In a continuing effort to advance science communication and science journalism, 16 students in the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ) joined forces with NASA researchers this spring in the southeastern United States.
“This is a unique experience for students to interact with top-notch scientists as they work on important projects with potentially groundbreaking implications,” said Zachary Dowdy, an assistant professor of practice in the School of Communication and Journalism who led the trip as part of his science reporting class. “It’s a great opportunity for students to get hands-on reporting experience before they enter the field as professionals because it requires them to use all of the skills they learned.”
Dowdy and his students traveled to El Paso, Texas, to tell stories about RISE2, an ongoing research project that aims to test tools and techniques for use by NASA scientists in future off-world explorations. Stony Brook students lived and worked alongside the scientists for several days, which included daily trips to Potrillo Volcanic Field in New Mexico to see how scientists collected data in the field.
“We really value the opportunity to work with the Stony Brook science journalists in the field,” said Caela Barry, the logistics and public engagement lead for the RISE2 project team and member of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There’s so much training and work that goes into their reporting, and we are so happy to be involved in that. We appreciate the enthusiasm, perspective and involvement that the students bring to our field work.”
The students each completed at least two multimedia assignments, including profiles of individual scientists, explorations and explanations of how different pieces of technology worked, and overviews of the project and its progress. The best stories will be collected and posted on the Stony Brook Media Showcase, the SoCJ website that highlights students’ best in-class work.
Before the trip, students spent time understanding the differences between general reporting and science reporting, including how to overcome the barriers that have traditionally existed between journalists and scientists. To overcome the barrier, they learned how science writers learn about scientific fields and work to ensure their stories are scientifically accurate and ethical. They also beefed up their own knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics and practiced applying journalistic methods, like profile writing and explanatory reporting, to effectively communicate scientific discoveries.
They also contacted sources from the RISE2 program, reviewed its progress and found stories to tell through writing, video and photography.
“Science and scientific research has the power to change lives every day, and journalists are often at the forefront of helping the public understand this important work and how it may affect us as a society and as individuals,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “This trip is a wonderful chance for future journalists and media professionals to work with scientists, experience science firsthand, and practice explaining it for non-expert audiences. I’m proud of the work they do, and grateful to Zack for leading this trip and giving our students this experience.”