Registration Exceeds Expectations for #InclusiveSciComm Symposium

More than 150 people from across the country visited the University of Rhode Island Kingston campus on Friday, September 28 -29, for the first-ever national #InclusiveSciComm Symposium.

Shayle Matsuda, a Ph.D. student at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, is a member of the symposium’s planning committee.

“I think it’s an important step that URI and Metcalf Institute are spearheading an entire science communication symposium with diversity and inclusion at its center,” says Matsuda. “I hope it is the first of many to come.”

The symposium, hosted by URI’s Metcalf Institute in partnership with the Rhode Island Consortium for Coastal Ecology Assessment, Innovation and Modeling (RI-C-AIM), sought to dismantle the one-size-fits-all approach to science communication that fails to recognize the diverse experiences and values of our multicultural society. The two-day event featured a wide range of speakers and participants from academic, non-profit, and government sectors, including journalists, artists, and other public engagement and informal science education practitioners and researchers.

“Science is for everyone, but many people feel left out or unwelcome in conversations about STEM, and their absence diminishes the conversation,” says Sunshine Menezes, executive director of Metcalf Institute, a leader in science communication training. “This symposium will help a wide range of science communicators, practitioners, educators, and scholars learn how to prioritize inclusion in their works.”

“URI and Metcalf Institute have been building momentum for such an event for some time now,” says Geoffrey Bothun, Principal Investigator/Project Director RI C-AIM/NSF EPSCOR and URI professor of Chemical Engineering. “It is impressive and inspiring to know that we are at the leading edge of such an important national discussion.”

Alycia Mosley Austin is the associate dean of URI’s Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, assistant dean of the Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives, and a member of the symposium planning committee. She believes the more people from diverse backgrounds can engage in science, the better equipped we are to advocate for ourselves and others regarding policy, education, and the allocation of resources. “This is particularly important given that many of the phenomena that we study, such as neurodegenerative disease or climate change, have different effects on members of our community,” she says, “Public audiences have much to gain when they can engage with science in a way that is meaningful to them, and the scientists have the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount by engaging directly with the populations interested and affected by their work.”

Shayle Matsuda agrees. “It’s important to be knowledgeable and respectful of your audiences,” he says, “But in science communication, just like in storytelling, you need to foster an emotional connection with your audience before you get to the science.”

“We are fortunate to live in a culturally, racially and ethnically diverse society,” says Peter Snyder, URI Vice President for Research and Economic Development and a professor of Biomedical Sciences. “This has always been the key strength of our country.” Snyder, who views the #InclusiveSciComm Symposium as a first step in a series of URI symposia to be organized by Metcalf Institute, points to what he views as a unique asset at URI: “impressive talent” in science communication and public engagement training.

“URI can play a leading role in advancing public scientific engagement in this country, and as a public institution, we have a responsibility to make sure that our scholarly works are made available to benefit our society,” he says. “This does not simply mean cataloging and archiving our discoveries and insights. It means making information accessible to our larger community and creating opportunities for exchange.”

“I’d like to see Metcalf Institute and URI faculty, staff and students serve as a model of inclusive public engagement with science,” adds Menezes. “I look forward to developing new collaborations across URI and with other institutional partners nationwide to make inclusive science communication the norm.”

In addition to lead sponsorship from RI C-AIM, a number of sponsors have made the symposium possible including our major sponsors, the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences and The Kavli Foundation, as well as the following contributing sponsors: Rhode Island College, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, URI Division of Research and Economic Development, The Govenar Family Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas, Northeast Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, URI College of Engineering Minority Student Recruitment and Retention Office, URI Harrington School of Communication and Media, URI Graduate School, URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and URI Assistant Professor Amelia Moore.