In 2018, the University of Wisconsin-Madison joined the Planet Forward consortium, a network of around 20 universities from across the U.S. dedicated to helping up-and-coming storytellers share stories of environmental and sustainability innovations.
Planet Forward is a project of the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University and was launched in 2009 by Frank Sesno, former CNN correspondent and director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.
The Department of Life Sciences Communication spearheaded the effort to bring the project to UW-Madison.
“Planet Forward is a new storytelling outlet for LSC that rewards our students in their passion for the environment and creative new ideas in sustainability,” said LSC professor and director of undergraduate studies Shiela Reaves.
As a part of the consortium, all UW-Madison students can submit their stories—text, pictures, videos, or music— to StoryFest, Planet Forward’s annual storytelling event.
“LSC students created many compelling stories about energy, climate, and sustainability,” said LSC video production lecturer Gunther Nelson. “Students participating in Planet Foward’s StoryFest have an opportunity to demonstrate the skills they have learned in the classroom in an online public forum.”
This year, two LSC students are among StoryFest’s 36 finalists from across the country.
LSC graduate student Peter Jurich is a finalist in the “Most Compelling Characters” category. Jurich, who is now taking LSC 430: Communicating Science with Narrative, submitted a story about writer Michael Branch’s unconventional use of comedy in writing about the environment.
“I think we’re in a ripe time to develop new and interesting ways to communicate about science. Planet Forward reflects that,” said Jurich.
The other LSC finalist is senior Ysabella Bhagroo. Bhagroo was selected as a finalist in the “Best Scalable Innovation” category for a video about community supported agriculture that she made during LSC 614: Advanced Video Production.
Participating in Planet Forward challenged Bhagroo to think of innovation in a new light. While making her video, she visited Madison-area farms, learned about the grassroots farm-to-table movement, and documented the story of how local farmers innovate to serve society.
“The most rewarding part of contributing to Planet Forward was being able to directly engage with my local community,” said Bhagroo. “With a typical class assignment, there is less of an opportunity to build these relationships.”
LSC is sponsoring Jurich and Bhagroo to travel to the 2018 Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University this April 5-6. At the summit, Jurich and Bhagroo will join a diverse group of students, scientists, communicators, innovators, private sector leaders, and policymakers to share stories about the planet, and learn tactics for effective communication and compelling storytelling.
The summit will feature a gamut of distinguished speakers including LSC alumnus Dennis Dimick (M.S. ’74), who is now an editor emeritus with National Geographic. Dimick will co-lead a session called “Eyes on Earth: Inspiring a New Generation of Storyteller.”
After returning from the summit, Jurich and Bhagroo will present about their experience to their peers in LSC 430 and 614.
This is the first year LSC has participated in Planet Forward. Moving forward, students will have the opportunity to participate in StoryFest, the Planet Forward summit, and other educational experiences.
“Planet Forward’s mission complements what LSC teaches,” said LSC chair Dominique Brossard. “From written word to video, Planet Forward is a prime opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom and participate in a global conversation about the future of the planet.”