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Metcalf Institute, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and University of Rhode Island’s Science & Story Lab Launch SciComm Identities Project Fellowship

By eLearning Inside
June 22, 2022

The University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and the URI Science and Story Lab launched the SciComm Identities Project (SCIP) to prepare the next generation of science communicators from underrepresented ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The ambitious five-year collaborative project, supported by a $2.8 million National Science Foundation grant, will address a significant gap in science communication research and training by centering on the motivations, experiences, and priorities of racial and ethnic minority scientists. The SCIP team will develop and test a novel science communication training curriculum through a new one-year fellowship program.

“An important step in advancing effective science communication is ensuring that training methods are inclusive and intersectional and that they recognize and value different cultural perspectives,” says Sunshine Menezes, Metcalf Institute executive director and clinical professor of environmental communication. “This project is a critical part of the effort to build evidence-based science communication curricula. We’re thrilled to help more researchers of color become go-to, trusted sources for the news media, policy makers, communities, and other public audiences.”

Call for Fellowship Applicants

The SciComm Identities Project aims to shift the paradigm of science communication training and create a more representative suite of academic science communicators. SCIP will support underrepresented minority scientists and engineers as science communicators, featuring a fellowship designed to test a training curriculum based on intercultural communication theories. SCIP also aims to elevate science communication activities as a valued aspect of academics’ institutional contributions within the review, promotion, and tenure process. In addition, by leveraging the journalism networks of Metcalf Institute and the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, the project will amplify the recognition of SCIP Fellows as public intellectuals in environmental news coverage to foster culturally relevant conversations about environmental issues.

Building new professional networks

The SCIP Fellowship is a one-year professional development opportunity for pre-tenure faculty at U.S. institutions who identify as underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities. Each of the three fellowship years will center around a theme relating to climate change, including water, agriculture, and food security. The 2023 Fellowship will focus on energy and is therefore open to all tenure-track associate professors who study some aspect of energy as it relates to climate change in the natural or social sciences or engineering. SCIP Fellows in these fields will gain science communication expertise and experience and build their professional networks in ways that may support new collaborations and research insights.

Fellows will be selected based on their stated interests and goals for leveraging the training through their work, for example, their research, teaching, advising, and/or public engagement. Selections will maximize the diversity of each fellowship cohort concerning race and ethnicity, geography, discipline, and gender. Fellowships will span one year, from January through December. Applications for the first fellowship year are due August 1, 2022. 

Representing minorities in STEM

Ultimately, the outcomes of the SCIP fellowship and related research will be shared with science communication trainers via the SciComm Trainers Network and other partner organizations to integrate intercultural communication within the growing number of science communication training opportunities. In addition, SCIP research may inform efforts to attract, support, and retain underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines, enhance science learning through cultural relevance, and influence public perceptions about science.

“Research in science communication has yet to examine how scientists’ cultural identities and scientific training interact to influence communication strategies and practices,” says Bruno Takahashi, Knight Center research director. “This research project will utilize theoretical insights from intercultural communication research to examine scientists’ identities from an intersectional perspective.”

Metcalf Institute provides education, training, and resources for journalists, researchers, and other science communicators to engage diverse audiences in conversations about science and the environment. Metcalf Institute was established at the University of Rhode Island in 1997 with funding from three media foundations: the Belo Corporation, the Providence Journal Charitable Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund, with additional support from the Telaka Foundation.

Michigan State University’s Knight Center teaches students and professional journalists how to better report on the world’s most important beat. Under the guidance of expert faculty, they experiment with new ways of explaining complex environmental issues while maintaining traditional values of fairness and accuracy. The East Lansing, MI, the center was founded in 1994 when the John S. and James L. Knight foundation created the nation’s first endowed chair for environmental journalism within the MSU School of Journalism.

The Science & Story Lab facilitates collaborations between scientists, communicators, and students to amplify scientific storytelling, literacy, and messaging. Housed at the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, the Science and Story Lab’s mission is to produce impact-driven science media, create experiential education opportunities for students, and train researchers with 21st Century communication skills. The SciComm Identities Project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants DRL-2115971 and DRL-2115522. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Featured image: boggy22, iStock.