CORVALLIS—A little training, a little fellowship and a chance to show off what they’ve learned: That’s what a gathering of graduate and undergraduate university students got Thursday when they gathered at Oregon State University for the second Oregon Sea Grant Scholars Day.
“This is really an opportunity for students we support to come and tell us about their work, and also get a little bit of training,” said Oregon Sea Grant Director Shelby Walker.
The Sea Grant Scholars program combines Oregon Sea Grant’s fellowship, internship and scholarship offerings under an umbrella that not only gives students opportunities to learn and conduct research and public outreach projects, but also provides them with opportunities to grow as professionals. Scholars Day – which is anticipated to take place every other year – is one such opportunity.
This year, 19 participants spent the morning focusing on understanding the changing roles of science communicators and strategies for more effectively reaching target audiences. Scholars also spent time framing their “mental models,” or preconceived notions that communicators – and others – hold about specific subjects or groups of people.
“Communication is not so much about you talking to someone, but really about two mental models meeting,” explained Shawn Rowe, director of OSG’s Free Choice Learning program and a specialist in communication theory.
Mental models can become barriers in effective communication. Rowe emphasized the need to understand the mindset of audiences and their viewpoints before trying to communicate. Scholars were given a case study on tsunami debris to practice developing an effective outreach plan that considered the mental model of a specific stakeholder.
After lunch with the Oregon Sea Grant Advisory council and program leaders, scholars were joined by an audience of about 30 who came to hear about their research projects. Presentations covered the economic effect of jellyfish blooms, the influence of climate change in coastal communities, creating age models for burrowing shrimp and more.
Two students also presented on their legislative policy fellowships: Zach Penney, a current Sea Grant Knauss Fellow, talked about his experiences in Washington, D.C., including his work on legislation about Northern California land exchange that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Rose Rimler, a Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow, discussed her work updating environmental action plans for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.
The day culminated in a poster session and reception where the scholars had a chance to discuss their research with peers and audience members.
“It’s a nice way for me to ease back into what science is like after completing law school,” said Emi Kondo, a current Knauss Fellowship finalist through Oregon Sea Grant, following the presentations. “I can really appreciate how people explain the science in way that everyone understands. I’m going into policy and it’s great to learn these skills.”
The year’s event drew current and recent Sea Grant Scholars from OSU, the University of Oregon, Lewis and Clark College, Oregon Health Science University and the University of Idaho.