Above: Alan Alda at left in the foreground, laughs his way through a group improv exercise designed to improve the communication of science. Courtesy of Stony Brook University.
The Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) Annual Project Participants’ Symposium was launched in 2009. We were in the early stage of a substantial re-organization: we had just moved the VASG headquarters to VIMS, had four universities in the coalition, and a brand new leadership team. Project participants–staff, funded PIs, students, leadership, and advisory committee members—needed to get to know each other, our interests and strengths, and explore how we were going to become an effective, unified organization. Our aims were to increase awareness across our functional components, including research, education, extension, and communication; and across our institutions. We invited slightly outside-of-the-box keynote speakers: a historian who tracked hurricanes from 1776, a graphic facilitator who communicated science and deliberation in images, text, and colorful visualizations, and a television weather anchor who discussed the communication of climate science. The focus was intentionally inward looking, to begin the path toward today’s VASG.
We successfully achieved our initial objectives, and with the addition of George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth Universities in 2011, and more recently, James Madison University in 2016, VASG expanded its goals for this Symposium. More universities lead to even greater interests in collaboration, leveraging each other’s capacities and interests, and exploring opportunities to partner. VASG was negotiating its charter in those years (2010-12), and those integration principles became institutionalized—our job was to enable partnerships across organizational and functional boundaries.
So the Symposium evolved. We brought in more external stakeholders, held emerging issue workshops to flesh out potential responses and partnerships, and provided a venue for our graduate student fellows. Our keynote sought to push us further; a theater faculty guided us in acting out our science and implementing strategies for building upon each other’s interests. She forced us to think differently, to listen more to new people we were meeting, and to consider partnership opportunities. The Symposium became a more outwardly looking event, enabling, facilitating, and guiding cross-boundary integration and partnerships.
Here too, we were successful. Partnerships launched at the Symposium led to resilience design pilot projects that contributed to Virginia’s successful $120M Natural Disaster Resilience Grant Competition through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and cutting-edge exploratory research and management conference sessions on the relationship between Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and shellfish aquaculture. At the same time, our growing fellowship program included advanced science communication training and coaching, and fellows were presenting their work at the Symposium—to rave reviews from the audience.
But VASG is built to be a learning organization; we continuously monitor and reassess our programming and seek continuous improvement. When we have a successful event, we say, “Great job, now how can we make it better.” We consulted with our advisors, drilled deep into the evaluation data, researched the current landscape of meetings, and reflected upon VASG’s greatest strengths, and the niche that would elevate the Symposium to a new level. The topics were not relevant to all of the diverse interests in attendance; whereas, the fellows and their professional development was salient to all.
Which is why we suspended the Symposium in 2016, completely redesigned it, and are excited to re-launch our annual Graduate Symposium on February 9, 2017, at the Wyndham Virginia Crossing Hotel & Conference Center, Glen Allen, Virginia.
The 2018 VASG Graduate Symposium is open to all. A different kind of meeting, it is designed to spark scientific and professional innovation and imaginations, highlight cutting-edge graduate research in an engaging manner, expand networks across professional boundaries, and hone professional skills.
We are excited to launch this new chapter in the VASG Graduate Symposium with a dynamic keynote presentation and training workshop by Dr. Laura Lindenfeld, the director of the Alan Alda Center Center for Communicating Science, and professor in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University.
To register, learn more, sign up as a career fair exhibitor or Symposium sponsor, or to submit a poster to present, please visit the Symposium web-site here:
We look forward to seeing you there!