Alumni profile: Laura Strugnell gives a voice to the next generation of agricultural research

In Spring 2017, Laura Strugnell (B.S. ’17) tapped the mail icon on her phone and found an email sent to the Life Sciences Communication (LSC) undergraduate student listserv. Strugnell was searching for a job, and the email advertised a communications position in Texcoco, Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (know as CIMMYT for its Spanish name Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo).

A Madison native, Strugnell hadn’t planned to get a job outside the U.S. However, she had taken a variety of agriculture classes and worked in a horticulture lab while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so she knew about CIMMYT’s global reputation. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that working at CIMMYT could be a prime opportunity to put her LSC education to work.

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LSC students apply communication education at internships near and far

Over the summer, LSC students had fun applying their science communication education as interns in professional settings across the country. Here we highlight a few examples of LSC’s many summer interns.

Riley Steinbrenner holding a crayfish for her internship at Trout Lake Station

Riley Steinbrenner holding a crayfish for her internship at Trout Lake Station

Senior Riley Steinbrenner traveled to Boulder Junction, Wisconsin this summer to intern at the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology’s Trout Lake Station. She worked on the center’s social media strategy, helped organize station events, and created content for a section of the Center for Limnology’s blog, Off the Reel.

“One of my inspirations for Off the Reel was from what I learned about photography and communicating science with narrative in my LSC courses: Storytelling paired with visuals can increase narrative transport, which helps readers understand and enjoy learning about complex scientific research! I also got a chance to use the graphic-design principles I learned from LSC,” says Steinbrenner.

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LSC grads tackle entrepreneurship to make their dreams a reality

LSC grads go on to have careers in numerous fields, whether it’s digital marketing, technical writing, broadcast production, or science outreach.  More still go on to create their own ventures through entrepreneurship. These individuals imagine new opportunities not yet in the marketplace and take action to create successful enterprises. The businesses they create span a range of industries from agriculture to health and fitness and technology development.

Andy Peterson with his wife, Jenna, and daughter, Shirley.

One LSC entrepreneur is 2008 grad, Andy Peterson. Andy started working on a plan for his business, Limousin Live, in his LSC capstone, allowing him to jump into the company directly after graduation.  Today, Andy owns two companies. Limousin Live which helps ranchers market their herd’s genetics through quality content and information, and Peterson Craftsman Meats where he raises and harvests high-quality meats.

“LSC impacted both of my businesses by helping guide me to the industries that were the best fit for my interests,” says Peterson.  While in school, Andy learned to produce podcasts through an information radio class with LSC’s Larry Meiller, and mastered content marketing and website design from LSC’s Don Stanley and Sarah Botham. Right off the bat, he was able to provide high-quality websites and content to his ranch clients and bring social marketing strategies to the cattle arena.

“To me, LSC totally encapsulates the Wisconsin Idea because it allowed me the space to be creative. The classes in LSC provided me the tools and resources to be successful and the creative room to explore different business solutions,” notes Andy.
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LSC senior lecturer Ron Seely lends his expertise to help protect the Great Lakes

Story by Sarah Krier. Sarah is an undergraduate student majoring in LSC and the Department of Life Sciences Communication 2016-17 Lenore Landry Scholar.

LSC faculty are leaders in the science communication field, and in addition to their teaching, research, and outreach roles within the university, many also pursue science communication work at the local, regional, and national scale.  LSC senior lecturer Ron Seely recently lent his expertise to a worthwhile regional effort – protecting the Great Lakes.

Ron Seely, LSC senior lecturer and award-winning science writer.

In September 2016 the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College invited Seely to attend a two-day summit about the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and write a white paper about the issue. The initiative aims to clean and protect the Great Lakes’ water resources with federal funding.

Seely used the conference discussions among biologists, limnologists, ecologists, and other scientific professionals to produce a digestible and convincing document about the challenges facing the lake.  That said, his work started well before the conference. Ron spent months preparing for the summit by researching the biological processes of freshwater resources and the effects of pollution, biodiversity, and water quality on the Great Lake’s ecosystem.

Ron agrees these efforts paid off. “It’s a great comfort when you sit down to write something like this to have a huge stack of information to pull from. I had a better handle on the discussion as it happened. In the end, I went to the summit pretty well prepared and I think that’s a good lesson for a writer. You can’t really spend too much time understanding your topic.”

According to the summit and Seely’s white paper, the benefits provided by the GLRI are clear. The program, which started in 2010, has made tremendous positive strides to improve the health of the Great Lakes. “All the experts who had been involved pointed out that it is this tremendously successful bipartisan program,” noted Seely.

Since its publication last fall the white paper has passed through the hands of important decision makers and continues to make the rounds among congressional delegates involved in determining the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 

 

Alumni profile: 2014 grad Dexter Patterson finds his purpose at LSC

Today, Dexter Patterson (BS ’14) is busier than ever. In addition to serving as the social and digital media specialist for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, he is in the process of building a media company, and pursuing his master’s degree at the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. According to Dexter, LSC defined his badger experience and helped him find his purpose.

Learn more about his LSC experience below:

New LSC course examines the role of narrative in science communication

The use of narrative in science has become a particularly active area of research in recent years. Narrative can be a powerful tool for any form of communication and science is no exception.  But it is not as easy as it may seem.  When using storytelling in science, there are many questions to address. What does research tell us about what is effective when using narrative in science? What should the plot line be? What platform is best? What is the length and format? These are just a few of the questions communicators must address when composing a narrative about science.

This semester, LSC debuted a new course focusing on this emerging area in science communication – LSC 430: Communicating Science with Narrative. The course, taught by Professor Shiela Reaves, explores how storytelling can be used to communicate complex scientific topics to non-expert audiences. Students examine the impact of metaphor in science writing, the scientific paradigm shifts surrounding narrative theory, and how news-editorial thinking can be used in the sciences.

“Although storytelling is ancient to the human species, it is relatively new in the life sciences, and many scientists are not aware of the persuasive impact of non-fiction storytelling found in the news media. By understanding the power of storytelling to change minds, our students can stand out in the field,” notes Reaves.
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Alumni profile: Jill Peters leverages her LSC education to land her dream job

Jill Peters, B.S. ’14, has always been drawn to nature. Peters grew up in a national park in northern Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where she dreamed of working in the field.  So, when she came to UW-Madison she decided to major in Biology and she got to work studying with the hope of one day doing conservation work in the great outdoors.

However, it wasn’t long until she realized Biology wasn’t quite the right fit. “Biology just felt a bit too broad for what I wanted to do,” notes Peters. Luckily, one of her friends recommended the Department of Life Sciences Communication, and according to Jill it was the perfect fit.  “I always knew I wanted to work in conservation in some capacity, but I also wanted to have a creative outlet. I always wanted to do communications because I love writing and photography – they just come naturally to me.”  So, in her third year at UW, Jill decided to major in LSC and get her certificate in Environmental Studies.

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LSC 515 students campaign to “Clean the Stream” at Union South

Story by Sarah Krier. Sarah is an undergraduate student majoring in LSC and the Department of Life Sciences Communication 2016-17 Lenore Landry Scholar

As the fall semester came to a close, students in LSC 515: Public Information Campaigns and Programs presented their semester’s work in front of a room full of professors, Union South employees, and peers. Four separate teams competed to determine whose campaign to clean the waste stream at Union South was most thorough, well communicated, and cohesive.

LSC 515 is a capstone course focusing on understanding the principles of social marketing and utilizing these principles to plan a strategic communications campaign to promote issues of public interest like environmental conservation and health conscious behavior.

“The curriculum provides the opportunity to bring together communication methods and theory, all that students have learned during their time with LSC, and develop a real-world social marketing campaign,” said Associate Professor Bret Shaw who taught the course last semester.

Students conducted a trash audit of the waste stream at Union South as a part of their project. Pictured here are (left to right) Shelby Kuenzli, Nikki Rasmussen, Sam Marquardt, Madeline Fischer, Bret Shaw, Maria Castillo.

Students conducted a trash audit of the waste stream at Union South as a part of their project. Pictured here are (left to right) Shelby Kuenzli, Nikki Rasmussen, Sam Marquardt, Madeline Fischer, Bret Shaw, and Maria Castillo.

Students were tasked with finding creative marketing communication strategies to enhance Union South’s recycling initiatives. “Clean the Stream” was the students’ slogan, stemming from the idea that waste becomes contaminated because of the lack of proper sorting measures—recycling trash items or vice versa. After conducting both observational reports and interviews with students at the Union, it was observed that an overwhelmingly high number of students reported that they generally felt confused about what items were recyclable, compostable, and what should ultimately go in the trash. Items that are most problematic include plastic straws, silverware, and coffee sleeves.
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From public outreach to peer review, UW–Madison scientists find value in social media

By Kelly April Tyrrell, UW-Madison University Communications

Social media has erased many of the boundaries between leaders and the people they represent, between experts and the lay public, between scientists and nonscientists. It has enabled people to communicate directly and interact in unprecedented ways.

At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a survey of 372 scientists engaged in biological or physical science research shows that scientists are increasingly using social media to communicate with nonscientific audiences.

Nearly 75 percent of the scientists surveyed at UW–Madison between April and June 2016 believe that nonscientists add valuable perspective to discussions about scientific research, which came as a surprise to Dominique Brossard, professor and a leader of the group that administered the survey, the Science, Media and the Public research group (SCIMEP) in the UW–Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication. A report from the survey is published on the SCIMEP website.

“Scientists think lay audiences have something important to say,” says Brossard. “It really reflects the reality of complex science today, where often there are ethical dimensions to consider.”

Dominique Brossard

Dominique Brossard

At the same time, the SCIMEP team found scientists at UW–Madison are also using social media more often to communicate with their peers.

“The norms are changing,” says Brossard. “UW–Madison is representing this quite well.”

Indeed, a non-UW–Madison study published in October in the journal PLOS One shows that scientists from a variety of disciplines around the world report that while they have not widely adopted social media, they believe there are numerous advantages to using it in their work.
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LSC research methods course teaches students fundamental skills for success

You might not expect a single course to help prepare students for careers in advertising, journalism, market research, digital marketing, and public relations among others. But LSC 250: Research Methods in the Communication Industry does just that. The course teaches students the skills needed to synthesize and analyze data – an important skill in a broad range of fields.

LSC 250 focuses on developing research method skills including understanding research reports and data, identifying markets, segmenting audiences, measuring attitudes and developing effective campaign strategies and messages.

According to LSC chair Dominique Brossard, “The skills students learn in LSC 250 are fundamental for future academic research, but it is important to remember students will use those same skills when they graduate and move on to work in the industry.  Identifying and articulating trends in data is critical.”

Assistant Professor Neil Stenhouse teaches students data visualization skills

LSC’s Neil Stenhouse teaches students how to effectively communicate quantitative findings.

Through the course, students learn to design and conduct surveys, experiments and other forms of inquiry, interpret data, and write reports clearly demonstrating data significance.  Additionally, students work in groups to create an experimental or observational study with their peers.

“This course is really helping me. I am planning on getting a certificate in business so this course is giving me a lot of the background knowledge needed for a career in a variety of business fields,” notes LSC major Elizabeth Woidat. “The concepts in this course can apply to a lot of different majors.  It is also good to have this background knowledge when participating in research on campus.”
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