Ana Porras receives 2024 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

Ana Maria Porras, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Engineering at the University of Florida, has been honored with the 2024 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This prestigious accolade recognizes early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in public engagement activities. Her recognition stems from innovative approaches to public engagement, particularly through science communication and outreach targeting underrepresented communities in the United States and Latin America.

Leading the Tissue-Microbe Interactions lab, Porras has established herself as an accomplished professor and researcher. Her research focuses on engineering in vitro disease models to explore human-microbe interactions within the contexts of the microbiome, infectious disease, and global health.

In addition to her research achievements, Porras was named a UF International Center Global Fellow in 2021 and featured in the Smithsonian exhibit “If Then, She Can” in 2022, which honors women striving to change the world.

Continuing her commitment to international collaboration, Porras maintains close ties with UF’s International Center and collaborates with universities in Colombia. She teaches a course called “Global Health in Biomedical Engineering,” fostering collaboration between students from the University of Florida and Colombia.

Beyond her research, Porras is a co-founder of the Latinx in BME community and advocates for the inclusion of women and Latinx individuals in STEM fields. She was selected as an IF/THEN AAAS Ambassador for girls and women in STEM, earning her a place of honor with a statue at the Smithsonian Institution.

Porras’s journey into science communication was inspired by her experiences navigating different identities and disciplines. Recognizing barriers hindering knowledge exchange between scientists and broader communities, especially among historically excluded groups in STEM, she has dedicated herself to developing communication strategies to bridge these gaps.

Her public engagement efforts focus on three main approaches:

  • Utilizing Art and Social Media to Make Science Accessible: Porras’s foray into public engagement with STEM began in 2018 during her postdoctoral training on the gut microbiome at Cornell University. Through initiatives like #MicrobeMondays and #MicroMartes on Instagram, she employs crocheted microbes to narrate stories about the significance of microorganisms in daily life, resonating deeply with underrepresented groups.
  • Advocating for Multilingualism: Porras’s journey as a Latina immigrant has heightened her awareness of linguistic barriers in science communication. Collaborating on articles advocating for linguistic diversity in STEM engagement, she promotes initiatives like the InclusiveSciComm symposium.
  • Collaborating with Communities to Tailor STEM Experiences: Motivated to connect with communities in her home country, Porras collaborates with organizations like Science Clubs Colombia to provide high-quality STEM education tailored to local contexts, fostering a sense of belonging in STEM. She has also recently started an ongoing collaboration with Unidos Now, an organization that serves Latine communities in the Manatee and Sarasota region.

Porras’s commitment to bridging scientific excellence with public engagement has earned her the 2024 AAAS Early Career Award and solidified her standing as a leader and advocate in the scientific community. Her impactful work continues to inspire and pave the way for future generations in STEM.