Encouraging Forward Thinking at VASG Symposium

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Encouraging Forward Thinking at VASG Symposium

Attendees envisioned the future of coastal Virginia at the seventh annual Project Participants' Symposium.

Participants arrange and categorize issues affecting coastal Virginia. (Zoe Jakovenko/VASG)

Participants arrange and categorize issues affecting coastal Virginia. ©Zoe Jakovenko/VASG

By Chris Patrick, staff writer

“Virginia Sea Grant is not afraid of change,” said Troy Hartley, Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) director. “Change is opportunity.”

Hartley gave the opening remarks and yearly state of VASG report at the seventh annual Project Participants’ Symposium, held on January 21 at Richmond’s Science Museum of Virginia. More than 90 individuals affiliated with VASG attended.

Change seemed to be the day’s theme, as Hartley—in addition to enumerating triumphs of 2015—also reported recent changes to VASG staff, new student fellowship opportunities, and a $120 million Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant resulting from a $40,000 VASG investment in a resiliency design project for Norfolk’s Chesterfield Heights neighborhood.

Attendees spent most of the day participating in breakout discussions, which Hartley described as an important opportunity to help shape upcoming changes in VASG: “You will be having a big difference here.” He explained how the day’s conversation would influence VASG’s work through 2021, providing fodder for its 2018-2021 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposal.

In the discussions, facilitated by the University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation, attendees had the chance to network while envisioning the future of coastal Virginia. Participants identified trends, issues, and needs related to seafood, coastal communities, ecosystems, and education. They also brainstormed the ways that VASG could address these issues and needs in the coming five, 10, or 20 years.

When attendees weren’t attempting to predict the future of coastal Virginia, they were learning about graduate student work in a “Meet the Fellows” session. Eight graduate research fellows gave five-minute talks about their research. In an effort to teach them how to communicate science to the public, VASG tasked the fellows with presenting their work in ways that appeal to a general audience.

“The challenge was to have them change the way they think about their research,” says Janet Krenn, VASG assistant director for communications. Krenn led presentation training for the fellows in the weeks before the symposium, providing them with strategies to present science to broader audiences. “They had to change the way they organize or introduce information, and use stories and creative explanations to effectively communicate with non-scientists, so you don’t have to be a scientist to see the value of the research they’re doing.”

Mentions of illicit oyster sex and images of eel swim bladders swollen with parasites suggested they did just that. Video of the fellows’ presentations will be posted this spring.

In the future, VASG symposiums may include even more graduate student presentations. In his opening talk, Hartley suggested that the symposium itself might take a different form next year. Continuing its focus on the professional development of new scientists, VASG is considering turning the Project Participants’ Symposium into a graduate student symposium.