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UF Students Learn Policy Communication on Capitol Hill

By Jarred Shellhouse

Visiting Washington, D.C. for the first time, University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) student Christine Krebs experienced how real-life policies and science intersect. During March 2-6, Krebs and her 18 classmates met with various national agriculture agencies, departments and staff members of congressmen and women as part of a new spring course offering at UF.

UF agricultural education and communication faculty launched the “Effectively Communicating Agricultural and Life Sciences Policy Issues” course this spring, allowing CALS students the opportunity to learn about policy communications in the classroom and through direct interactions at the state and national levels.

Lisa Lundy and Ricky Telg, associate professor and professor, respectively, in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) department of agricultural education and communication, have taken students to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to expand their knowledge on the policy process and the communication involved.

“A lot of our graduates are working in government, both in Tallahassee and in D.C.,” Lundy said. “One of our alumni who works in D.C. now, Sarah Edison, actually created the first draft of the class with an agenda that used the network and contacts she developed through her own experiences.”

The course provides students with a unique opportunity to see the daily routine of policymakers and understand what it is like to work in the legislature or for organizations involved in governmental affairs.

As part of the curriculum, Lundy and Telg met weekly with undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the class to discuss policy communication and expectations before spending a day in Tallahassee during mid-February. While at the state capitol, the students met the new commissioner of agriculture, lobbyists and agency leaders.

“We are only half-way through the class, but I feel like a better citizen already,” said Krebs, a master’s student majoring in agricultural education and communication. “I’ve had a growing realization about the need to have science communication in the policy world.”

The course has given Krebs, who holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and conservation from CALS, an avenue to see how her expertise “fits into the bigger picture.”

“One of the best parts [of the class] is finding ways to bring tangible change to the way I communicate about science,” she said. “Overall, this class has helped guide my career aspirations and my general understand of how to be a better citizen.”

For Giovanna Tomat-Kelly, a doctoral student studying agronomy in CALS, the class is helping her explore possible career options.

“Communicating about policy is a different ballgame,” she said. “I’m learning how to be the bridge between the research world and the policy world.”

Tomat-Kelly said that by going to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., and interacting with policy makers and influencers, she feels like she is part of the government. It is also helping her realize when to educate versus when to advocate for an issue.

“One of the big surprises from this course is that we have a lot of students enrolled from outside of the agricultural education and communication major at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” Lundy said. “I’m hoping that they are learning to talk about themselves and about their work to a different audience, because we are usually focused on communication with consumers.”

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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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