By Sarah Sumoski, VIMS Graduate Student
On Wednesday February 1, Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) held its 3rd annual Project Participants’ Symposium—a meeting that enables VASG partners to network and learn while helping to plan the future of VASG. About 100 researchers, students, and other partners gathered in Richmond for the Symposium, which was followed by the annual Seafood & Wine Reception. The Reception, cosponsored by VASG and the Virginia Seafood Council, drew more than 200 attendees, including VASG institutional partners, state legislators, and agency representatives.
Before discussing VASG’s future, Director Troy Hartley reviewed VASG’s 2011 activities during his State of Virginia Sea Grant Report. In 2011, VASG increased the number of academic partners by 50% thanks to the additions of George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. VASG also funded seven research proposals in addition to its intern- and fellowship opportunities, awarding over $1 million in funding for researchers and students.
Following the State of Virginia Sea Grant Report, symposium attendees were asked to give their insight on emerging issues facing Virginia, ranging from community focused sustainability to stresses on water quality. Participants considered community adaptation to climate change and sea level rise and TMDL’s to be among the most important emerging issues. Those who didn’t attend Wednesday’s event can now voice their opinions by completing an online survey that will help the organization check progress midway through its 2010-2014 strategic plan.
In addition to strategic planning and annual reports, the Symposium also has an educational component. This year, a portion of the event discussed communicating science to nonscientists, including the general public, policymakers, and funders. It’s a story that scientists have heard before, but many are still uncertain about how to improve their communication with others. In fact, an end-of-day vote on emerging issues and needs ranked communicating science to nonscientists as one of the issues of greatest importance to the state and region.
Keynote speaker and graphic facilitator Julie Stuart of Making Ideas Visible delved into more creative approaches that scientists can take in getting their ideas out to a broader audience. Graphic facilitators use words and images to represent science without the jargon or long data sets that can sidetrack the conversation. Stuart and participants in a panel discussion on science communication emphasized the importance of being brief, compelling, and catchy in messages aimed at non-scientists. “We all know what 99% and 1% mean and they’ve only been around since September,” said Stuart, citing an example from the Occupy movement, “so it doesn’t take a whole lot to shift the cultural conversation.”
The symposium allows VASG to bring together people from different backgrounds to begin solving the communication puzzle. “Innovation happens when different ideas collide. It is VASG’s job to provide both a place and provocative topics to enable the conversations, thinking, and collision of ideas,” said VASG director Troy Hartley, “I’m very proud of VASG’s partners and staff and the growth we’ve seen in the Symposium each year since its inauguration in 2010.” Armed with feedback from the Symposium participants, VASG will continue its efforts to connect coastal and marine science to the watermen, coastal municipalities, scientists, teachers, and others who can use it.