Campus News

Community engagement enhances CTSI research programming

Three children dressed in Halloween costumes take part in a dry ice demonstration that teaches them about the environment on Mars at a table manned by staff from the Buffalo Museum of Science.

A staff member from the Buffalo Museum of Science shows children some dry ice to teach them about the environment on Mars at the recent “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries” event organized by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.


Published November 27, 2019

“Community events are a great method to bring people together. Whether that’s by bringing awareness to a worthy cause or simply providing information, they help us reach people in an approachable manner. ”
Megan Wilson-Crowley, community research facilitator
Clinical and Translational Science Institute's Community Engagement Core

More than 260 men, women and children — all clad in their best Halloween costumes — filled the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences the Saturday before Halloween. 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, offering 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, with children collecting treats as they went from table to table. Dozens of UB and community volunteers made sure the event ran smoothly and that a good time was had by all.   

The annual “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries: Free Family Fun and Learning Fair” is one of several initiatives by UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute to engage people from Buffalo and the broader Western New York community, help educate them about their health and encourage them to take part in research.

“Community events are a great method to bring people together,” says Megan Wilson-Crowley, community research facilitator in CTSI’s Community Engagement Core. “Whether that’s by 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,” she explains. “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.”

When it comes to planning the annual Halloween 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, Wilson-Crowley says. These partners’ unique expertise and understanding of the community not only helps CTSI create relevant programming, but their connections allow the institute to reach people it normally wouldn’t have access to, she says.

“This event is one of our favorites,” says Bridget Brace-MacDonald, 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 helps us show the community that the buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood are not just brick and glass,” adds Kathie Crocker, community planning partner and member of the Patient Voices Steering Committee. “These are places where they, too, can learn and explore.”

Ben Cashaw, CEO and president of Fruit of the City, calls the Halloween event “a positive experience” that offers parents the opportunity to spend quality time with their children, interact with them on an education level, and just “have fun while learning.”

“We look forwarding to continuously improving our partnership with UB in all aspects of outreach regarding community support and services,” Cashaw says. “We feel this event shows that working together can have a positive impact on us all.”  

This year’s “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries” was a great success, Wilson-Crowley says, noting the event has doubled in size — from 130 participants at the first event in 2017 to more than 260 this year.

“We have seen firsthand how community-informed programming can engage the community and allow us to have an open, honest conversation about research,” she says.