Two graduate programs at the School of Communication and Journalism and Alda Center for Communicating Science were featured in a report by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for their work in powerfully applying academic research to address societal needs.
The report, “Modernizing Scholarship for the Public Good: An Action Framework for Public Research Universities,” includes concrete actions that public research universities can take in eight areas to support publicly engaged, equity-oriented, compelling scholars and scholarship.
“Making science accessible and explaining its profound beneficial impacts on society is critical to develop trust in the process of scientific inquiry, help the public understand the value of scientific research, and inspire the next generations to engage in the pursuit of knowledge,” said Miguel Garcia-Diaz, interim vice president for research at Stony Brook. “The Alan Alda Center and the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism provide an invaluable service to the scientific community by helping to train scientists who are engaging and able to effectively communicate with each other and with the public.”
“I am delighted to have these programs recognized by our peer institutions as a case study for one way top research universities can bring their work into the world in service of societal need,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center. “At the SoCJ and Alda Center, we know that effective communication can help to build a fairer, more just, more rational world, and these programs are part of our work in service of that vision.”
The APLU report features Stony Brook’s two science communication graduate programs: the master of science in science communication, available online to students from around the world, and the advanced graduate certificate in science communication, an exclusive opportunity for Stony Brook graduate students already enrolled in STEM programs to enhance their studies with science communication skills.
Both programs are designed to equip students with practical, hands-on experience with communication skills and modalities that transfer across careers and disciplines. Graduates of both programs are equipped to share complex information in ways that resonate with diverse audiences and build bridges between science and society.
“These programs are designed to help researchers, and those with backgrounds in STEM, the health sciences, and social sciences share their work and the work of others with the audiences that need it most,” said Brenda Hoffman, associate dean for academic affairs and graduate program director at the School of Communication and Journalism. “So many problems facing society need scientific answers, and our graduates will be able to translate that complexity into meaningful, actionable information.”
The report calls for eight major areas for strategic action by institutions to advance modern public research and scholarship:
- Develop committed institutional leaders. Driving institutional change requires strong leadership. Creating professional development opportunities for the next generation of university leaders – especially leaders with backgrounds and identities that are underrepresented in the academy – requires developing supports, programming, and opportunities for future leaders and emerging scholars.
- Reform appointment, retention, tenure, and promotion practices. Faculty appointment and retention policies and practices represent a pivotal opportunity for universities to signal that they value scholarship and scholars who pursue publicly engaged or equity-oriented work. This area for strategic action focuses on the ways that faculty – including tenure-track, extension, fixed-term or contractual, research, curatorial, clinical, and other groups – are recruited, evaluated, promoted, and retained.
- Invest in institutional structures and networks. Support structures and networks are key elements of infrastructure that enable scholars to connect with one another and with the communities that their universities serve. Creating or expanding new infrastructure for publicly engaged research – including physical, social, and digital infrastructures – signals institutional priorities and creates new mechanisms to support publicly engaged scholarship.
- Establish stronger reporting structures at the institutional level. Tracking and reporting on outcomes and impacts are powerful mechanisms that enable institutions to set strategic goals, evaluate progress, and incentivize change as necessary. Most successful data and outcome tracking and reporting efforts exist in a unit structure that has a clear strategic charge and dedicated capacity for evaluation and assessment, usually in central university administration.
- Build capacity for engagement and equity work among faculty. Creating workshops, mentoring or training programs, speaker series, fellowships, and other mechanisms for professional development is an important strategy to signal institutional priorities and ensure scholars have the knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to succeed.
- Launch and maintain catalytic funding programs. Providing catalytic funding opportunities can directly encourage more scholarly activity focused on a prioritized approach and/or content area for publicly engaged research. Efforts in this area are most effective when internal grant mechanisms have clear, defined priorities supporting under-valued scholarship, provide both financial and non-monetary resources, and are sustainably supported.
- Develop awards and programs to recognize and celebrate work. Creating and amplifying mechanisms for recognition and awards is a powerful tool to raise the visibility of institutional priorities and highlight exemplary work. This area of strategic action can take many shapes, including creating awards and prizes, fellowship programs, media highlights, publication outlets, and other approaches to celebration and awareness.
- Formalize curricular training and professional development opportunities for students. Early career scholars are eager for their work to have impact. Focusing on student training takes a long view towards strategic action, especially if it equips students with different skill sets and mindsets about scholarship and empowers them to act as leaders.
From addressing local economic hardship to promoting public health to mitigating climate change, the vexing challenges facing communities, regions, countries, and the world are increasingly complex. Public research universities are uniquely positioned to engage with communities to tackle these challenges through path-breaking research.
The APLU Office of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, University of Michigan, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Kavli Foundation, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund all provided support for this work.