Background/Question/Methods Fact-based debates and decisions about the environment flow from non-partisan dialogue between citizens and scientists. From the increasing severity of extreme weather events to shrinking winter snow pack, the consequences of climate change are evident across North America and around the world. Effective communication has never been more urgent. Young scientists, who will inherit the consequences of our environmental decision-making, are activated, educated, and inspiring messengers.
In the fall of 2020, the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation (HBRF) piloted an online communication training program, free for environmental undergraduate and graduate students, called Young Voices of Science (YVoS). During the program’s inaugural year, 42 students from 20 institutions were selected from a pool of more than 80 applicants to learn and practice effective methods for sharing their scientific work with non-technical audiences. Social science collaborators and expert communication consultants provided workshops and practice sessions for: giving compelling public presentations, communicating through radio and podcasts, writing opinion pieces, and engaging with policy-makers. Participants discovered their impact identities and learned to express their knowledge, concerns, and hopes for the future through storytelling, rhetorical techniques, and with empathy.
A student-run YVoS social program engaged participants over a series of virtual games and coffee chats.
Results/Conclusions After each semester-long workshop series, students practiced what they learned by designing and implementing outreach projects with one-on-one mentorship from HBRF staff. Outreach activities included: podcasts, video explainers, an interview for a popular science publication; op-eds published in local, regional, and national publications; a multimedia story featuring original art; participation in a high-profile public event with members of the Biden/Harris Administration, US Congress, and corporate sustainability leaders; and a presentation for a local science center.
Many participants achieved outreach success; their published essays and presentations effectively focused the attention of editors, event-organizers, lawmakers, environmental leaders, and general audiences. As indicated in qualitative and quantitative responses to post-program surveys, participants also gained a supportive community of peers who share dual passions for environmental science and public engagement.
We continue to assess and refine our ability to provide young scientists with tools, techniques, platforms, and support for communicating with confidence across a range of audiences. Our long-term hope is that this experience and participants’ early outreach success will propel them over the course of their careers. The potential of these eager, adept, and agile communicators to inform smart environmental policy, opinion, and practice is exciting!