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MASHing Research And Communications – A Unique Collaboration Grows

Alan Alda with Alan Alda Communicating Science logo

Picture this. Your older sister has just received her PhD in Environmental and Forest Chemistry from SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry. She is excitedly explaining her thesis to you. You are so proud of her and want to understand what she spent years of her life researching. So you listen, purposefully. She starts talking about the way tree sap changes, the biocomposition of a certain tree, and many other details you you just don’t comprehend. You are an undergraduate sophomore majoring in English so the information doesn’t overlap. Then you get frustrated because you want to understand, but she isn’t communicating in a language you comprehend.

To help break down the walls in these instances, Alan Alda helped start the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Sony Brook University in 2009. This center is designed to “empower scientists and health professionals to communicate complex topics in clear, vivid, and engaging ways; leading to improved understanding by the public, media, patients, elected officials, and others outside of their discipline.” Many know Alan Alda from the show M*A*S*H, but this center was born from his communication skills, as a way to improve the way scientists communicate with the rest of the world.

Before yesterday, these classes and workshops were only available at Stony Brook University. Now, the partnership is growing and these classes will be offered to doctoral students at up to five additional SUNY schools. These workshops allow scientists to understand the way non-scientists comprehend their work, which help to break down the barriers of communication.

“Through our partnership with SUNY and Stony Brook University, we’ve had a real impact on the communication of science and medicine,” said Alan Alda. “We’ve trained over 8,000 scientists and health care professionals to communicate their work in a clear and engaging manner, and another 30,000 scientists have been exposed to our unique approach in plenaries and lectures across the United States and around the world.”

The pilot program announced today includes three key components:

  • Train the Trainer Program: Over the next two-years, beginning this fall, the Alda Center will work with SUNY campuses to roll out a rigorous training bootcamp followed by a “train the trainer” experience. This will include shadowing, mentorship, and ultimately, the delivery of Alda trainings under the supervision of a lead instructor from Stony Brook University.
  • Workshops: The Alda Center will host workshops at each of the five SUNY campuses, giving trainees the opportunity to train their peers while also supporting STEM faculty and students on their home campus. Each campus will host at least one workshop that provides training for 16 – 32 participants.
  • NYC Alda Center Hub at the SUNY Global Center: The Alda Center will establish a New York City hub at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan to expand access to workshops and coursework associated with the Alda Center’s Advanced Graduate Certificates in Communicating Science and Communicating Medicine, and host meetings associated with program development.

We can all gain a lot when we can share thoughts and ideas in a clear and concise manner. Thanks to Alan Alda, this practice will be easier for our students to do in the future.

Alan Alda with SBU Alda Center logo

    Written by Sarah Petrak

    Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.

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