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Science Communication Initiative

The people behind KSCI

Faculty, staff, and students across campus as well as community partners who are interested in science communication have come together to build KSCI.

Shannon Barryshannon

Shannon is an undergraduate senior researching methods of removing TFA salts from peptides. She hopes to study plant pathology, especially the biotechnology aspect. But Shannon is not just a scientist. When she describes herself, she says that she is a scientist and a science communicator. Shannon believes that the ability to communicate science is integral to science itself. Shannon has been interested in science communication long before she arrived at K-State. She became interested in science communication at home in New Jersey when observing the differing opinions on agriculture and the opinions based on misinformation. Shannon often tries to correct rumors and engage with people on social media in an effort to communicate the full picture. Shannon is extremely enthusiastic about science communication. She attended the 2018 SciComm conference and had the opportunity to learn different methods of communication. Shannon's cardinal principle is that excitement is the key. Even if a subject is complicated, a scientist's passion and enthusiasm will encourage people to learn. In Shannon's efforts to communicate to the broadest possible audience, she always remembers that we should have a little faith in people and that everyone deserves a chance to learn the truth.

Stephanie Leestephanie

Stephanie is a graduate student studying indium phosphide semiconductor nanocrystals. Stephanie creates these tiny crystals, which when excited start to fluoresce, each exhibiting a unique absorption and emission. As a chemist studying complex, often conceptual concepts, Stephanie has found photos to be an excellent way to communicate science. They act as a bridge between art and science, and as Stephanie formed the photo library display during Science Communication Week, she discovered that pictures can start a conversation. Stephanie believes that science should be communicated because we should all be conscientious about our world. We should be knowledgeable about the things around us, the world under our feet, the products we buy, and the processes that form our world. Stephanie has experienced the difficulty of getting people interested in chemistry, and she has found that having a good chemistry teacher can often make or break people’s interest. Stephanie tries to communicate science more broadly than just focusing on her field. Stephanie is an active member of KAWSE (The K-State Office for the Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering). She believes that the lack of women in science is a huge issue in both science communication and science itself. Through KAWSE, Stephanie has been able to spark interest in chemistry through hands-on activities and reach out to future scientists! Stephanie attended SciComm 2018 in Nebraska and was inspired by many of the speakers. She is hoping to apply many of the skills she learned in the classroom and in her activities through KAWSE.

Sarah Winnickisarah

Sarah Winnicki is a graduate student studying the effects of Brown-headed Cowbird brood parasitism on the growth and development of grassland birds on Konza Prairie. She is particularly interested in breeding biology and prairie ecosystems. Through Sarah’s experience training to become a scientist, she has learned that science communication is so important because scientists are trained to speak mostly to each other. This jargon of science is like a foreign language that scientists spend years cultivating but this communication doesn’t extend to other audiences. Sarah’s approach to science communication focuses on conveying not only a narrative of importance, but of translating her passion for her field. She believes that by conveying a love of science and by appealing to people’s emotions science can generate excitement and natural wonder. One of Sarah’s favorite audiences for discussing science is kids because they are naturally excited about science. Sarah is also up for discussing science with adults — really anyone who she can tell about her research! Sarah admits that it is easy to get frustrated when people don’t always care as much as she does about science but this frustration has helped her better communicate in many ways from the classroom to bird walks and to various outreach projects with kids. 

Mary Kate Wilcoxmary-kate

Mary Kate is a freshman in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. She's also an avid birder and hopes to research these amazing creatures someday. Mary Kate has worked on a study analyzing mercury levels in Nelson's Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats in North Dakota, and she currently work in the Boyle Lab analyzing videos of the breeding displays of White-ruffed Manakins. She loves explaining her near-obsession with birds to others and hopes that through the Science Communication Initiative, she can express the importance of science to those who don't already appreciate it. She helps with KSCI social media and does a great job! 

Samantha Sharpesharpe

Samantha says, "As a PhD student studying ecological genomics and plant adaption, I realize that my research isn't always obviously accessible or interesting to those outside of my field. At the same time, I've read that most American's don't know any scientists personally and have trouble naming even one living scientist. I think public trust, interest, and investment in scientific research is crucial, both to support scientists and to allow the public to benefit from research that enhances people's lives and address pressing global challenges. Well-executed science communication can play an important role in creating mutual trust and understanding between scientists and non-scientists. When I talk about my work, whether through social media, scientific talks, or science communication activities, I focus on the relevance of my research to the interests of the audience, and I also like to use pictures or illustrations of myself doing research. It's important to me to show that science is being done by actual living people, and I also think that images convey my love of and admiration for plants, which are too often underappreciated."

"My current research focuses on drought adaptation in wild foxtail millet, which is the wild relative of an important agricultural crop. I am interested in comparing populations of this species from parts of the world that receive different amounts of precipitation, to see if plants from dry areas are more drought tolerant than plants from wet areas. I'll also compare plants that have flowered with those that have not to see if that affects drought tolerance. The experiments are called "dry-downs," which means I stop watering the plants and then measure photosynthesis and fluorescence to see how quickly they shut down without water. I'll also look at changes in gene expression during drought stress."

Garrett Hopperhopper

Garrett Hopper is a PhD student studying stream ecology. His research is focused on understanding the role of fish and native freshwater mussels in stream ecosystems. His passion for telling people about his work and explaining its importance is one reason he became interested in science communication. He also believes it is important to encourage children to understand nature. Last year Garrett was involved in the Science Communication Fellowship program through Sunset Zoo. He developed a board game that teaches elementary aged kids about conservation challenges faced by freshwater fish. As a part of his research, Garrett had the opportunity to be involved in a workshop where middle and high school teachers developed a research project. They collected, analyzed, and interpreted data with the overarching goal of developing lesson plans that align with STEM teaching objectives. They would then take these back and implement them into their own classrooms. “This was one of my favorite outreach activities, because I think it is so important for everyone – not just scientists – to understand how science is done.” He plans to continue to hone his science communication skills by contributing to the graduate student run blog, Science Snapshots.

Tanna Fanshiertanna

Tanna just entered the final semester of her undergraduate degree at Kansas State University. She's majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation and has gained many experiences throughout her college career. Here's how she explains her interest in science communication and career plans: "I was inspired to be an advocate for wildlife at a young age, and I quickly became passionate about bridging the gap between scientists and the general public, focusing on communicating ideas in ways that are both informative as well as engaging. It has been my goal to elucidate the value of under-appreciated elements within our natural world. Working for the Fish Ecology Lab here at K-State has allowed me various opportunities to explore some of those elements in detail, as well as modes of communicating them. I was able to further this exploration by co-authoring a paper that was later published in the Kansas Wildlife and Parks magazine, and I also had the opportunity to design and complete an independent project centered around Aquatic Education. I am currently focusing on pursuing a career as a Naturalist, which will allow me to express my passion and apply the skills I've learned to various situations, interacting with both scientists, as well as the public. My role as the Undergraduate Ambassador for KSCI has prepared me for this level of communication, and I hope that it sets me apart as I continue my job search."

Sarah Hancocksarah

"I am not a scientist," were some of the first words Sarah used to describe her involvement in science communication. But that didn't stop her from spending the last three years helping K-State do a better job communicating the value of its research. Her master's degree is in English and she has background in publishing for the technology industry, teaching, and providing scholarly manuscript editing service. She is the communications coordinator for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Kansas State University. Her curiosity and love of learning new things peaked her interest in science communication. 

"Public research universities have not done enough to communicate the value of the research they conduct, so citizens don't have the full picture of what researchers do to improve lives and provide economic opportunity." Over the last three years, Sarah has trained faculty, graduate students, and postdocs in science communication strategies in an effort to share this value. Through these encounters she's found many eager colleagues who want to continue to make progress and pursue common goals, thus the Kansas Science Communication Initiative was born. She hopes to equip researchers with the knowledge to connect directly with citizens and to provide venues where researchers and citizens can build rapport and understanding. "We planned and executed a successful Science Communication Week in Nov. 2017, and I hope we can provide more training and plan more events for our campus, community, state, and even region."

Alice Boylealice

Alice is an assistant professor for the Division of Biology at K-State. She specializes in ornithology, migration, dispersal, and life history as well as the behavioral, evolutionary and physiological ecology of birds. Alice became involved in the Kansas Science Communication Initiative because she loves what she does. She loves telling people about what she does and explaining why it is important to society. "Unfortunately, I—like so many others—sometimes fall into the trap of talking ‘like a scientist’ when describing my own work, and consequently lose my audience." Alice works at science communication to develop abilities to tell important stories in compelling ways through a variety of media including video, imagery, diagrams, interactive activities, and informal talks. She is currently working on two big questions: 1) Can rainforests sometimes be too rainy for some animals? and 2) How do grassland birds decide where to go during their annual migrations and one-way dispersal movements?

Check out Dr. Boyle's website to learn more about this important work.

Ryan Greenwayryan

Ryan Greenway is a Ph.D. student in Michi Tobler’s lab at K-State, where he uses fish to answer questions in ecology and evolutionary biology. Although he didn’t realize it until recently, Ryan’s career path is the result of the science communication efforts he was exposed to while growing up. Things like nature documentaries, museums and zoos, and the information provided at national and state parks were important in influencing his decision to pursue a job in biology. 

Ryan started his involvement in science communication during the last few years. His main goals are to increase public understanding of how and why scientists study their research topics, as well as to expose people to aspects of the natural environment they may not have otherwise thought about. One of Ryan’s main science communication efforts is Science Snapshots, a blog for graduate students at K-State to practice their writing for broad audiences and share photographs from their scientific activities.

Steven Bridenstinesteven

Stephen Bridenstine is eurator of education at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. He became involved in science communication through his work in the National Park Service. Working at places like Yellowstone National Park, he learned how to present scientific information in a clear and concise, yet approachable, way. In particular, teaching controversial topics like the reintroduction of wolves and human-bear interactions to visitors from all over the world.

His background in history brought Steven to his current position at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. Working at an institution that tackles historical, cultural, and scientific topics proves challenging at times, but ultimately he feels these elements only strengthen one another. For example, programs on the American Bison can approach it from a biological perspective, a Plains Indian cultural perspective, or a modern ranching perspective. Regardless of where you start, he feels that a program combining all three is ultimately the strongest. Steven is excited about the new Meet the Neighbors: "Flint Hills Native Animals Exhibit." This is the first time that the Flint Hills Discovery Center has live animals on display!

Han Yuhan

Professor Han Yu from the Department of English at K-State became interested in science communication from her academic training in technical communication, which is a broad discipline that examines how we communicate complex information in technology, science, medicine, and business, etc. Within science communication, her particular interest is in visual communication. Han always found herself tuning into visuals and "seeing" things others may not see or seem to take for granted. She's also interested in public science communication; she's taught and worked with many students and scientists and appreciates their challenges. With her humanities background, Han also appreciates the mistrust and difficulties the public faces when trying to engage with science. Trying to connect the two sides has been tremendously challenging but also rewarding for her.

Han recently completed two book projects: "Communicating Genetics: Visualizations and Representations" is a monograph she wrote, and "Scientific Communication: Theories, Practices, and Pedagogies" is a collection that she co-edited. Now she's working on a book project on communicating Alzheimer's disease to public audiences. Look for it in the future!

Jared Bixbybixby

As the curator of education for Sunset Zoo, Jared Bixby helps connect scientists to the public in an effort to further the understanding of the amazing research happening at K-State and around the region. This interest comes from a passion for conservation of wildlife and a belief that science literacy is a key part to solving the many issues animals face today. Beyond helping plan and coordinate Science Communication Week last fall, Jared worked on launching Sunset Zoo’s Behind the Science website. This website will continue Sunset Zoo’s support of scientists in their efforts to engage a wide variety of audiences around their research.

Sophie Higgshiggs

Sophie Higgs is a member of Walter Dodd’s lab here at K-State. She attended the SciComm Conference at UNL in 2016, where she got her first taste of science communication. She hopes to one day explain research on how humans impact the environment to the general audiences. Environmental policy is the main focus she has for communicating science. This was what inspired her to take her career in the graduate research direction. She aims to work with politicians to translate science research into national policies. Sophie also works with a small group of Biology Graduate Students on Science Snapshots, a blog that encourages students to practice writing research for general audiences. They hope to gain a larger audience and bring in other graduate students from other departments. 

Nicole Greennicole

Nicole is a member of Erika Geisbrecht's lab in the department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. They focus on uncovering cellular processes that govern the formation and continued use of healthy muscle tissue. Nicole got interested in communicating with science educators after she participated in a National Science Foundation GK-12 fellowship. She worked with Rebecca Steiger's AP Biology class at Junction City High School during the 2014-2015 school year. Nicole still partners with the high school to update curriculum, do career panels, and organize campus visits. She has a strong background in the arts and uses that background to share microscopic images of muscle tissue, which have been featured in the STEAM exhibit at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. She's cultivating an Instagram "science persona" to connect people interested in SciComm. Follow Nicole on Instagram: @drosophiladysci

Amber Vennumamber

Amber Vennum is associate professor of family studies and human services in the College of Human Ecology. Here's what she says about her science communication motivation: "As a young adult, I was in a destructive relationship, and finding an online resource that shared relationship science helped me understand what was happening and what to do. The right information at the right time gave me the power to make the change I wanted in my life. So as a relationship scientist, I believe it is important for researchers to share their knowledge in ways that the public can access and use to make decisions that align with their values and get them closer to their goals." Relevate, one of Amber's projects, is on a mission to make research-based information about romantic relationships accessible to all; to provide research-informed, personalized, and up-to-date information on establishing and maintaining healthy romantic relationships to young adults through accessible mobile technology. Learn more about Relevate

2018 Steering Committee

Jared Bixby, Sunset Zoo

Tom Hallaq, School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Sarah Hancock, Office of the Vice President for Research

Sophie Higgs, graduate student

Megan Miller, Gradate School

Carol Sevin, K-State Libraries

Jennifer Tidball, Division of Communications and Marketing

Michi Tobler, Biology

Amber Vennum, Family Studies and Human Services

Mary Kate Wilcox, undergraduate student

Han Yu, English