EvalFest fosters a community of practice that develops, tests, and shares evaluation approaches for science festivals so that our community can make smarter, better choices together.

Using crowdsourced data from our 25 partner festivals, EvalFest seeks to analyze and educate about the best ways to determine and share the impact of science festivals and informal education by answering the following questions:

1: How are evaluations used in relation to science festivals and how does evaluation use change within the context of a community of practice that creates its own multisite evaluation?

2: Which methods and reporting formats are associated with the greatest value in building capacity of individual festivals?

3: In what ways can a community-created multisite evaluation yield additional learning about public science events in particular and informal science education events in general?

EvalFest brings together data from multiple partner festivals, creating a unique wealth of knowledge and insight that can be accessed by festival planners all over the country. We provide tools and resources to help presenting organizations effectively collect data and quantify their own success story.

Meet Our Staff

Principal Investigators

Todd Boyette, Ph.D.

My coolest science experience:

Spending the day with Captain James Lovell from Apollo 13 (and also Apollo 8)! He is truly an American Hero and a national treasure.

I grew up in a tight-knit blue collar community in eastern North Carolina and assumed, from a fairly young age, that I’d be the first in my family to go to college. I wasn’t sure what course of study I would pursue, but I knew that this was the path for me. It became much clearer in my junior year in high school when I discovered the wonder and elegance of chemistry. I majored in both chemistry and science education in college, earned a Ph.D. in science education from NC State University and have spent my entire career in some form of science education.

Since founding the North Carolina Science Festival in 2010 with my colleague Denise Young, I have seen first-hand what these events can do for the communities they serve. I am excited to be a PI on EvalFest and work with the science festival community to develop ways to explore and understand these impacts.

Katherine Nielsen, M.A., M.S.

My coolest science experience:

Meeting President Obama at the White House Science Fair!

I grew up in rural Northern California, a child of back-to-the-landers, and spent most of my free time outside exploring the creeks, trees, insects, and more. In high school, I found my biology teacher’s excitement contagious and went on to study biology at UC San Diego. Post-college I grew interested in science education, ultimately doing graduate work at Stanford University in education and at Montana State University in biology.

I’ve spent most of my professional life at the Science & Health Education Partnership at UC San Francisco. Our work unites educators, scientists, and community members and still today, after many years, I am rejuvenated by the passion these individuals bring to their work and the incredible outcomes that result when they are partnered together. As co-founder of the Bay Area Science Festival and an EvalFest PI, I look forward to exploring and piloting new strategies to help us better understand the impact of science festivals and, most importantly, discover what we can all learn about science festivals by working together.

Karen Peterman, Ph.D.

My coolest science experience:

Attending the Sally Ride Toy Challenge, with Sally Ride herself. Now that was one cool lady!

Warning: I am a data geek. How did I get this way? Who knows! My mom was a teacher so I grew up in her schools and always loved to learn. My dad is one of the biggest fans of the PBS program “Nature” that anyone has ever seen and of life-long learning as well. I was in the Girl Scouts through high school, and my favorite memories of childhood are from the outdoors (or sitting on the couch with my family watching the outdoors on “Nature”).

In my professional life, I am an external evaluator who specializes in STEM programs. One of the things that I love about my work is the fact that I am constantly inspired by the STEM educators I work with who strive to spark a love of STEM among the public. Bringing data to clients as a way to share their success stories is a great joy. I also do research on evaluation and spend a lot of time thinking about research and evaluation methods. EvalFest is the perfect storm of my professional passions and I am thrilled to be a PI on this project.

Key Collaborators

Kim Kiesewetter, M.A., M.S.

Research Assistant

My coolest science experience:

Getting to spend time in the Monterverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica while studying at Universidad de la Paz.

I grew up in North Carolina before heading to Tennessee for college and graduate school where I studied applied sociology with an emphasis on research methods and program evaluation. I have been fortunate enough to spend my career working in education in a variety of capacities from teaching to research. One of the things I enjoy most about evaluation-oriented projects is the chance to help people see how valuable their data collection efforts can be in supporting organizational efforts and missions. To that end, EvalFest has been a wonderful project to be involved in! The passion of the people involved in our partner festivals is infectious and being able to support their efforts has been an honor.

Jen Gathings, M.A., Doctoral Candidate

Data Analyst

My coolest science experience:

Diving with Caribbean reef sharks. Thanks to understanding some basic physics concepts and the knowledge that shark bites are a statistical anomaly, I found myself within inches of these magnificent beasts. Truly an awe-inspiring experience made possible by science!

After moving all over the Carolinas when I was a young tiny lass, my family settled in a small, rural area of eastern North Carolina. With a nurse for a mother and an IT computer geek for a dad, I grew up candy striping at the local hospital and learning to code simple programs on a Commodore 64. As I got older, my love for science never died, though I became increasingly interested in social interactions and patterned behavior. In undergrad, I studied psychology and philosophy — a perfect combination for no job prospects after graduation. Deciding to return to school for a graduate degree, I am currently a doctoral candidate in the sociology department at NC State University. Working in evaluation and applied research has taught me to appreciate the power of data and I do my best to harness data for social goods. I love that I get to use these skills to support our science festival partners across the U.S. as they work to make science more accessible for all.

Pat Jessup, Ph.D.


My coolest science experience:

Snorkeling with my family in the Florida Keys!

Growing up on a dairy farm in northwest Wisconsin provided me with daily science-related experiences. Watching the calves and chicks grow, helping with the garden, playing in the fields and woods, and observing the cycle of seasons all filled my childhood with science, although I wouldn’t have described it as science at that time. It was simply life on the farm. Formal education in science was non-existent in my school until high school, at which time I was fascinated to learn more about what I had been experiencing. My undergraduate and master’s education focused on the social sciences, leading to a 10-year career as a social worker.

My most interesting science experiences have come with my husband and our children when they were young. We explored numerous hands-on science museums, looked for rocks in many parts of the country, watched the Perseids meteor showers, and engaged them with the world around them. I look forward to continuing these activities with my young grandchildren.

For the past 15 years, during and after getting my Ph.D. in education, I have been fortunate to be engaged in evaluation-related activities in education and social services areas. I have worked with many STEM and environmental efforts, each of which has allowed me to deepen my science understanding as well as my evaluation skills.

Amy Grack Nelson, M.A., M.S.

Measurement Specialist

My coolest science experience:

Spending a month studying rainforest ecology at a biological field station in Costa Rica!

I’ve always loved the natural world. Growing up fishing, camping, and exploring Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, it’s hard not to. After receiving my undergrad in ecology, I entered the world of informal science education and haven’t left. I started out as a naturalist at a state park and then worked at a tiny science center developing natural science programs and exhibits. In grad school, I had a research assistantship evaluating an angling and aquatic education program, which opened my eyes to the world of evaluation. I fell in love with using data to help inform program improvement as well as prove the worth of out-of-school science experiences. I’ve been working as an evaluator and researcher of informal science learning experiences ever since.

As Evaluation & Research Manager at the Science Museum of Minnesota, I get to study a wide range of science topics and learning experiences in the museum, in the community, and in the larger informal science education field. Through my doctoral work, I’ve become interested in the development and validation of common measures to help build the evaluation capacity of the informal science education field. That’s how I got connected to EvalFest. Figuring out how to improve evaluation tools so that festivals throughout the country can collect valid data about their programs is a fun challenge. Plus, I get to participate in some amazing science festivals in the process!

John C. Besley, Ph.D.

Key Collaborator

My coolest science experience:

Helping to host the G8 Environment Ministers meeting at the iconic Banff Springs Hotel as a junior policy analyst in my early 20s. That job helped open my eyes to the potential for smart policy to have global impact.

I grew up in small town two hours north of Toronto playing on every team I could (hockey, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, badminton, etc.) while also appearing in the school bands, and school plays. Everyone else in my family has at least one natural science degree but I ended up in journalism school and then a masters in science and environmental policy. I worked as a policy analyst on international environmental issues for a couple of years and then decided I needed to understand why my fellow citizens don’t demand strong science policy.

That brought me to the U.S. and a Ph.D. in science and risk communication at Cornell. My first faculty job was in South Carolina but I’m now back closer to Canada as a professor at Michigan State University. My research has evolved over the years from a focus on how the public sees scientists to one that includes increasing focus on how scientists think about their communication. My hope is we’ll be able to help scientists communicate more effectively if we better understand how they make communication choices.

Meet Our Advisors

The EvalFest project team is supported by an amazing group of advisors from across the globe. Our advisors come from many backgrounds and disciplines, giving us a range of science education and evaluation practices to draw upon. Whether by leading webinars, introducing us to new research, or giving us a gentle nudge in the right direction, our advisory team is an integral part of the EvalFest project and we couldn’t do this work without them.

Savita Custead, Ph.D.

Bristol Natural History Consortium

Mac Cannady, Ph.D.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Colleen Manning, Ph.D.

Goodman Research Group

Tina Phillips, Ph.D.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Robert Tai, Ph.D.

University of Virginia

Frances Lawrenz, Ph.D.

University of Minnesota

Ben Wiehe

Science Festival Alliance

Leslie Goodyear, Ph.D.


About the Science Festival Alliance

The mission of the Science Festival Alliance (SFA) is to foster a professional community dedicated to more and better science and technology festivals.

When the SFA began in 2009, only a handful of science festivals existed in the United States, and they were not working (or even communicating) with each other. Since that time, the country has enjoyed a surge in the number of science festivals and the SFA is now networking together dozens of independently operated festival initiatives. Whether you are considering starting a new science festival, would like to partner with existing festivals, or are just interested in learning about the latest developments, the Science Festival Alliance is the best place to begin.

For more information about the SFA, visit https://sciencefestivals.org/about/

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