“We try to help people as much as we can and talk to people about what they need help with.” – Dr. Carol Ward

Dr. Carol Ward learned firsthand that engaging in broader impact activities may lead to unexpected results. She is in her second year of a NSF grant that funds her paleoanthropological research in Kanapoi, Kenya. It is in this remote region among rural communities that Ward finds fossils of ancestors from the human branch of the evolutionary tree.

Ward originally anticipated that her broader impact activities would include bringing supplies and educational programming to the schools near their field site. However that plan changed, as Ward explained, “There was no school there. We wanted to go there and talk to the kids and get them involved, but there was nowhere to go. It’s an hours and hours walk to get to the nearest school.” The school for the community of 11,000 people closed in 1988 and no replacement was established. After talking with local residents about what their community needed, Ward and her colleagues spoke with government officials. The researchers committed to building a school, as long as the government would provide a teacher. For approximately $700 US, they were able to construct a simple building to create the Kanapoi Primary School. Ward has recently started a non-profit organization (West Turkana Paleo Project – https://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Turkana-Paleo-Project/170608286477905) to help supplement grant money to help with future efforts. She mentions, “It’s more than they had and we hope to work on walls, supplies, and desks in the future.”

In addition to providing a school for the local community, Ward also incorporated broader impact activities to help her graduate students. She works closely with a longtime Kenyan collaborator, Dr. Fredrick Manthi, to provide opportunities for students to work in international teams. Collaborations between locals in the field and researchers in the US are important for this type of work. Ward and Manthi brought graduate students from the US to work together with Kenyan students at the field site in Kanapoi. The students were given projects and formed collaborative relationships. As Ward explained, “Paleontology has to be done with large teams of people, often international teams; if we can build those relationships early, we hope that it can help those scholars.”

Ward’s broader impacts are a great example of how researchers can adapt and tailor their efforts to meet the needs of the communities they serve. By focusing on the unique needs of local schools and new researchers, Ward expanded her original broader impact plan into an extensive and rewarding project.