Investing in Communication and Collaboration

Investing in Communication and Collaboration

Thursday, February 21, 2019

After four days of stepping out of their comfort zones, improvising, connecting with others and intense reflective work, 62 University of Arizona (UA) students, faculty and staff and members of the community are ready to communicate their work more effectively to a wide variety of audiences. The two Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (Alda Center) workshops over four days were possible in a large part to the commitment of Shane Burgess, vice president of the Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension (ALVSCE) to invest in developing science communication skills of the ALVSCE team by partnering with the Agnese Nelms Haury Program (Haury Program). “We scientists are not renowned communicators — in fact, most people think the opposite. But actors are great communicators, and the Alda Center workshops put us in rooms for two days learning communication and improvisation skills from professional stage and screen experts. Much laughter,  and a few tears later, I'm a more knowledgeable communicator, and more importantly, I've gotten to know my colleagues in the Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension so much better."

2019 is the third year that the Haury Program has hosted workshops of the Alda Center at the University of Arizona. “Authentic communication is hard. We believe that significant investment in building the capacity to communicate is essential to producing impactful projects and scholarship to find solutions to 21st century challenges and make real and long-lasting change,” said Anna H. Spitz, Director of the Haury Program.

The Alda Center provides a unique and exceptional method to teach communication. Four instructors worked with the full cohort and in break-out groups to bring out the abilities attendees might not have known they had. Kiyomi Morino (research associate, Laboratory for Tree Ring Research) stated, “I was exhausted at the end of day one I’d say because 80-90% was outside my comfort zone and was very intense. Of course, this made for an amazing learning experience. The approach of presentation/immediate feedback/change/presentation/ immediate feedback/change…. allows big, important skill-building in a short amount of time. The skills in the workshop – only touched on in two days – will be really useful in the future.”

Other sponsors of workshop attendees included the College of Science, the Institute of the Environment, Laboratory for Tree Ring Research and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Attendees were diverse in their work, career level and interests but consistently enthusiastic about what they gained: “I was reluctant to take two days away from my work, but this is well worth it and will make me better at communicating in everything I do: community projects, teaching, writing proposals, communicating with the community. It helps with the flow of ideas, thinking on my feet,” said Adriana Zuniga (faculty, Udall Center for Public Policy).


This experience also brought reflection about the work ahead. Flor Sandoval (program manager, SERI) said: “I think this will help me in my professional career and in understanding how other people communicate, which will help me understand the feedback from the community and what their needs are. It will also help me improve how we communicate our research to the community.”

Andrew Zimmer (grad student, school of geography and development, Carson scholar) noted, “When doing my research and talking about global issues it’s important to remember that we’re investing to make peoples’ lives better. Focusing on science communication helps connect and give agency to people rather than provide prescriptions.”

All participants have plans to use these techniques in upcoming presentations, discussions with colleagues and funders, and even with friends and family. Erin Deely’s (Director Recruitment and Engagement, College of Science) enthusiasm for how the workshop reframed the way she thinks about communicating will extend beyond her own experience:  “I’ll be using this information as I train my science ambassadors in our outreach program.”

As a first opportunity to practice and build their skills, the Haury Program will host a Showcase on February 27, 2019, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm for Alda Center workshop alumni to share their stories with a broader audience in an informal setting. We also hope the cohort will support one another in continuing to grow their skills and use those skills frequently.

The impact of the workshops is profound for those who attend and extends beyond the individuals who attended. The Haury Program echos Shane Burgess’s declaration: "What a pleasure to host and participate in this transformational experience."

Special thanks to Arin Haverland at the UA Institute of the Environment for helping us make this event a successful learning experience for all attendees. Also, we would like to thank Alda Center instructors Marcy McGinnis, Carolyn Hall, Carla Jablonski, and Celia Schaefer for their patience and support.

Attend the Showcase on February 27, 2019, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, ENR2 S107: Come see the works-in-process from the workshop: Attendees from 2017, 2018 and 2019 workshops will share stories of their work.