Community Seminar Series

Working together to build a healthier world.

At University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute, a campus-wide interdisciplinary research institute aimed at health sciences, in alliance with Illinois Extension, has forged a community-academic partnership program to serve as a creative pathway for engaging graduate students in building skills in public engagement and accessible scientific communication. The CSS is a program supported by Illinois Extension educators, who serve as mentors to the program’s graduate students. 

This program emerged out of the land grant mission to provide high-level education and research while also contributing to the well-being of the Illinois public regardless of race or socioeconomic status through a professional network of educators, faculty members, and staff. The IHSI-Extension CSS program addresses this mission by providing Illinois citizens access to health and science programming based on recent research conducted on campus to fulfill the land grant mission of public service and engagement. 



Why this program matters

Technology has changed the ways people access health information. The proliferation of inaccurate (and potentially dangerous) information on the internet has become a public health challenge. At the same time, public trust in scientists is increasing. Given the current health information landscape, there is an urgent need to develop models that allow researchers, educators, and community stakeholders to come together to share knowledge around timely health topics and to provide the members of the public with current research-based health information.

The Community Seminar Series represents one such model for public health engagement.

This program provides opportunities for members of the public to hear about current health research, learn how to identify reliable sources of health information, and engage directly with University of Illinois researchers. The Community Seminar Series also serves as a key professional development opportunity for graduate and postdoctoral trainees who are mentored and supported by Extension educators. Through this process, students gain hands-on experience developing educational resources and communicating with the public about topics related to their research.

The CSS program began in Spring 2020. Each year, three distinct six- to ten-week series align with the University of Illinois’ academic calendar: 

  • Autumn Health Picks
  • Springtime Science
  • Summer Self-Care



Each series shares valuable research information to audience members’ health and wellbeing. Over 1,500 participants attended the virtual seminars during the first year of the program, including community members, health professionals, and extension educators. 

  • 50.8% to 82.6% of attendees that complete our survey say they may or will plan to make changes to their daily life as a result of this webinar (average of ~70% across all sessions with feedback data) 
  • All session attendees completing the REDCap survey indicated at least some increase in knowledge on the topic after viewing a session.  
  • 97% to 100% of attendees that complete the REDCap survey indicate the session topic was somewhat or highly relevant to their personal lives. 
  • We’ve increased the number of registrants for the series by 45.8% from Fall 2021-Spring 2022 


What our participants say

“Sneha was a great presenter and educator. She kept my interest the whole time and simplified things so that someone with no science background can understand. Well done!” – Community Seminar Series Attendee

“The speaker brought up issues I had never thought of (e.g. being careful about what genetic testing says about your potential health issues).” – Community Seminar Series Attendee

“The presenter broke down the complicated world of vaccines and presented it in simple, easy-to-understand examples. And addressing the common questions/myths at the end of the presentation was much appreciated. The presenter was amazing. I am hopeful for our planet when I hear a young person with so much intelligence and grace.” – Community Seminar Series Attendee

“I learned things I didn't know that I can use personally with family as well as talk to family with dementia about.” –Community Seminar Series Attendee

“Even though I believe I have a lot of knowledge, I use this type of webinar to motivate me to action and remind me of info. I may have forgotten. Thank you.” –Community Seminar Series Attendee