From theory to practice: students apply science communication skill sets through client projects

Monitors displaying a presentation in the foreground and students in the background
Students in LSC 515 view an in-class presentation on health conspiracies, misinformation & disinformation surrounding COVID-19. Photo by LSC MS student Brianna Van Matre.

To be the next generation of science communication leaders, it is important for our graduates to understand science communication theory and how to apply what they have learned in practice.

For this reason, the Department of Life Sciences Communication offers a number of courses that integrate client projects to give students hands-on experience applying what they learn in the classroom. As a department, we are excited to highlight a few examples of spring 2021 courses that are challenging students to develop creative ways to solve communication issues in our community.


LSC 435: Theory and Practice of Integrated Marketing Communication

In LSC 435, taught by Assistant Professor Todd Newman, students build on marketing concepts learned in LSC 270: Marketing Communication for the Sciences to develop integrated marketing campaigns for a client. This semester, the course is working with Adams County, Wisconsin as part of the UniverCity Alliance initiative.

The project will focus on re-branding Adams County to combat negative stereotypes and restore optimism about the county. According to Newman, “students will work on developing a positive image campaign to communicate the strengths of the county to the residents of Adams County and throughout Wisconsin.” This campaign will include a social media strategy, strategic messaging, and other marketing materials, such as video ads, to highlight the reasons Adams County is a great place to live, work, and visit.


LSC 477: Agri-Marketing Strategy and Implementation

LSC 477, taught by Faculty Associate Sarah Botham, focuses on marketing through the creation of a full-scale communications campaign for an agricultural product that has not yet reached the market. The students will present their marketing plan at the National Agricultural Marketing Association (NAMA) convention. 

Students’ skills are put to the test to make a three-year marketing plan and a twenty-minute presentation for the national competition. “This class requires the development of new and existing skills in the areas of teamwork, marketing communication, marketing campaign planning and execution, professional presentation, graphic design, financials, and strategic thinking,” says Botham.


LSC 515: Social Marketing Campaigns in Science, Health, and the Environment

Needle pulling vaccination serum out of vial
A nurse prepares measured-syringe doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Finally, Associate Professor Bret Shaw is teaching LSC 515, a senior capstone course where students work with a client to develop social marketing campaigns to influence behavioral change. This semester, the class is working with University Health Services (UHS) to create a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for University of Wisconsin–Madison undergraduate students that will be implemented later this year. “Our behavioral objective is to increase the likelihood that undergraduates will get vaccinated for COVID-19,” explains Shaw.

To create an effective vaccination campaign, students will use the knowledge they have gained from past LSC courses to gather data that will guide campaign development and implementation including literature reviews, qualitative interviews, and quantitative surveys. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to practice science communication and more specifically social marketing skills,” says Shaw, “because COVID-19 is the most relevant topic around the globe right now.” The semester will conclude with groups presenting their final campaign proposals to UHS.

“These opportunities help prepare our students for careers after graduation and we cannot wait to see the final products that come out of these courses this year,” remarks Larry Meiller, acting LSC Department Chair. We are proud of the work being done by our faculty and instructors to continue providing high-quality, hands-on projects in our courses despite the global pandemic.

Story by Jori Skalitzky, LSC B.S. ’22 and LSC’s 2020-21 Lenore Landry Scholar