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NRT-IGE: Training STEM Graduates to Communicate in the Digital Age and Measuring Whether it Works

The public invests billions of dollars annually in funding scientific research and training future scientists. These funds will not be well invested if scientists are not able to communicate what they know and explain how it is important. Scientists need to communicate effectively with colleagues to solve complex theoretical and practical problems. They need to be able to talk with policymakers if public funding of science is to yield benefits to society, and they need to talk with commercial partners to create opportunities for innovation. They need to talk with journalists to keep the public informed. Accordingly, science communication training is increasingly integrated into graduate science education, but there are no methods for determining whether training actually works or whether some training programs work better than others. This research will develop tools to measure whether training in science communication works and to test which methods work best.

The project will build on an existing training course taught at the University of Connecticut. The investigators will develop new teaching materials and develop innovative tools to evaluate whether their program succeeds in increasing communication effectiveness and activity among science, math and engineering students. The investigators will harvest publicly available social media data about students, and their effectiveness as communicators will also be scored by undergraduate communications students. These data will permit comparison of students before and after training and comparison of traditional assessment methods with the use of social media tools. Social media metrics may also provide a cost- and labor-effective means to track trainees over the course of their careers. The results will improve STEM, journalism, and communications education, and will create assessment tools that can be used anywhere, for the first time permitting cost-benefit comparisons among programs using different training strategies.


Margaret Rubega 


Photo of Dr. Margaret Rubega

Dr. Rubega studies a diverse array of birds, across a variety of habitats; her work is unified by an interest in answering the questions How Does That Work? and How Does it Matter?

She approachs questions in avian conservation, ecology and evolution mechanistically, integrating tools from functional morphology, biomechanics, physiology, and animal behavior as necessary to produce explanations for why birds look, live and act as they do. She is especially interested in feeding in birds — the morphology, the mechanics, the food — because a bird that isn’t fed is a bird that’s dead.

Where ever possible, Dr. Rubega aims to contribute to avian conservation by identifying, explicitly and quantitatively, the mechanical limits to the ability of birds to adjust to environmental change.

Positions: 1998- Present, Assistant and Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; CT State Ornithologist; Curator, Ornithology Collections. 1997-1998, Research Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno. 1983-1984, Christmas Bird Count Editor, American Birds magazine.

Summary of Professional Experience: Teaching vertebrate evolution and biology; ornithology, and graduate level science communication and professional development courses.

Publications, Presentations,& Research: Numerous scientific publications, including papers in Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology. Frequent presentations for public groups such as birding clubs; presentations on pedagogy using social media tools. Author of chapter in a NY Times best-selling book on bird biology and behavior, and creation of the #birdclass hashtag on Twitter, profiled twice in the NY Times DotEarth blog. Research on avian functional and evolutionary morphology; feeding biomechanics, functional aspects of behavior, ecology, and conservation biology of aquatic birds.

Education: Ph.D., Biology, 1993, University of California, Irvine; B.S., Biology, 1983, Southern CT State University.

Jae-Eun Joo


Photo of Dr. Jae-Eun Joo

Dr. Joo brings over 25 years of educational research and development expertise to the group. Widely published, her research interests focus on designing social constructivist curriculums, integrating instructional technologies, and affecting systemic educational improvements through large-scale professional development of educators. Since Dr. Joo joined UConn in 2012, she has served as Associate Professor-in-Residence in the Educational Psychology Department and Director of Online Programs at the Neag School of Education. Before joining UConn, Dr. Joo has worked on innovative educational programs, often integrating online and professional education, in more than 50 countries at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Human Rights Education Associate. Her degrees include a bachelor’s in educational technology from Ewha Woman’s University in South Korea, as well as master’s and doctorate in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she also earned a certificate of advanced study in educational research methods from the Department of Human Development and Psychology.

Positions: 2012-Present, Associate Professor-in-Residence & Director of Neag Online Programs, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. 2007-2012, Senior Research Analyst, WIDE (Wide-scale Interactive Development for Educators) World, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA.

Summary of Professional Experience: Teaches educational psychology, online learning and teaching, and technology integration courses to undergraduate and graduate students. Extensive research and development experiences in online professional development for educators and wide-scale systemic improvement of educational practices in over 20 countries.

Publications, Presentations, & Research: Numerous academic papers, technical reports and presentations in professional conferences. Editorial member of four educational journals. Research projects funded by World Bank, British Council, American Educational Research Association, Spencer Foundation, Connecticut Health Foundation, and the Connecticut Department of Education.

Education: Ed.D., Learning and Teaching, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2005. C.A.S., Educational Research Methods, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1997. Ed.M., Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1995. B.A., Educational Technology, Ewha Woman’s University, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 1994.

Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch



Photo of Dr. Anne Oeldorf-HirschDr. Oeldorf-Hirsch is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at University of Connecticut, where she conducts research in the Human-Computer Interaction lab. Broadly, her research focuses on the benefits of social media in terms of information sharing, civic engagement, and well-being, particularly through the features of these communities that shape how we communicate with and through them. Her main line of research aims to understand the effects of the shift to engaging with news content via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter on knowledge about and involvement in current events. Her interest in science communication connects to this thread of using social media in ways to communicate information effectively.

Positions: 2014-Present, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Connecticut. 2012-2013: Postdoctoral Fellow, Collaborative Technology Lab, Northwestern University.
Summary of Professional Experience: Teaches courses on mass media effects, new communication technology, computer-mediated communication, and social media, ranging from large lecture to writing-intensive format.
Publications, Presentations, & Research: Researches the relational, health, and societal effects of information sharing on online social networks. Published in journals such as Social Media + Society, Mass Communication and Society, and Computers in Human Behavior; presented at numerous international conferences, funded by Facebook.
Education: Ph.D., Mass Communications, The Pennsylvania State University, 2011. B.A., Psychology, Portland State University, 2005.

Kevin R. Burgio 




Photo of Dr. Kevin R. Burgio

Dr. Burgio is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, collaborating with researchers from a variety of disciplines, including: ecology, journalism, education, and communications to create effective science communication training, as well as the tools needed to evaluate the effectiveness of training. As science and technology becomes increasingly intertwined in everyone’s lives, the importance of teaching scientists to communicate to the general public cannot be overstated.

When not working on science communication, Dr. Burgio is integrative ecologist and conservation biologist with a range of interests. His is most interested in the mechanisms of species range limitations and how disturbance (climate change and habitat fragmentation) influences species distribution patterns and extinction processes. His research focuses on using an integrative approach to understanding parrot distributions; the ecology, biogeography, and assembly of vertebrate communities; and extinction in parrots and parasites. His goal is to bridge the divide between ecological theory and on-the-ground conservation in order to make the best possible decisions not just for now, but for the future as well.

Positions: 2017 – present, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut; 2011– 2016, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut; 2011 – 2016, Visiting Faculty, Fairfield University; 2009- 2010, Field Research Supervisor, National Audubon Society

Summary of Professional Experience: Teaching ornithology courses, research assistant in science communication study.

Publications, Presentations, & Research: Bylines in The Washington Post, Salon, IFLScience, Real Clear Science, and others. Published research in Science, Conservation Biology, Ecology & Evolution, and Science Advances, among others. Research has been highlighted in many news sources, including the Atlantic, NPR, and Vice and served as a consultant for the National Geographic Wild TV series, the United States of Animals. Presented research to audiences ranging from local birding clubs to international conferences. Research on conservation prioritization, extinction, climate change, and biogeography in birds (especially parrots) and parasites.

Education: Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2017, University of Connecticut; B.A. (Summa cum laude), Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2010, University of Connecticut.

Robert L. Wyss



Photo of Bob WyssBob Wyss has been a journalist for nearly 50 years and an educator for almost 40 years. He began working with other UConn faculty in teaching graduate STEM students on to improve their ability to communicate with the public in 2008. He has worked cooperatively with other professors on a range of science communication courses that have involved both STEM graduate students and undergraduate journalism students. He is the author of three books, including a textbook on environmental journalist published in 2018 as a second edition. He has written on science and environmental issues for the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, and others. In 2017, he retired from the University of Connecticut faculty after 15 years but he has remained an active journalist and educator.

Positions: 2002-2017, Assistant, Associate and Professor, Journalism Department, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.1974-2002, Writer and editor, Providence Journal, Providence, RI. 1980-2002, Adjunct Faculty, four universities.

Summary of Professional Experiences: Teaches Journalism writing, environmental journalism and science communication courses to undergraduates and graduates.

Publications, Presentations, & Research: Author of environmental journalism textbook, three other books, writer on environmental issues for 40 years, two recent presentations on pedagogy of science communication at journalism conferences.

Education: M.A. Journalism and Mass Communications, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, 1974, B.A. Journalism, California State University, Long Beach, CA, 1970.

Former Personnel

Robert Capers



Photo of Dr. Bob CapersDr. Capers studies plant community structure and dynamics – which plants occur in particular areas (and why others do not) and how (and why) that changes over time. He has done this work in tidal marshes and lakes and in tropical forests, where the focus is on the hyperdiverse communities of tree seedlings that represent the future of the forest. Most recently, he has been studying alpine and subalpine plant communities of the Northeast, where he is looking for evidence of changes in species composition that might be related to warming, nitrogen deposition or changes in precipitation.

Positions: 2007-2017, Plant collections manager, G.S. Torrey Herbarium, University of Connecticut, Storrs CT.  1971-1995: Editor and writer for The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, and other daily newspapers.

Summary of Professional Experience: Working with botany students to prepare and maintain specimens that are part of an historically important plant collection at UConn. Also helps teach journalism undergraduates and STEM grad students communication skills.

Publications, Presentations, & Awards: Published many scientific papers as well as occasional pieces for the general public on issues related to the environment. Also has worked with secondary school teachers to facilitate use of specimen databases in high school education. Has given presentations on research and outreach activities at plant ecology and educational conferences. Pulitzer Prize, 1992, explanatory journalism.

Education: Ph.D., Botany, University of Connecticut, 2003. M.S., Botany, University of Connecticut, 1999. B.A., English, Colby College, Waterville, Maine, 1971.

Todd Newman


Personal Website

Photo of Dr. Todd Newman

As a communication researcher, I am interested in understanding the intersection of science, the media, and society. Specifically, I focus on understanding how the media covers controversial science and environmental issues; the way in which individual values and beliefs influence how different members of the public perceive these issues; and how to train scientists and other experts to effectively communicate about controversial science and environmental issues to diverse audiences.

Positions: 2017- present, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University; 2016– 2017, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut

Publications, Presentations, & Research: Published studies in leading science communication journals and given numerous presentations at academic and professional conferences around the world.

Education: Ph.D., Communication, 2016, American University; M.P.P, Public Policy, 2012, DePaul University; B.S., Public Affairs, 2010, Indiana University-Bloomington.