Not Just Hocus Pocus: Community Engagement Enhances CTSI Research Programming

trick or treating.

The Buffalo Museum of Science educational table shows attendees a dry ice demonstration and teaches them about the environment on Mars.

Published November 19, 2019

By Megan Wilson-Crowley, MPA

The 2019 “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries: Free Family Fun and Learning Fair” was a success. Over 260 community members – all clad in their best Halloween costumes – filled the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on Saturday, October 26. There were festive decorations, kid-friendly refreshments and even a “selfie-station” where attendees could pose with fun props. Educational tables, hosted by both community and university partners, lined every wall of the second floor atrium. While visiting the tables, children engaged in science and health themed activities. Crowd favorites included the “Cookie Clinical Trial” where attendees learned about research by taste testing cookies and “Planet Mars” where attendees explored dry ice on the red planet and checked out topographic maps. The event also served as a safe trick-or-treating option for families – each child collecting treats as they went table to table. Dozens of UB and community volunteers made sure that the event ran smoothly and that a good time was had by all.   

Community events are a great method to bring people together. Whether that be bringing awareness to a worthy cause or simply providing information, they help us reach people in an approachable manner. As planners know, community events often present a unique set of needs and challenges. Not only are you balancing all the typical logistical and technical aspects, but you are also trying to ensure programming is both engaging and appropriate for the target community.

Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries” is one of several CTSI initiatives designed to engage people from the Buffalo and Western New York community, help educate them about their health and encourage them to participate in research. When it comes to planning the annual event, the CTSI relies on community partners like the Patient Voices Network and Fruit of the City (formerly the Fruit Belt Coalition) to inform the process from start to finish. Their unique expertise and understanding of the community not only helps us create relevant programming, but their connections allow us to reach people we normally wouldn’t have access to.

“This event is one of our favorites,” said Bridget Brace-MacDonald, EdM, planning partner and Director of Outreach Activities for UB’s Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) Community of Excellence. “It’s really important that we are able to collaborate with the community to provide information about different local organizations alongside the great research and science that UB faculty and students are involved in.”

“Helping to co-host a community event like this [Tricks, Treats, and Science Discoveries] helps us show the community that the buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood are not just brick and glass,” said Kathie Crocker, community planning partner and member of the Patient Voices Steering Committee. “These are places where they too can learn and explore.”

Looking at how far we have come from our first event, I can genuinely say that we would not have been as successful without the guidance from our community partners. And it’s not just a bunch of hocus pocus; we have doubled in size from our first event in 2017 of 130 attendees to this year with 260 attendees. We have seen first-hand how community-informed programming can engage the community and allow us to have an open, honest conversation about research.