Learning to tell the stories of science at William & Mary

  • New Mellon post-doc
    New Mellon post-doc
    Dorothy Ibes has been getting to know William & Mary’s scientists, and their labs, in preparation for a course in science communication that she will teach in the coming semester. Her class, ENSP 249, has a full enrollment of 16.
    Photo by Joseph McClain

Dorothy Ibes believes that there are a large number of untold stories in science and a lot of them can be found right here among the scientists of William & Mary.

Ibes, the newest Mellon environmental postdoctoral scholar, will teach a spring semester class in science communications, an experience that she hopes will bring some of those stories to light. The course is titled ENSP 249: Science Communication.

“There are not a lot of courses here that get into journalistic approaches to communications,” she said. “This is an introduction to the buffet of ways to communicate jargony, complicated science to a broader public audience.”

She said it’s the first time such a course has been taught at William & Mary. The ENSP postdoc program, supported in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, brings postdoctoral fellows to campus for two-year terms to fulfill a variety of roles. One of Ibes’s predecessors in the Mellon postdoc seat has worked with the AidData project and another taught classes in using video to communicate scientific concepts.

There are 16 students enrolled in the spring semester offering of ENSP 249 and Ibes said that she expects to meet with each of the students before the course starts. There was enough pre-registration buzz about ENSP 249 that enrollment was changed to “by instructor permission only.”

“I really wanted to have students that were OK with the format of the class, because this isn’t going to be a standard course,” Ibes said. “The focus isn’t going to be on me lecturing at the front of the room. The focus is going to be on the students experimenting with different forms of communication.”

She explained that students in ENSP 249 will begin with two writing projects, and then expand to workshops on storytelling through photography, radio and video. The emphasis will be on learning the basics of different storytelling media as well as on the exchange of critical input among the members of the class.

“If they’ve done video production, I’ll challenge them to try another medium,” Ibes said. “We’re going to learn, then go out and do, and come back and critique and do it all again.”