Effective partnership-building and communication skills are key for scientific research to benefit society

Students attending a professional development workshop gained skills to further their work on complex water quality issues.

Five people representing science communicators sit around half of a round table facing a group as part of a discussion panel on science communication.
Participants in a Community-Engaged Scholarship Workshop have a discussion with a panel of science communicators. Resources presented during the workshop were designed to show a range of tools, networks, and techniques that would assist students in sharing their work and/or engaging their community partners.

Water quality is a critical issue Michigan Sea Grant, MSU Extension, and many partners invest in, especially as it relates to nutrient runoff, environmental systems, and impacts on drinking water, human health, and coastal ecosystems. Framing and focusing scientific questions, as well as successfully incorporating research results into Extension programs or informing policy and decision-making, often depends on effective partnerships and communication with stakeholders.

Information gap

Traditional graduate student mentoring education models don’t always prioritize helping students develop skills that focus on partnerships, science communication, and human health, even though these are necessary skills for early career professionals, including aspiring Extension professionals.

To help close this information gap, the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health, Michigan Sea Grant, MSU Extension, and MSU Outreach and Engagement hosted a Community-Engaged Scholarship Workshop. Attendees were largely graduate students affiliated with the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health, led by Bowling Green State University, and tasked with conducting national research into understanding and preventing toxic algal blooms.

Critical skills presented

Resources presented during the workshop were designed to show a range of tools, networks, and techniques that would assist students in sharing their work and/or engaging their community partners. Participants were introduced to important facilitation skills including:

  • principles of partnerships
  • community-engaged teaching and learning
  • community-engaged research
  • science communication (including audience identification, communication strategy and resources for different audiences, and social media)

Professional development valued

In evaluations, workshop participants indicated a substantial improvement of their knowledge of topics presented, particularly those focused on communication, vulnerable populations and harmful algal blooms (HABs), water treatment facility response to HABs, and engaging audiences. The workshop was rated highly for program satisfaction, and specifically noted was the use of case studies featuring community-engagement work in the Great Lakes region. This professional development was seen as beneficial to their careers.

Given the workshop feedback, other academic institutions or organizations are encouraged to consider drawing upon this model to assist students in developing these necessary skills to enhance effective outreach, engagement, and science communication. A recently published Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education article further describes the workshop's development, evaluation, and the impact attending this workshop had on the graduate students.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 34 university-based programs.

This work was partially supported by funding from the National Institute for Environmental Health (1P01ES028939-01) and the National Science Foundation (OCE-1840715) to the Bowling Green State University Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health. Please contact Heather Triezenberg (vanden64@msu.edu) if would like to request data per data sharing agreements. This article was prepared by Michigan Sea Grant under award NA180AR4170102 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statement, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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