Civic Action: Divergent Interests for a Common Good

SUNY Geneseo

February 9, 2018

This fall, Patrick Buckley ’19, a student ambassador in the Geneseo’s Center for Inquiry, Discovery & Development (CIDD), launched a new initiative to bridge college and community called “The Discovery Café.”   The Discovery Café is based on the "Science Café” model, which originated in Europe as an effort to break down barriers between the science community and the general public.  As implemented by Buckley, the model has been a wonderful vehicle for addressing public skepticism about current scientific theories in the local community.  According to Buckley, “the events allow individuals to have face-to-face interactions with scientists about their research and they can break down misconceptions about scientists or science in general.”  

All cafes are free and open to the public.  The first “café,” topic discussion, “A Series of Discrepant Events: Some Physics in Action,” was presented by Kurt Fletcher, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the Wadsworth Public Library in Geneseo in September.

The second, which was hosted by a local bookstore in a neighboring county, was a unique opportunity for the members of a small community to interact with Assistant Professor of Biology Elizabeth Hutchison, assistant professor of biology.  Professor Hutchison addressed the topic of “Personalized Genomics” in October.

November saw the café return to the local public library for Assistant Professor of Biology Sara Burch’s talk, “Understanding the Biology of Extinct Animals.”

Buckley was thrilled by the public reception to these projects, the diversity of the attendees, and the quality of the discussions that ensued.  Attendance at the programs grew during the course of the semester.

An underlying element of the project is to provide opportunities to present scientific theories and practices in settings free from political agendas and ideologies, yet at the same time promote civic agency – the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences to create common ground.  Buckley has served as the liaison between the science faculty and the community members, and has built an atmosphere of trust between the participants that has resulted in increased community dialogue on sometimes controversial topics.

According to Patrick, It is becoming increasingly easy to write off people who disagree with you because it seems like they do not have the best interests of the country at heart.  Echo chambers on social media and a political climate that is unusually vitriolic has exacerbated this problem.   This is why I started the Discovery Café event series in the Geneseo community.  As the left and right are currently writing each other off, and the public and scientists seem to be moving towards adopting this same mindset, I wanted to foster personal interactions between scientists and community members.  I was especially interested in encouraging scientists not to view members of the public who may be described as science-deniers as ignorant, or without the best interests of the world at heart.”

Patrick has been able to draw from several distinct interests to engage his local community, as both a budding scientist and a leader of Geneseo’s Student Voter Registration and Engagement Task Force.  While seemingly divergent, these interests are in fact complementary and reflect Patrick’s ability to apply strategies across disciplines to bridge the gaps between perceived discursive endeavors, reach out to multiple demographic groups, and take risks to engage with earnest intention to make a change for good.

Patrick expounded on his ideas of cross collaborative action in his Civic Nation Voice blog post published on Forbes online.  See

You can also check out one of Patrick’s Discovery Café events here:


  • Garth Freeman, Coordinator of Student Volunteerism and Community Engagement, SUNY GENESEO
  • Robert A. Bonfiglio, Vice President for Student and Campus Life, SUNY GENESEO

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