Issue Study Groups offered through the Marine Estuarine and Environmental Science Program focus on current issues in environmental science and policy and thus hold considerable relevance to society today. In spring 2023, Xin Zhang and Cathlyn Davis led an Issue Study Group covering sustainable nitrogen management with a transdisciplinary approach where the group co-developed science communication products along with stakeholders, like policy makers, conservation organization members, and industry leaders. To encourage consideration of a wide range of challenges associated with nitrogen management beyond agricultural management of nitrogen, students from diverse backgrounds were encouraged to participate in the course.
This course provided students with a unique opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in public and private sectors on science communication. Course objectives included the following:
- Increase understanding of sustainability challenges in food, energy, and water systems.
- Increase understanding and skills of science communication and public engagement with science in real-world cases.
- Increase understanding and skills associated with collaborating with stakeholders.
The key output of the course was a concept paper for a science communication product or activity that promotes behavior change among the target audience in the Chesapeake Bay region or any other parts of the world. The concept papers focused on a public discussion, citizen science project, interactive digital graphic, video, physical tabletop activities, or any other activity that engages public audiences.
A number of guest speakers with backgrounds ranging from nitrogen research to science communication were also invited to present throughout the semester and an in-person student-stakeholder workshop was held mid-way through the semester.
To prepare for the final project, students also developed "Zines" and Six Word Stories.
Zines are self-published small magazines that can be a useful vehicle for scientific communication. Zines are usually handmade and printed in small quantities. They can be used to promote conversations and discussion. Students were asked to plan and create a zine about an aspect of sustainable nitrogen management. In addition to the zine itself, students also developed discussion questions to promote conversations.
Below are some the zines created by students:
For the final project, students collaborated with a stakeholder to plan and design a public engagement with science (PES) activity that engages a target audience in dialogue about an issue or opportunity associated with sustainable nitrogen management. The goal was development of a strategic plan to communicate with a specific audience about a critical issue related to nitrogen in a way that promotes dialogue and ultimately helps to change behavior to address the issue. Explore the student presentations below.