Dean Karen DePauw has noted that faculty and graduate schools are trained and educated to share their research and scholarship with those who are within the same discipline, or closely related fields. Such individuals tend to "speak the same language." But the academy typically does not provide opportunities for scholars to communicate their work effectively outside their fields, or to the general public.

DePauw said graduate students in science, technology and other fields, whether preparing for a career in academe or in another professional field, must be able to share their work effectively and clearly with different audiences.

The Dean decided to offer just such opportunities and launched the Communicating Science initiative, modeled on the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, New York. In 2010, DePauw, heard Alda speak about his work in enhancing science communication.

“Through the Communicating Science course and others we will engage graduate students with the university’s social responsibility to communicate science,” said DePauw.

The two-credit course, offered during fall and spring semesters on the Blacksburg campus, incorporates exercises used by theater students and professionals to sharpen concentration, listening and reaction skills while developing trust and teamwork.

Patricia Raun, Director for the Center for Communicating Science at Virginia Tech, who teaches the course, said the goal is for students to talk about their work with people who are not scientists. Students also learn the importance of conveying their passion for their work, and using narrative and storytelling to convey meaning. Raun, who trained at the Alda Center, said recently, “They have to help me see the story in the data.”

For more information about the Center for Communicating Science, visit the center's web page. For information about the Communicating Science course (GRAD 5144), visit the Courses and Scheduling page on the Graduate School website. 

Read more about Dean DePauw's efforts related to communicating science on her blog, Transforming Graduate Education