Q&A: UniverCity Year Program Manager Shelly Strom reflects on time as a Community Science Fellow

With UniverCity Alliance and Thriving Earth Exchange on the verge of launching a cohort of community science projects across Wisconsin, UCA’s very own Shelly Strom reflects on her time as a Community Science Fellow.

Headshot of Shelly Strom
Shelly Strom

Strom, who manages UCA’s hallmark UniverCity Year program, joined the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange project in 2019. She worked with a community in Maryland that was struggling with flooding issues.

“It was a really great experience, and I’m very excited to take it in a new direction for me,” Strom said. “Now I get to help match people and Wisconsin communities to this awesome program.”

Why did you decide to become a Community Science Fellow?

A few years ago, I was looking for ways to expand my learning and skills around project management. A brochure was sitting on the table in our office, dropped off by a former Thriving Earth Exchange staff member, and it basically said, ‘Learn project management and become a Community Science Fellow.’ I was really intrigued and decided to apply.

What project were you involved with?

My community was Frederick, Maryland. It’s a community that is facing flooding issues, and it was one of a suite of projects that were all submitted to Thriving Earth Exchange by a coalition in the Washington, D.C. area that are all facing similar concerns: climate change leading to more flooding, erratic weather patterns. These communities have everything from infrastructure challenges to how to respond to community members who are worried about their land being flooded.

My specific task was to help my community get better forecasting and precipitation data. It seemed like a pretty straightforward question, which quickly became very complicated.

Do I need a background in science to be a Community Science Fellow?

The answer is no. You don’t need expertise in the content area. You do need a love of science and a keenness to understand. Curiosity is key!

I love science. I did not have any knowledge or expertise in the content area. I didn’t even know who my community partner would be going into the training. My fellow Fellows mostly had that expertise, but in the long term it didn’t matter. It just took me a little while to understand the questions that we were trying to answer.

What were your responsibilities as a fellow?

Convening is a big component of this work. I did a lot of research about who tackles these kinds of problems. Where are these folks in the academic world or at the federal level of government doing this work? There’s research and networking, both with fellow Fellows and other partners. There’s also cheerleading: Getting people to meet is part of being a steward of the project.

What kind of support did Thriving Earth Exchange provide?

My cohort had training during the AGU conference in San Francisco. They’re doing a different version now, all online, so it’s more accessible.

Thriving Earth Exchange does an amazing job of creating a community of practice, so you have an instant community that are your co-fellows and Thriving Earth staff. There was a Slack channel that was set up, and there were full cohort meetings each month.

There’s a lot of wraparound care from the Thriving Earth Exchange staff. Anytime you might run into a unique issue like you were looking for an expert in some topic, Thriving Earth Exchange staff were always ready to help come up with ideas and people to contact.

Who would my fellow Fellows be?

My fellow Fellows were primarily graduate students in the geophysical space sciences, so they might be climate scientists in training. I also had a fellow Fellow who had recently retired and had been in natural resources for her career. There was quite a span of interests, but I’d say a majority of the fellows were somehow tied to academics and often in the physical sciences space.

What was the most rewarding part of your experience as a Community Science Fellow?

I would say it’s the long term relationships with Thriving Earth Exchange staff. For me, personally, that’s now led to us having this Wisconsin Thriving Earth Exchange project. That’s been the most rewarding part of this to see this go from Fellow to now I’m helping to grow a relationship between Thriving Earth Exchange and UniverCity Alliance. I am also excited to serve Wisconsin communities in a new way.

How can I get involved?

You can apply to be a Community Science Fellow using the online application. The deadline is March 1! If you think your community would be interested in submitting a project to be a part of the 2022 Wisconsin cohort, you can pass along the application for Community Science Projects.

For questions related to the Thriving Earth Exchange and University of Wisconsin-Madison partnership or Community Science Fellowship opportunity, contact:

  • Maria Sharova, Community Science Fellows program coordinator, AGU Thriving Earth Exchange (msharova@agu.org) or
  • Shelly Strom, Program Manager, UniverCity Year, slstrom@wisc.edu

Communities should direct questions to Blake McGhghy, program manager of community engagement, AGU Thriving Earth Exchange (bmcghghy@agu.org). 

—By Abigail Becker