In 2011, the Research Ambassador Program (RAP) recruited ten Fellows to come to the Evergreen State College campus for intensive training in communication of their research to non-traditional audiences. This allowed the Fellows to gain personalized guidance on disseminating their own research to established groups and create springboards for outreach in their home communities, and for the RAP staff to evaluate the efficacy of their activities.
Katie Renwick is a PhD student at the Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. She is interested in landscape ecology and disturbance dynamics in forest ecosystems. Her current research focuses on the effects of mountain pine beetle disturbance on vegetation patterns in Rocky Mountain forests. Before moving to Colorado for her graduate degree, Katie worked in conservation and outreach at a land trust in Maine. She received a B.A. in environmental studies from Colby College.
Components of her Fellowship
RAP staff walked through Katie’s draft PowerPoint presentations, offering pointers and clarifications, and adjustments to make the presentations appropriate for specific audiences that Katie spoke to or wrote for, based on established contacts and experiences. RAP staff also helped Katie distill a statement of her primary research interests, which was then videotaped for use on her website.
Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women
In partnership with the Sustainable Prisons Project, Katie spoke to a group of 30 offenders and 10 staff at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, in Belfair, Washington. Katie described the ecological principles behind Mountain pine beetle infestations in Rocky Mountain landscapes, and then related the concepts of disturbance and change to human life spans and experience.
The inmates showed a high level of understanding of the ecology discussed as the probed into the fire cycle and predatory-prey relationships during the question and answer period.
Katie presented her work to faculty, students, and staff at The Evergreen State College. By quickly transitioning between the presentation to offenders and faculty, Katie developed a sense of the need to adapt presentations to the audience.
Relating Research to Human Values: Hospice Discussions on Disturbance in Forests and Human Lives
Destruction of trees by windstorms and fire is part of the natural cycle of forests. After a varying amount of time, they can recover. However, even though a “next generation’ may spring up in the soil of a forest that has been altered by fire or wind, the older generation of trees does die – but their nutrients join the next generation as they decompose and their nutrients are taken up by the roots of the young trees. Old, standing trees present habitat for many species of cavity-nesting birds and invertebrates, thus enhancing diversity even though they are not alive.
RAP staff realized that there might be themes of forest dynamics that could be presented to and discussed by people who are approaching death that might be of interest or even of comfort, drawing upon forest dynamics to provide symbols and links to the human life cycle.
RAP staff held a series of conversations with two local hospice providers to explore the potential intersections and analogies that relate hospice care to forest ecology and disturbance dynamics. This led to a lively and insightful conversation between Katie and the hospice staff as they pondered different ecological concepts that relate to end of life care.
These conversations led to the development of a “values v. content” grid that identified commonalities between ecological concepts and hospice professionals. We now practice using this grid with other potential audiences, ensuring that our outreach efforts are applicable and effective. Will we post this grid? If so, link to it here
Reflections and Lessons Learned
Katie was our first fellow, and so provided a “testing ground” for the Fellowship model. As a young scientist, Katie is poised to use the skills gained as she shapes her research agenda and professional portfolio.
The highlight of Katie’s experience was the discussions with hospice staff. These have evolved into draft papers for both hospice and ecology audiences. We approached the hospice audience aware that as forest ecologists, we have little or no understanding of the professional experience of providing hospice care. We learned that by approaching these conversations with mutual curiosity and humility, the conversation and collaboration could evolve organically and successfully.
Communication after Katie’s return to her home institution included the following:
- RAP staff arranged to have the Provost at Evergreen send a formal letter of acknowledgment to her major professor and Chair so that she has an appropriate academic reward;
- RAP staff invited her to participate in an upcoming workshop on the RAP at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America
- Katie is preparing a one-credit seminar for her peers that will explore outreach possibilities in her current community, Fort Collins, Colorado.