11 October 2018
By Dana D. Rehm, AGU Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Digital Media; and Alexandra Shultz, AGU Vice President, Public Affairs
“I thought AGU was just this thing we all go to. But now I see it as people leading a charge. It’s been a huge boost to my own ambitions to move forward [with science communication]. I’m more likely to do more because I know AGU has my back.” – Claudia Corona, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Reactions such as Claudia’s are exactly why AGU launched the year-long Voices for Science initiative in the spring of 2018 as a program of Sharing Science. We have always been motivated by AGU’s mission to advance Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity, but we have also always known that the scientific community would need to be more outspoken on its own behalf for the mission to succeed. Like other Voices for Science advocates, Claudia has been able to develop her outreach skills and gain real-world experience advocating for the issues that matter most to our community.
As Voices for Science reaches its six-month mark, we’re taking this opportunity to look back at its successes. Thirty participants, or advocates as they are known, were selected from 98 applicants to be part of the nascent Voices community. Each chose either a policy or communications track. All attended a full-day workshop in Washington, D.C. that focused on equipping them with the best tools to communicate effectively about why the Earth and space sciences matter. The policy team stayed on to spend an additional day visiting with policy makers, immediately putting their training to use, while the communications team pursued deeper communications skill-building. All advocates were able to take what they learned home to 16 states and 23 congressional districts and have continued to receive mentoring from AGU staff through monthly calls, an online AGU Connect group, and other supportive activities. Advocates are also actively encouraging each other, as well as sharing their experiences and continued learning. Voices for Science advocates will also receive travel and registration support to attend this year’s Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C.
“As this was my first time doing congressional office visits, I was initially very nervous, but after the workshop I felt more than adequately prepared and the visits exceeded my expectations. I now hope more scientists and my institution will take advantage of these opportunities with AGU,” said Josh Papacek, a recent Ph.D. graduate in soil and water sciences at the University of Florida.
Since April, program participants have conducted more than 168 outreach activities and engaged more than 2,935 additional people through pursuits such as contacting or visiting a state policy maker or member of Congress, giving a public talk, mentoring groups of high school students, producing a podcast, or writing a blog post.
For instance, Rafael Loueiro, Assistant Professor of Botany at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, began a call and letter drive in his department to galvanize congressional support for the “Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act.” This bill would award the Congressional Gold medal to Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden, the scientists featured in the Hidden Figures film. Through Dr. Loueiro’s efforts, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) signed on to be a co-sponsor of the bill.
In addition, Russanne (Rusty) Low, a senior scientist at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, helped develop an app that will allow students and local communities to track larval-mosquito populations to prevent outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases. Just this past August, Rusty joined other scientists to share “Stories from the Front Line of Zika” with a group of 400 people at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as part of their Outbreak exhibit. Rusty found sharing her scientific research to be an exhilarating experience and was something she “wouldn’t have done without Voices for Science.”
At a time when the scientific community is facing an uphill battle against “alternative facts” and proposed funding cuts, having AGU members step up to the plate to reach out to new and different audiences is pivotal. We’re excited to bring the full Voices for Science team together again during Fall Meeting to celebrate their successes and discuss ways to keep this momentum going. As we mark the launch of AGU’s Centennial at Fall Meeting, we are committed to continuing to develop a growing cadre of scientists who are ready, willing and able to demonstrate the value of our science to policy makers and the public. Enthusiastic science communicators and advocates will help ensure strong support for the future of scientific enterprise by calling for robust funding for the sciences for the next fiscal year and the next 100 years of scientific discovery.