Center for Communicating Science celebrates fifth anniversary with first Communicating Science Week
Communicating science clearly, effectively, and creatively is more important than ever.
Since its inception, the Center for Communicating Science has been giving Virginia Tech’s world-class researchers, students, and storytellers the tools that they need to reach across divides and build better connections with audiences who exist outside of the laboratory and academia.
In celebration of the fifth anniversary of its opening celebration in March 2017, the center has planned a Communicating Science Week full of activities and events, with keynote speaker Elin Kelsey as the centerpiece.
“Our work with Virginia Tech’s researchers and students brings us hope on a daily basis,” said Patty Raun, director of the Center for Communicating Science and a faculty member in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “To celebrate our fifth anniversary, we wanted to share this hope with our community by inviting Elin Kelsey, whose message of evidence-based hope will inspire us all.”
Kelsey’s address, "Hope Matters: Why Overcoming Doom and Gloom Is Essential to Achieving Climate Justice," is scheduled for 8 p.m. March 18 at the Moss Arts Center.
Communicating Science Week will also include the center’s annual graduate student presentation competition, the Nutshell Games; a series of SciArt collaboration activities; workshops for graduate students and faculty; the graduate student conference, ComSciCon; and many other events slated for March 16 through 23.
The detailed schedule of events for the week can be found on the Communicating Science Week page of their website.
“The week will showcase the creative efforts of Virginia Tech researchers in communicating their research, provide opportunities for people to build skills of connection and communication, and celebrate our first five years,” said Carrie Kroehler, the associate director of the center. “Our work has expanded more than we could have dreamed of, and a lot of people have been involved in that. This is our chance to put them on display.”
The center’s origin story begins with Karen DePauw, former vice president and dean for graduate education in the Virginia Tech Graduate School, and Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor and the director for the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE), in which the center is housed. Inspired by the establishment of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in 2009, DePauw asked Raun, then director of the School of Performing Arts, to participate in the Alda Center's first summer institute for university faculty and administrators.
"Karen DePauw's understanding of the value of helping graduate students learn to effectively communicate their research aligned well with our goal at ISCE of helping faculty do the same, as they develop new collaborations and seek external funding in support of their research agenda," said Roberto. "In its first five years, the center's work has helped many Virginia Tech faculty and student researchers communicate with those outside their specialties and to diverse audiences beyond the confines of campus and their disciplinary boundaries."
Upon her return, Raun used her expertise in theater and improvisation to establish a graduate level Communicating Science course at Virginia Tech. Since its inception in the spring semester of 2012, Virginia Tech's 2-credit workshop-format Communicating Science course has grown in popularity, with five sections currently offered each year.
The center also has hosted 250-plus workshops and presentations for nearly 10,000 participants both on campus and elsewhere, including intensives for The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers.
"For years, students and faculty at Virginia Tech have been thirsty for opportunities to enhance their science communication skills,” said Bill Hopkins, a steering committee member of the Center for Communicating Science and associate executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. “That thirst has been elevated to a sense of urgency shared by technical experts around the world due to chronic misinformation and poor communication around some of the greatest issues of our time, like climate change and pandemics.”
The land grant mission of the university, Hopkins said, means that researchers need to be on the front lines explaining scientific evidence in ways that are accurate and meaningful to the masses. At Virginia Tech, the Center for Communicating Science has filled a fundamental need by providing communication training that enables academic researchers to engage with society at this critical juncture in history.
"The Center [for Communicating Science] does incredibly important work,” said Jennifer Case, a center advisory board member and head of the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering. “We especially appreciate their work with graduate students in the College of Engineering, supporting them to engage the broader public around the significance and impact of their work."
The center has also established a track record for nurturing collaborations between artists and researchers, projects that will be on display during Communicating Science Week. Early work in this area was funded by the Equity and Social Disparity in the Human Condition destination area and generated several performance pieces.
A more recent “collaboration incubator” workshop, facilitated by center faculty last May, resulted in eight projects funded through the Center by the Center for Coastal Studies and the Equity and Social Disparity in the Human Condition destination area.
Through its work, the center has fostered "hope for connecting across differences, and inspiration for each individual to participate in the important work of advancing our understanding of the world and of one another," said Raun.