Tag Archives: outreach recruitment strategies

Hints for a Successful PhUn Week Event

Having been a part of PhUn Week in some way for the past 8 years, I know that the APS Education Office makes it nearly impossible for PhUn Week not to be successful. With all the resources they offer scientists, teachers, and students, anyone hoping to start their own PhUn Week program should have no problems. However, I have found some ways to make the experience even easier to implement from a logistics standpoint, and in so doing, have found that it’s even more educational, not only for the K-12 students, but also the volunteers.

For the first few years I was involved in PhUn Week, I was a postdoctoral volunteer working with a well-organized scientist who had the student lessons mapped out in detail. She obtained all the materials for us. She coordinated absolutely everything from which grades we’d be working with and which volunteers would help with which lesson at which school at what time and for how long. I did not realize how much time and effort it must have taken to organize everything to reach several hundred K-12 students, but I did enjoy my time with the students and knew that I would like to continue with PhUn Week as the lead scientist. But after my first year organizing my own PhUn Week as a new, full-time faculty member, I came to realize how daunting a task reaching several hundred students at once would be. I was having a hard time planning lessons, obtaining materials, scheduling with teachers, and organizing volunteers, and it was only for one classroom of 3rd graders! I spent a few dozen hours (difficult to find as a new faculty member) organizing, planning lessons, obtaining supplies, and recruiting and training volunteers, only to reach about 30 elementary education students. While PhUn Week went off well and I knew I wanted to continue doing it, the level of effort I had placed on myself was unsustainable. I had hopes that I’d be able to reach many more students, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to best go about doing it again. As luck would have it though, in my 2nd year as lead PhUn week scientist, I had a problem (known all too well to many scientists) that forced me into changing my PhUn Week plans….a research funding problem!

A couple months before PhUn Week, I had a funded grant, with graduate research assistants dedicated to it, encounter a delay. I had 2 graduate students with nothing to do in the lab. It was a PI’s worst nightmare, but for a PhUn Week lead scientist, it was a dream come true. I tasked each graduate student with developing lessons for elementary students, organizing and training their own teams of undergraduate volunteers, and coordinating times with teachers to attend the schools and do the lessons with the children. While I did check to see if the lessons were appropriate and sound and occasionally stepped in to help with logistics of coordinating undergraduate volunteers, I was only minimally involved. I did have concerns initially that PhUn Week wouldn’t be as beneficial for the elementary students, but those turned out to be unfounded. The elementary students had a blast, the undergraduate volunteers had a blast, and the graduate students had a blast. The elementary teachers praised the volunteers and said that the lessons were effective and appropriate. But I was also getting incredible feedback from my graduate and undergraduate students. Many of them stated that it helped them understand physiology better having to think about it at such a simple level, and also reminded them why they were in the field in the first place, re-energizing them in their own studies.

The next year, fortunately for my research, I did not have research funding issues, but I also did not have graduate students that I could dedicate to PhUn Week. Utilizing what I had learned was possible from my graduate students the previous year, I decided to try something similar. I recruited volunteers in early September from our major’s “Exercise science” club by going to their monthly meeting, and talking about PhUn Week for 5 minutes. Over 20 people signed up. I contacted students who had volunteered the year before and asked if they would be willing to be a group leader. With my group leaders established, I called a “planning meeting” and provided the volunteers with the state’s essential learning standards for K-12 that were relevant to physiology, and let the group leaders discuss their thoughts on which ones they wanted to address and how. Volunteers then signed up with specific group leaders, contact information was shared, and an initial plan was established (i.e. Group 1 will be teaching the cardiovascular system to 5th graders). I gave the volunteers deadlines to meet including having a lesson plan approved by me 2 weeks prior to PhUn Week with a list of materials they needed. We had one more meeting in the week prior to PhUn Week where we made sure everyone had what they needed to complete their lessons and knew when and where to be, and that was it. As far as planning was concerned, I had not had to done any time consuming work, and the college student volunteers were having an educational experience too.

During PhUn Week, I attended the volunteer-led sessions as my schedule allowed, and helped out when I could, but otherwise, I was just observing and taking note of what worked well and what didn’t. By all measures, PhUn Week was once again a resounding success. We had quadrupled the number of elementary students involved, and the college volunteers had a meaningful experience that was truly theirs. The feedback I received from the elementary students, their teachers, and the college student volunteers was better than the feedback I had received when I had put in quadruple the time to PhUn Week. I had worked less and make PhUn Week better!

If you want to work less and have a student volunteer-led PhUn Week, here are my Top 5 Tips:

  1. Find volunteers early – PhUN Week is the first week of November, but undergraduate schedules are the least busy in August/September. Get them organized early or you’ll run into scheduling conflicts later.
  2. Recruit volunteers from in-majors clubs or other academic groups with physiology ties – in my experience, these students are usually the ones more likely to sign-up, show-up, and do a good job.
  3. Relinquish control – give the volunteers ownership of their own projects. They get a better experience overall, but also having a vested interest in the project really brings out the best in many students.
  4. Give parameters – Provide the Essential Learning Standards for the grade levels you’re working with and the PhuN Week webpage or LifeSciTRC , but allow volunteers to decide what to do and how to do it.
  5. Establish a designated contact/group leaders – logistics can quickly get complicated when working with undergraduate student schedules and K-12 schedules, smaller groups can help with this. Having someone who has previously volunteered for PhUn Week to organize the small group helps this and keeps the dozens of scheduling/meeting e-mails out of your inbox!
Ed Merritt is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Ed received his doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cellular and Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Ed’s research focuses on the molecular events when things go wrong in skeletal muscle. Ed is also involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning and melding educational outreach activities with service learning. He is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Education Committee and Teaching Section Steering Committee.
Spartans Stand Together in Service – MSU PhUn Day

Michigan State University (MSU) continuously strives to fulfill its mission of making a positive difference, both locally and globally, through educational tools. Thus, a large-scale community engagement project such as PhUn Day, not only helps tie MSU to a national outreach initiative in physiology put forth by the APS but also is an important tool for enriching local communities and promoting broader ideals among students. Each year, the event gains momentum and it becomes increasingly important for the outreach coordinators to strategically organize and plan to ensure that this is truly an experience that helps students reinforce physiological concepts while inspiring them to become dynamic citizen leaders.  This year’s event is the 5th annual PhUn Day, which was held at Impression 5 Science Center (Lansing, MI) on Saturday November 5th, 2016. This event required 133 volunteers to operate 16 different stations and attracted over 900 attendees.


 I. Campus Involvement

An underlying goal of our PhUn Day, aided by the magnitude of the event, is to demonstrate professionalism to our student body. By implementing institution-wide teamwork, we sought to model and inspire dynamic professional skill-building to our students, include all individuals on campus with skills to offer and use educational tools to make a positive difference in our local community.

The past 5 years enabled us to build a diverse network of backgrounds and units across the entire 15-mile campus to support and sustain the event:

 1.  The Physiology Department:

  • Funded supplies
  • Rented larger technology items
    • Laptops
    • Cameras

2.  Faculty, staff, retirees, and students:

  • One faculty member/one staff member designated as volunteer outreach coordinators
  • Formed planning committee across multiple position types
  • Packed PhUn bags (APS backpacks)
    • Reserved department conference room
    • Filled bags with crayons, handouts, APS career trading cards, etc.
    • Open house packing format – individuals contributed for short/long periods of time
  • Loaded and transported supplies to the venue
  • Volunteered at the event
  • Advertised the event via flyers, social media, listservs and word of mouth within/outside of campus

3.  Research faculty:

  • Donated common research-related items
    • Test tubes – DNA activity
    • Microcentrifuge tubes – blood/immunity activity
  • Collected cardboard boxes from lab shipments for transportation of materials
  • Offered expertise
    • Volunteered at stations related to their research
    • Created supplementary activities based on familiarity with topics

4. Teaching faculty and academic advisor:

  • Primary recruiters of undergraduate volunteers via class email lists and close-knit relationships
  • Incorporated service learning into the classroom
    • Extra credit
    • Honors’ Option credit for crafting a new outreach activity
    • Department/laboratory course resources provided (scissors, glue, posters, etc.)

5. Teams from undergraduate clubs and societies volunteered:

  • Biochemistry Club, Human Biology Club, Neuroscience Club, Physiology Society, Pre-Medicine Club and Pre-Physician Assistant Club.
  • Clubs offered points for participation
  • Club volunteers encouraged to wear t-shirts promoting their organization

6.  Graduate students and societies:

  • The Physiology department, other related colleges and the American Physician Scientists Association
  • Acted as station leaders
    • Research interests aligned with station
    • Gained experience
      • Practical application of course information
      • Taught a general audience
      • Mentored, oversaw and worked together with their team

7.  The MSU College of Human Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine:

  • Lent anatomical models for display
  • Generated unique videos that illustrated physiological events using advanced equipment (MRI or ultrasound)

8.  Departments from other colleges:

  • Division of Histology explored cells, tissues and microscopy
  • Neuroscience program facilitated nerve stimulation and mediated handling of brains
  • Social Science collected data for research regarding gender differences involved in student interactions and responsiveness

9.  Advertising campaigns:

  • MSU newspaper/radio broadcast across the entire campus whereas flyers alone would be limited

10.  The MSU Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE)

  • Provided bus tokens to volunteers for transportation (venue off-campus)
  • Advertised to individuals seeking service opportunities

II. Shifts/Coordination of Volunteers

Shifts were divided into full (9:30am-4:30pm) or half (morning: 9:30am-1:00pm, afternoon: 12:30-4:30pm) days. A slight overlap of time between shifts accounted for late arrivals. A Google Spreadsheet link was circulated via email and volunteers signed up on their own. Many chose to work a full day but split shifts between two different stations. Each station required one team leader and 3-10 volunteers, based on difficulty of the tasks performed.

One month prior to the event, team leaders met with the outreach coordinators to familiarize themselves with the materials and activities. For more difficult activities, additional volunteer training sessions could be needed beforehand. Two weeks in advance, all volunteers attended a training by the venue to receive facility rules and tips for interacting with children.

III.  Stations


Station Title


Careers What’s A Physiologist? Welcome/Exit station

Introduction to careers in physiology

Animal Physiology How do you keep warm? Compare mammalian insulation methods using plastic bags in cold water that were empty or filled with feathers/Crisco (“fat”)
Medicine You’re the Doctor! Explore equipment (stethoscopes, BP cuffs, tendon hammers, lab coats, etc.) and how they are used in practice
Artery Assessment How Does Your Blood Flow? (Healthy Heart Race) Race through arteries, observe impacts of atherosclerosis using a blood flow model of gallon jugs, red-colored water and a two-way valve
Cell Physiology Discovering DNA Practice DNA extraction using strawberries
Muscle Muscle Mania! Measure strength using PowerLab hardware, a grip force transducer and LabChart software
Breathing How “Full of Hot Air” are you? Investigation of lung models and volume measurements using tubs of water, gallon jugs (with L measurements) and tubing to blow through
Exploring histology and microscopy (no poster) MSU Histology demonstrates microscope use, offers craft supplies to build 8×11″ paper cell models
Cardiovascular What’s inside your heart? A coloring station, anatomical heart models, walkable floor map of the circulatory system, stethoscope experiments
Vision Exploration Do you see what I see? Various vision tests like color blindness, negative afterimage, etc.; anatomical eye models, station to build spinning color wheels
Neuroscience (no poster) The MSU Neuroscience Club demonstrates neural stimulation of a muscle, showcases real brains
Osteology Bone Physiology & Skeleton Puzzle A large floor puzzle of the human skeletal system, exploration of bone physiology using real human skeletons
GI Physiology The Question of Digestion Naming puzzle of GI system, models for peristalsis using tights and Easter eggs, observation of MRI videos
Oral Physiology Tooth be Told! Egg carton models with black glue for cavities and aluminum foil for fillings to illuminate importance of oral hygiene
Hematology Blood Understanding blood, its composition and purpose, building models of normal blood/centrifuged blood by filling tubes various candies
Face Painting MSU Undergraduate Physiology Society 25+ images for painting on child’s face or arm, donations accepted
Physio Photo-booth (no poster) Photo station with a giant “Physiology” man with the face cutout or physiology props to hold

IV. Summary

PhUn Day is the flagship outreach event for our department and generates a lot of excitement every year. Although this largely focuses on logistics and fostering institution-wide participation, we recognize service as a mutually beneficial relationship. This event brings a lot of attention to our local science center and shares resources with our community members. Therefore, this is a novel learning opportunity that enables MSU to form innovative partnerships while simultaneously stimulating civic awareness.


Valerie VanRyn is an Instructional Laboratory Technologist at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI. Her role includes developing and maintaining undergraduate Physiology teaching labs on campus, assisting with the medical school labs, co-coordinating the departmental outreach, mentoring a number of student activities and educational papers. In addition to her work at MSU, she serves as the Secretary-Treasurer on the Executive Committee of the Michigan Physiological Society (MPS), a local chapter of the American Physiological Society (APS), and on the CAC 2017 Planning Committee for the APS.  She received her B.S. in Physiology from Michigan State University in 2015.