What’s Next for Science Sandbox

Ivvet Modinou named director, Outreach, Education and Engagement; John Tracey named program director of Science Sandbox; and some hellos and goodbyes

In November of 2016, the Simons Foundation formally announced a new grantmaking initiative. Called Science Sandbox, it focused on engaging the public with the process of science, especially those individuals who have been traditionally “left out” by or underrepresented in science engagement efforts. Our driving ethos was, and remains, that by engaging everyone with the process of science, we can “unlock scientific thinking” throughout society. As a result, people will be better equipped to make decisions across all aspects of their lives. After nearly five years, we’re working to internalize lessons learned, pursue more collaboration and double down on supporting high-quality, community-driven science engagement.

The recent departure of Marilyn and Jim Simons from their day-to-day leadership roles at the foundation was a bittersweet moment. (We’ll miss them around the office!) But we have enormous gratitude for what they enabled and accomplished during their illustrious tenures. Both will now co-chair the Board of Directors. Science Sandbox is particularly grateful for their trust and sage guidance. And with their departure comes a new president in David Spergel, who began his tenure as Foundation president in July 2021 after having served as founding director of the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics. Spergel is a champion of Science Sandbox and the foundation’s outreach efforts more broadly, with a desire to deepen connections between these initiatives across the foundation.

In that spirit, the foundation has welcomed Ivvet Modinou as director of outreach, education and engagement (OE&E). With nearly two decades’ experience working in public science engagement, Modinou comes to us from the British Science Association in London, where she oversaw their public programs as head of engagement. In addition to leading strategy development and execution for the OE&E department here at the foundation, Modinou will work with Spergel to ensure a consistent mission-driven focus on all engagement activities to transform how people think about and engage with science. And of course, she’ll be a crucial voice in the development and execution of Science Sandbox’s strategy.

Leading the day-to-day efforts of Science Sandbox will be John Tracey, who has been named its program director. Tracey joined the foundation in 2014 to study how to improve public engagement with science, and he was a founding member of the team that would become Science Sandbox. As program director, he’ll oversee program development and external communications, working closely with Modinou.

With the addition of Modinou and new position for Tracey comes some more bittersweet goodbyes. Greg Boustead, previously the director of Science Sandbox, departs from his role on the team to lead Sandbox Films, an editorially independent science-documentary film studio launched just last year. Boustead brought a mix of innovative cutting-edge program-development work and a deep respect for the field of science engagement to the role for nearly five years. We thank him for his visionary leadership. Joining Boustead at Sandbox Films is Sam Riviello, previously Science Sandbox’s operations manager. Riviello served as the nucleus of Science Sandbox, executing administration, event production, and budget and community management with precision and enthusiasm. We wish both Boustead and Riviello the best with their endeavor.

So what does this all mean? Here at Science Sandbox, our mission won’t change. We want to continue to help change the face of science engagement — who is “doing” the work, and who is benefiting. But we’re not turning a blind eye to the lessons of the last 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent vaccine rollout is a wake-up call for everyone in this field, and we’re no exception. We’re committed to supporting science-driven communication, storytelling and meaningful community engagement.

Science Sandbox is steadfastly committed to supporting and elevating the voices and work of people of color. We stand with and pledge to support organizations and individuals working to ensure that the field of science engagement is a place where minority communities feel not only that they belong but that they can thrive.

As we explore new opportunities, Science Sandbox is currently hiring for two new positions: a program associate and a coordinator! Please visit the links for more information. We’d love to work with you.

With excitement and gratitude,
Team Science Sandbox

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