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Collegiate Student Organizations Participating in Chemistry Outreach: A Case Study Characterizing the Community of Practice
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Outreach initiatives are typically framed as informal learning environments that provide an opportunity to increase the participants’ interest in science. Research on chemistry outreach has primarily focused on designing and implementing demonstrations for outreach. Recent studies indicate student organizations are at the forefront of chemistry outreach, describing their outreach practices and facilitators’ conceptual understanding of demonstrations. Although leadership has been linked to success of groups and organizations, the leadership structure of student organizations is an understudied aspect of chemistry outreach. Here, we conceptualize student organizations participating in chemistry outreach as a community of practice (CoP) with the goal of expanding the chemistry education community’s knowledge of this CoP. Specifically, we aim to characterize leadership styles within the student organization in the context of an outreach event; and, to explore how factors related to diversity and inclusion play a role in boundary processes of the student organization as a CoP. Using a case study approach, we collected multiple sources of data, including the organization’s outreach practices, an assessment of leadership style, observations, and semi-structured interviews. Results indicate leaders of the student organization, particularly those in charge of planning outreach events, displayed behaviors associated with the transactional and laissez-faire leadership styles more frequently than behaviors associated with the transformational leadership style. This study also suggested students’ prior experiences related to gender, race/ethnicity, education and other outreach events play a role in their reasons for doing chemistry outreach, how they contribute to planning of events and how they interact with the audience of outreach events. As a long-term outcome for this study, the results can be used by national organizations to inform the development of new workshops for leadership training, with the purpose of teaching practices to leaders that can bring success to their chapter or local group.