URI communication professor receives award

Hollie Smith is expert in science communication

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Hollie Smith, of Cranston, an assistant professor of communication studies and marine affairs at URI. Photo courtesy of URI.

KINGSTON, R.I, Aug. 16, 2017—Climate change, coastal erosion, polluted water—these are all topics that people are interested in knowing more about today.

To make that happen, scientists and students researching the issues need to work and communicate with diverse groups affected by these problems. Learning how to translate complex ideas into clear and compelling words that everyone can understand is part of the challenge.

The University of Rhode Island is a leader in science communication, and now an educator at the Harrington School of Communication and Media is being recognized for her work in the field.

Hollie Smith, of Cranston, an assistant professor of communication studies and marine affairs, is a recipient of the National Academy of Science’s Sackler Colloquium Early Career Researcher Award. She’s one of 10 early career professionals to receive the national award.

Smith’s collaborative research with the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting and URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences focuses on how journalists cover science and how innovative approaches to science communication training can bridge the gap between the media and scientific institutions. She also teaches in the public relations program at the Harrington School.

“Science communication has never been more important than it is in today’s fractured political and social climate,” says Smith. “As scientists, we don’t often learn how to take our work outside the university and engage with different groups, especially the media. And too often media organizations don’t have resources to provide training to journalists who cover scientific issues, which is part of the reason so much misinformation is out there about topics like climate change. I hope my work changes that.”

Smith earned her doctorate in communication from the University of Maine, where she was a research fellow under a National Science Foundation grant. She was born and raised in northern Utah and worked as a reporter in Salt Lake City. She has completed research with the U.S. Forest Service in Denver and the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are thrilled that Hollie Smith’s groundbreaking and timely work in science communication is being honored through this prestigious and highly competitive award,” says Adam Roth, director of the Harrington School and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The value and impact of her work is far reaching and comes at a time of urgent need.”

Excellent science writing is more important than ever. Science research influences many public policy decisions, making it crucial to open communication channels and convey information clearly so lawmakers, community leaders and residents can make informed decisions.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, URI has a writing program for graduate students that helps young scientists learn how to write well. Launched two years ago, the program focuses on rhetoric, public discourse and civic engagement, and offers workshops, seminars and writing classes.