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Abstract Detail

Education and Outreach

Clement, Wendy L [1], Elliott, Kathryn T [2], Cordova-Hoyos, Okxana [2], Distefano, Isabel [2], Kearns, Kate [2], Kumar, Raagni [2], Leto, Ashley [2], Tumaliuan, Janis [2], Franchetti, Lauren [3], Mendes, Patrice [3], Roth, Karen [3], Osborn, Jeffrey M [4].

Tasting the Tree of Life: A collaborative, campus-wide, science communication and meal event.

Communicating science to the general public can present a number of challenges from participation to engagement to impact. In an effort to broadly communicate messages regarding biodiversity, evolution, and tree-thinking to the campus community at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), a public primarily undergraduate institution that serves ~6,400 students, we created a campus-wide, science-themed meal, “Tasting the Tree of Life: Exploring Biodiversity Through Cuisine.” The event was held in the main campus dining hall which thousands of students, faculty, and staff visit daily. Working in collaboration with TCNJ Dining Services for eight months, we created nine meals that utilized 149 species/ingredients across the Tree of Life. Each meal was complemented with a scientific message that was communicated in the form of a poster on display near that particular meal station. To amplify this message, biology student volunteers – Field Guides – were assigned to each meal during the peak dining hall hours. These students engaged participants to help further translate the science behind the meal. Although many branches from all three domains of the Tree of Life were highlighted, much of the scientific messaging involved plant diversity and evolution. For example, we introduced the concept of underutilized crops and discussed processes such as artificial domestication. To promote tree-thinking, we reconstructed a phylogeny of all 149 ingredients used in the meal, and this tree was displayed on all informational posters and described on the centerpieces of each table. On the posters at each food station, the branches of the ingredients of that particular meal were highlighted on the ingredient tree so participants could observe how diversity shifted from meal to meal. Further, we developed a website ( that provides a primer on tree-thinking, more information about each meal, and a clickable tree to help participants visualize evolutionary relationships with respect to common ancestry. In total, 3,262 people attended the meal and evaluations suggest that participants left with a greater appreciation for the biodiversity and evolutionary relatedness of their food. A keynote lecture and a comprehensive social media campaign enhanced the scientific messages and the excitement and participation across the campus. In this presentation, we will discuss our use of backwards-design to develop the meals and related experiences at Tasting the Tree of Life and achieve core outcomes and key elements of the event — including campus-wide collaboration and student involvement — that were central to an impactful outreach opportunity.

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Related Links:
Tasting the Tree of Life at The College of New Jersey

1 - The College Of New Jersey, Biology, 2000 Pennington Road, Department Of Biology, Ewing, NJ, 08638, USA
2 - The College of New Jersey, Department of Biology, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing, NJ, 08628, United States
3 - The College of New Jersey, Dining Services, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing, NJ, 08628, United States
4 - The College Of New Jersey, School Of Science, 2000 Pennington Road, P.O. Box 7718, Ewing, NJ, 08628-0718, USA

Plant Blindness
Science communication
Science Outreach
Tree of life
tree thinking
Science meal.

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: 18, Education and Outreach I
Location: Sundance 4/Omni Hotel
Date: Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
Time: 9:15 AM
Number: 18006
Abstract ID:216
Candidate for Awards:None

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