COSEE-New England (COSEE-NE), one of the first Centers to be funded by NSF, was formed in 2002 as a 5-year partnership between the New England Aquarium, University of Massachusetts, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. New England Aquarium and University of Massachusetts-Boston are currently continuing work on projects under a no-cost extension through January 2009. In addition, with the benefit of a funding supplement we joined with the University of Rhode Island and COSEE Ocean Systems to serve on the Interim National COSEE Leadership Team - with Billy Spitzer as advisor to new Centers and liaison to the National Advisory Committee, and me as communications and networking coordinator.
As we look back on our work as a Center, I'll take this opportunity to share some lessons learned. I joined COSEE-NE as Center Manager in December 2005, brought on to improve project management and internal communications. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your Center's resources:
Invest in communication. One of the best investments we made as a Center was to bring on a dedicated communications professional. Catherine Cramer kept the broader COSEE-NE team partners aware of Center happenings with an internal partnership update, and produces external publications as well. She initiated publication of COSEE-NE curricula in NSTA's Science Scope, and raised awareness of our work around our region by publishing COSEE-NE news in other newsletters and offering to publish notices from other institutions in our own NEwswave.
Professionalize your project management. Having a manager dedicated to keeping programs on target and on budget allows the PIs to raise their heads up from the details and think in the larger context. A project manager can help determine goals, expectations around project scope, deadlines, and reporting up front, all of which help to avoid problems later. If you can find a "people person" to do this job, you'll be better off - they'll be able to negotiate the different cultures encompassed in a COSEE, and smooth over rough spots.
Make sustainability a goal. In New England, we established the New England Ocean Science Education Collaborative (NEOSEC), a broader-than-COSEE collaboration among formal and informal education institutions around the region. It brings Sea Grants, Universities, NGOs, and other organizations together on equal footing - no funding for participation, but staffed by COSEE to make sure that initiatives are supported. We have found that this model generates fewer controversies over funding, unequal commitments, etc. than the original COSEE partnership ever did, and NEOSEC will likely continue years beyond our NSF funding.
Be ambitious with your level of impact. Rather than working with individual teachers or interpreters, work with decisionmakers. Our Ocean Science Education Institutes (OSEI) were built on district-level partnerships, avoiding situations in which the solo engaged and energized teacher leaves, taking the program with him or her.
Be an entrepreneur. We believe that the most successful Centers will be entrepreneurial in their approach - developing programs that fill a real need, that are designed to be implemented by other Centers and partners across the country. COSEE California's Communicating Ocean Science is an example. COSEE-NE's Telling Your Story (TYS) could be another. In the next few months, we will be distributing a draft toolkit for bringing TYS to your own Center, and we'll look for your feedback!
I have been so pleased to have the opportunity to work with the COSEE Network, and look forward to many fruitful partnerships with all of you in the future!