CESTEMER 2017 Exceeds Expectations!

For this innovative bi-annual conference, we always create an environment that is warm and curious—one that nurtures play and connection. This year, we seemed to create an experience of joy quickly. One participant arrived at the conference doors before they opened, saying, “I’m so excited—I can’t believe I found this.” As each person arrived, there seemed to be an expression of excitement and gratitude for simply being present.

That sentiment grew over the course of three days. On Saturday morning, Sunada Prabhu-Gaunkar, who gave a 10-minute talk on her web series that combines storytelling and computing, said, “The magic is already happening!”

Exceptional Value

People were serious, playful, inviting and interested in one another and people’s experience of their work. “People were really generous with their materials and techniques,” Aaron Freeman said. “There was a lot to steal!” 

"It was a rare experience where what artists had to contribute was valued as much as scientific knowledge,” said improviser Nancy Watt, who, in collaboration with Carolyn Sealfon, brings improvisation to scientists’ communication. “We were all bringing the performing arts mindset to it,” said Carolyn. “The conference was totally interactive.  Everyone was willing to jump in and play, creating an ideal learning environment. And It enabled us to talk about science in a more constructive way.” A poignant statement from this physicist, educator and improviser!

Free to Play

A mood was created early on in which people could play. And play took many forms. One person said, “We didn’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time. It was clear it was okay to improvise our responses in a session because that context was set at the beginning of the conference.” The Keynote by Ann Merchant hit similar notes as she mentioned that the  Science Exchange program is less about creating accuracy of science than it aims to be inspiring. And that’s what her talk was.

Rather than the usual summative comments and speech at the end of a conference, CESTEMER closed with a playful finale. Participants were invited to build ideas together with “I am a Tree,” a classic improv game.This was followed by creating skits that reflected people’s experience at the conference. We saw a child growing up conflicted between making money and pursuing art, dealing with a father who wanted his child to do well— “get only As!”— and was only to learn that it was the combination of art and science that made this child healthy and productive.

In another skit, a grad student found the land of “CESTEMERia,” where everyone was happy doing what they love to do. Another showed people from different countries, excited about art and science, discovering each other and a new place to share their work. We learned the life cycle of a sea worm through improvised dance and spoken word. And contrary to an increasingly visible common issue in daily life, there is no such thing as graduate student depression in CESTEMER finales. Prozac users in one skit became people who no longer needed it!

Inviting Innovation

Invited Speaker, Tom Rudin’s “talk” was also a hit! Tom and Ashley Bear recreated, in performance, the arguments about integrating art, performance and humanities in STEM education and research. That’s the beauty of CESTEMER. Talks are performances, performances are talks, and people are invited to be their full geeky selves, whether that’s a scientist who tells a story, a physicist who dances, a drama professor teaching science play...the list goes on.

You can check out all the conference presenters at cestemer.org/abstracts and join us in 2019. Sign up now for the announcement of our call for participation.

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