for Biblically Specious) is about manipulating us with a scary boogeyman, so people can grab money for a radio show, or get votes. 

But when an actual person stands in front of you and asks, “Does God really want me?” The only right answer is always: YES!

Nobody ever said getting a gay person into heaven was as tough as getting a camel through the eye of a needle, but Jesus did actually say that about rich people. If you look at the IMPACT of certain sins on the church, you see that greed starves missionaries of resources, pride keeps the focus off of Jesus, and selfishness keeps people from serving and participating.

What’s the worst that homosexuality might do to the church?

Also, who chose this particular issue and these particular people (who are loved by God) to pick on? Also, who started the idea that Christians are in the world to fight sin, as opposed to preaching good news?

Everybody has their struggles. A healthy Christian community recognizes this, doesn’t ask people to hide from it, and embraces everyone, even as we gently nudge them towards a freedom from whatever those struggles are.

For people in the LGBTQ community, their primary struggle likely begins with the mean-spirited behavior of other Christians. And freedom begins when Christians like you and I confess that Jesus would have been more loving.

Today was kind of really sad because everyone has been swept. I saw one person I know but camp after camp was just gone, gone gone gone. I was feeling really sad about it–and I’m still sad about it because where are they? Are they okay? I’ll probably never find out!

But then it turned good too–I saw a family of people serving chili out of the back of their mini van and I stopped and talked to them and they said they do this every Saturday and gave me their card so we can plan together and serve the most people which is AWESOME. They have socks and stuff too!

I kept driving and looking for people but even the freeway camp is gone (which is infuriating because in terms of shelter from rain and wind that was IDEAL, and there were so many people there and there isn’t another AS sheltered location that I can think of–I hope the guy who was living in the bushes between the freeway made it thru the sweep cuz that also seemed like a really good, safe location–but I ran into three people while I was walking around who told me where their friends had moved. And then I went back to the new camp I spotted yesterday which apparently isn’t on ODOT land and the owners of the land support them, so when odot tried to sweep, the owners told them to fuck off!! Made me happy. It’s not as good as the freeway location in terms of shelter but it has a bit of protection from wind on a few sides. All the cheese grits and cocoa were taken and I had enough water to give everyone multiple bottles and still have a whole case and 4 bottles left over, thanks Misti!

And I stopped at Safeway to pick up some first aid kits because always. Gone like THAT. I need to start pushing the wishlist again, Safeway is way more expensive than Fred Meyer and Fred Meyer is more expensive than Amazon.

ANYWAY. When I was serving up the last of the cheese grits, this guy biked by and I already got yelled at by some people in southeast so I tensed up when he asked me if I was serving food to those people and I said “yeah” warily, and then someone asked for a toothbrush and when I turned back to him he said HE wanted to help and I was so startled and relieved I started laughing, and I told him “sure!” Like, email me and you can help! Why not! But then he handed me some money folded up and I took it and thanked him and admitted I thought he was gonna yell at me and he said “oh no, I want to help,” and biked away.

Anyway I just looked at it and it’s $40! So it swayed me; they’re expensive but I’m getting more HIV test kits but I feel like maybe I should order an HCV kit too? See what need is like for that?

To The Woman At Petsmart

To the woman who stood behind me in line at the petsmart today, thank you.

I didn’t know you were listening as I talked to the man at the register. I didn’t think you were paying attention as I just kept jabbering on about the sad old cat that came into my life yesterday.

I don’t think you know that as the register was ringing, and I was watching the price go up, I was watching my own grocery budget go down. 

Cat bowls. Kibble. Canned food. Liter. 

I don’t think you knew that I struggle with social anxiety and every word that comes from my mouth is a way to cope with being afraid of people.

I don’t think you knew that as the total hit I was internally fighting a meltdown about costs and rent and food and bills. 

To the woman who stood behind me at the petsmart, who listened, and who payed attention to my world falling apart at the register, I want to thank you.

When you said “I’ll pay for her’s” my world literally stopped spinning. 

“I’ll pay for her’s.”

Your gift in that moment was so much more than helping a cat that someone had picked up. 

You fed four mouths.

You lessened the load of a stranger.

You took a weight the size of the world of the shoulders of someone you will likely never again meet.

To the woman at petsmart who reached out and hugged me as I broke down in tears at the register, I would give you every award for kindness, for compassion, and for love.

Your kindness today, your help, was so much more than anything I could possibly have asked for. It is my groceries. My rent. My three cats at home with disabilities that hamper their lives.

To the woman who stood beside me at the petsmart, 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart

Thank you for showing such unconditional kindness. 

I will never forget your gift. 

From me and my boys, Tilney, Pippin, and our newest rescue Oracle.

The team I’m working with is vying for a way to get a larger social media presence. We’re working on a relatively “high profile” astronomy project. To offer this blog as help or not to? I’ve maintained relative anonymity for like five or so years since I started this thing. That would be out the window.

What do people think? My original hope was to wait until the project was complete or at least until after I’ve left the group but the need for social media presence seems to be now. What do y’all think is a good approach to this?

If you’re lacking direction and purpose...

A group of college students asked me to speak to them, and the email read, “we’d like you to speak about wandering in the wilderness, and what to do when you have no direction.” I think a lot of people need to hear a good word on that, so I’m sharing what I’ll say to them tonight…

It’s important for us to know how we came to be wandering in the first place. How is it that we find ourselves drifting without direction? You may be tempted to blame yourself and think that if only you had more passion, and a better walk, and a better sense of your calling, then you wouldn’t be drifting. But that’s not the problem here.

Problem #1 is that Christianity isn’t something you learn, it’s something you do. We obviously aren’t saved by our good deeds, but we are saved to serve. Despite this, Christianity has largely been portrayed to you as something you read about.

The Gospels are not the writings of Jesus. Jesus didn’t call people to study Him, He called people to follow Him. Jesus told the religious scholars of the time that they studied the scripture diligently, but the Son of God is standing right in front of you, and you don’t even have a clue.

But today we don’t certify people for leadership people by way of discipleship, we qualify and certify them by way of academic achievement. And here’s the problem: academic study does not give you any sense of purpose.

Problem #2 is an “amateur versus pro” mentality about serving God. Most people who volunteer in part-time ministry think of it as less important than the “real” ministry of full-time professionals. And that’s just not true at all. Pastors are expected to be the head of an organization, attending endless meetings, overseeing budgets and committees, and then they’re told to spend 20 to 30 hours a week on a Bible lecture they’re going to call a sermon.

The difference between high quality ministry and lower quality ministry is generally the difference between people who have humbled themselves enough to ask for mentoring, and those who act like they know everything.

So let’s look at some simple do’s and don’ts that will help us find a sense of direction and purpose right away.

Do help the less fortunate. Help someone who’s hurting. That can be anyone who is physically, emotionally, or spiritually hurting. Nobody helping out in a third world orphanage ever said, “I wish my life had more meaning and direction!” Also, protip— start with people who aren’t friends or family, it’s way less complicated that way.

Don’t chase fame. Early in my career I was occasionally interviewed by the press, and I learned that the first time you see your face on TV it’s a real thrill, the second time it’s nice, the third time it’s “been there, done that”. Many of us think that we can count ourselves successful only when we’ve reached a certain level of notoriety and fame, but any fool can be famous, it’s actually a meaningful life that you want.

Do get in over your head. If you think you can get it done without God, that’s the way you’ll try and do it. If you know you need God, you’ll ask for His help and direction. Getting in over your head has a way of focusing your mind on the thing you really need to have a meaningful life: the humility to ask for wisdom and Godly perspective.

Don’t chase approval. Here’s a truth I wish someone would have told me long ago: there is very little approval available in the world, no matter what you do. Your closest friends and loved ones already approve of you, and that’s all the approval most people ever get. You can have fame, success, honors, degrees, and more, but the people who don’t approve of you now likely never will, so don’t chain yourself to the ugly work of trying to win their approval.

Do find an acceptance of failure. Failure is the best teacher most of us will ever have. Failure is good for you, it keeps you humble. A fear of failure keeps us from accomplishing anything, anywhere, at any time. Step out and do what needs to be done. You’ll stink at first, but eventually you’ll figure it out (especially if you ask God for help, and have wise mentors).

Don’t chase security. Either God is your security, and you commit to serving Him, or you are your security, and you commit to serving you. Don’t focus on merely surviving, or that’s all you’ll accomplish.