“My broader impacts come out of the project itself.”
Anthropologist Mary Shenk’s research investigates the causes of the demographic transition to low fertility in rural Bangladesh as part of a larger interest in understanding the process of fertility decline around the world. Because her research is funded by the National Science Foundation, she is required to incorporate broader impacts into her project—something that Shenk sees as a natural and obvious extension of her research.
Shenk’s broader impacts activities focus on public policy, student training, and public engagement. Since global changes in fertility are of interest to many different stakeholders, policy implications are a natural extension of her work. Her work in public policy generally comes in two forms: academic writings that include information on policy and policy oriented publications and presentations that bring public policy into sharp focus. For instance, she co-authored a talk for an international conference entitled Bridging the Policy-Action Divide: Challenges and Prospects for Bangladesh in 2013.
Shenk mentors undergraduates and graduate students by taking them into the field and introducing them to hands-on research. This work is supported through the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and Research Experience for Graduates (REG) programs. Student researchers complete their own projects and may be included in presentations and publications.
Shenk also engages the public in her research by giving several public talks through campus programs—including Saturday Morning Science, MU’s Taste of Arts and Science, 20/20 Columbia, and the International Center’s Noel P. Gist Seminar series. She also has opportunities to give talks in Bangladesh about her research to local health workers.
As Shenk looks forward to her next NSF proposal, she hopes to add new activities to her broader impacts portfolio. She intends to have teams of student researchers film interviews, and create classroom videos with an ethnographic perspective on Bangladeshi topics. The teams will consist of undergraduates in anthropology and journalism, a concept similar to MU’s HHMI-funded C3 Program. In addition to the science communication experience for the students, the videos would be archived for local peoples who do not always have access to their past.