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UF Student Receives Prestigious Mass Media Fellowship for Science Communication

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From Himalayan peaks through the red-rock trails of Utah to the murky mysteries of Florida waterways, University of Florida student Joan Meiners’ constant companion on these adventures is her journal and pen. This summer, Meiners will hone her writing craft through a national fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Meiners, an interdisciplinary ecology Ph.D. student in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, has been named one of 24 fellows in cohort 44 of the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship program. The fellowship aims to provide science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate students with experiences to further develop their science writing skills.

Over the course of 10 weeks, Meiners will write and report current science stories with the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans. Fellows provide their expertise and training in STEM to increase public understanding while broadening their own career paths. Previous fellows have gone on to work full-time as science reporters for NPR, PBS, National Geographic and The Washington Post, among others. The experience will give her a taste of what a science writing career is like.

“I love asking questions about the world around me and then going and figuring out the answers,” Meiners said. “I’m really excited about this fellowship because it gives me the chance to combine science and non-technical writing for a summer, under the guidance of really talented and experienced science writers, and see where that takes me next.”

Meiners became interested in applying for the fellowship after completing the UF College of Journalism and Communications’ environmental journalism course with Cynthia Barnett in the fall. She completed an interactive group storytelling project that investigated the inequality of access to energy in Gainesville with an in-depth look into the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. She hopes the fellowship will allow her to make more positive changes in the community through storytelling.

Through the UF/IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), Meiners is conducting a dissertation on native bee and flower communities under her mentor, UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation (WEC) associate professor and SNRE affiliate Morgan Ernest. She compliments this research by maintaining a blog about her travels and field of study. She has freelanced for New Scientist, NPR, The Gainesville Sun and Cycling Utah, and serves as a teaching assistant for the UF environmental journalism course.

“One of the main routes to disseminate the broader impact of scientific discovery is via science writers who increase public understanding of that science,” said Eric Hellgren, professor and chair of the UF/IFAS WEC department. “At WEC, we are excited that through this fellowship, Joan can combine her doctoral research degree with her obvious passion for communicating science to the public.”

SNRE director, Tom Frazer, added that Joan serves as a role model for others students who seek to share their research findings with a more diverse audience in an effort to promote scientific understanding and to establish relevance in today’s society.

More information about the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship program can be found here.

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The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.

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