Meadville is among the more than 500 cities and towns across the nation holding a March for Science on Saturday in conjunction with a national march in Washington, D.C.
The community march, like the march in the nation’s capital, is a call for legislators and other decision makers at every level to “appreciate and uphold science in our society and the benefits science provides our everyday lives” and a direct response to recent legislative actions, said Allison Connell Pensky, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Allegheny College and main organizer of the Meadville march.
More broadly, it is about “the importance of preserving science and critical thinking in our culture and recognizing how important it is to make evidence-based decisions about things that are going to impact people’s lives, whether it be the environment or health care or education,” said Aimee Knupsky, chair of the Psychology department and director of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities at Allegheny.
Science isn’t only about scientists huddled in a lab, peering at slides through a microscope. Science impacts our lives on a daily basis, in ways large and small, and should matter to everyone, Connell Pensky said.
“Science has improved the nutrition of our food. It has improved agriculture in terms of the quantity of food produced. It monitors water supply. It’s the cell phone in your pocket, the computer you work on,” she said. “There’s a misperception about scientists and academics that we’re just isolated individuals pursuing ideas that don’t matter outside of our own mental space. Science that is studying the brain cells in crayfish matters to human beings because it could be the difference between understanding how brain cells die and/or regenerate and ideas for treating neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.”
Several organizations have endorsed the national march, including the Council on Undergraduate Research, which presented its inaugural award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishment to Allegheny in January 2016. The award recognizes Allegheny for its “exemplary programs providing high-quality research experiences to undergraduates.” Allegheny was the only baccalaureate institution to receive the inaugural award.
It makes sense to have a march in Meadville because the March for Science mission mirrors Allegheny’s commitment to the sciences and to research, said Knupsky, who plans to participate. And having a satellite location in Meadville helps lowers barriers to participation for anyone in the community who wants to support the cause, Connell Pensky said.
The family-friendly march begins at 10 a.m. at Meadville’s Diamond Park, rain or shine. Connell Pensky said she is not sure how many marchers will attend. Many Allegheny students and faculty involved in science and research across all disciplines will be attending an undergraduate research conference on Saturday in Erie, the site of another satellite march.
Connell Pensky said her personal measure of success is simply participating: making a commitment and “standing in a public place with people who care about something I care about.”
“Me in Meadville, I’m hoping that locally it matters,” she said. “The fact that Meadville in addition to dozens or hundreds of other sites are doing this, I hope that nationally it matters.”