The University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Metcalf Institute, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and the URI Science and Story Lab launched the SciComm Identities Project (SCIP) to prepare the next generation of science communicators from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.  The project, supported by a $2.8 million collaborative National Science Foundation grant, will address a significant gap in science communication research and training by centering the motivations, experiences, and priorities of racial and ethnic minority scientists.

This knowledge is critical for science communication trainers and teachers who might not think about or know how to broach cultural nuances in their workshops or classes respectfully. In addition, filling this knowledge gap could inform efforts to attract and retain underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines, enhance science learning through cultural relevance, and influence public perceptions about science.

We are using intercultural communication theory to create and test a new approach to science communication training to amplify and support the science communication efforts of pre-tenure faculty who self-identify as racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those who study environmental and energy issues. We hope to change the status quo in science communication training through collaborations with national partner organizations like the SciComm Trainers Network to incorporate intercultural and multicultural communication considerations in their curricula and training efforts.

Expected Outcomes

Over the course of the 5-year program, we expect:

  • 50+ early-career researchers prepared to be effective science communicators
  • 36-100 podcast episodes per year
  • New model for academic recognition of science communication
  • Development of practice guides and curriculum for science communication trainers
  • New research publications
  • Create culturally responsive evaluation methods for science communication training


A team of researchers and professionals from Metcalf Institute and the Knight Center with extensive experience in conducting science communication training will lead the project. Together, these programs have conducted ~100 communication trainings for scientists and engineers as an outgrowth of their 20+ years’ experience in training journalists to cover environmental science. Our research and support team is well-positioned to conduct this project and bring much-needed change to the one size fits all model of science communication. Currently, 45 percent of contributors to the project team identify as people of color.

Bruno Takahashi 


Bruno Takahashi (he/him, Asian and Hispanic) is Brandt Associate Professor of Environmental Communication at Michigan State University with a joint appointment in the School of Journalism and AgBioResearch. Dr. Takahashi is the research director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. He also works with the Health and Risk Communication Center, the Environmental Science and Policy Program, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at MSU. His research interests include news coverage of environmental affairs, environmental journalism practices, science communication, and disaster reporting. Takahashi has conducted several research projects that explore science and environmental communication practices, including among Hispanic populations. Takahashi leads the research component of the SCIP project. He received his Bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Lima, Peru, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental science from SUNY ESF.

Sunshine Menezes


Sunshine Menezes (she/her, white and Latina) is a Clinical Professor of Environmental Communication in the URI Department of Natural Resources Science and executive director of URI’s Metcalf Institute since 2006. With Metcalf Institute, she has developed more than 125 professional development programs for journalists and scientists and co-founded the Inclusive SciComm Symposium. Menezes was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2023. She previously served as associate director for communication in the URI Graduate School of Oceanography’s Office of Marine Programs from 2006-2017. Before joining Metcalf Institute, she developed national and state-level environmental policy, first as a Dean John Knauss National Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellow with Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. and later as part of a multidisciplinary team at the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant. In addition, she has served as a resource partner for the Civic Science Fellows Program, a member of the national Broadening Participation Task Force organized by the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), and on several national projects designed to craft new, transdisciplinary approaches to graduate-level science education. Menezes earned a B.S. in zoology from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in oceanography from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography.

Eric Freedman

Eric Freedman (he/him) is a Professor of Journalism and former Associate Dean of International Studies and Programs at Michigan State University. During his 20-year newspaper career, he covered public affairs, environmental issues, and legal affairs for newspapers in New York and Michigan, winning a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a legislative corruption scandal. Freedman teaches environmental journalism and serves as director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. He also teaches public affairs reporting, international journalism, and feature writing and serves as director of the school’s Capital News Service, a professional-level practicum in which students cover state government for more than 25 newspapers and online news outlets across Michigan. Freedman earned his Bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University, his law degree from New York University, and his Master’s degree in resource development from MSU. Internationally, he has taught journalism as a Fulbright scholar in Lithuania, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. In addition, he has given lectures and led workshops and seminars for professional journalists, students, and the public in Singapore, Russia, Chile, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Japan, Estonia, and Kyrgyzstan.

Margaret Hayden

SCIP Database Manager |

Margaret Hayden (she/her, white) is donor engagement manager for Metcalf Institute, responsible for annual fundraising and maintaining confidential contact and gift records. Prior to her fundraising work at Metcalf, she managed production and post-production for an Emmy-winning PBS series designed to engage kids in STEM, and she associate-produced programs for National Geographic and Discovery. Margaret earned a Bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and a certificate in documentary filmmaking from George Washington University.

Jason Jaacks

SCIP Podcast Executive Producer |

Jason Jaacks (he/his, white) is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, multimedia journalist, and Assistant Professor of Journalism at URI. Before coming to URI, Jason spent a decade producing films and reporting visual stories from around the globe for a wide variety of publications, including National Geographic, The New York Times, and PBS Digital Studios. Jason holds a Masters of Journalism from the University of California Berkeley and, when not teaching, likes to spend as much time underwater as possible. 

Katharine McDuffie

SCIP Fellowship Manager |

Katharine McDuffie (she/her, white) is program director for Metcalf Institute. She is responsible for program development and implementation, operations for the institute, liaising with University of Rhode Island and overseeing data management and student assignments. Katharine has been with Metcalf Institute since its very early days and has had the pleasure of being part of its growth. She is interested in applying strategic thinking to program design and enjoys working in an educational setting with a mission to improve human impacts on the planet. Before this, she was, briefly, library media specialist for the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center.

David Poulson

SCIP Assistant producer, MSU |

David Poulson (he/him) is the senior associate director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental journalism. He teaches environmental, investigative, computer-assisted, and public affairs reporting. Poulson organizes workshops for professional journalists in the U.S. and abroad. He is the founder and editor of Great Lakes Echo, an award-winning news service covering regional environmental issues. Prior to arriving at MSU in 2003, he was a reporter and editor for 22 years, most of it covering the environment. Poulson also directs the translational scholars’ program at MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation. In that role, he develops workshops to help scientists better communicate their work to policymakers, funders, journalists, and the public. He is the founder and editor of The Food Fix, a news service covering food security in the developing world. The International Association of Great Lakes Research recognized him in 2015 with the Jack Vallentyne Award for sustained efforts to inform and educate the public and policymakers for at least 20 years with an impact beyond the local community.

Natasha N. Jones

assistant professor, MSU |

Natasha N. Jones is a technical communication scholar and co-author of the book Technical Communication after the Social Justice Turn: Building Coalitions for Action (winner of the 2021 CCCC Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication). Her research interests include social justice, narrative, and technical communication pedagogy. She holds herself especially accountable to Black women and marginalized genders and other systemically marginalized communities. As such, she strives to conscientiously center the narratives and experiences of those at the margins in her scholarship. Her work has been published in a number of journals including, Technical Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. She has received national recognition for her contributions, being awarded the CCCC Best Article in Technical and Scientific Communication (2020, 2018, and 2014) and the Nell Ann Pickett Award (2017). She currently serves as the President for the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) and is an Associate Professor at Michigan State University in the African American and African Studies department. 

Evelyn Valdez-Ward 

SCIP Postdoctoral Fellow |

Evelyn (she/ella, Hispanic) is a formerly undocumented Mexican immigrant, who earned her doctorate degree at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in 2022. As a Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Switzer Foundation Fellow, she studied the effects of drought on plants and soil microbes. She expanded her research interests during her doctoral studies to focus on marginalized scientists’ use of science communication and policy for social justice. She was named one of 2020’s Grist 50 Fixers and a 2018 UCS Science Defender, voted best of Story Collider 2018 in Los Angeles, awarded UCI’s Dynamic Womxn’s Award for Outstanding Social Justice Activist, and the Svetlana Bershadsky Graduate Community Award for her advocacy for undocumented scientists. She co-founded and co-directs ReclaimingSTEM: the first workshop to address the need for science communication and policy training spaces for marginalized groups, which has grown into the ReclaimingSTEM Institute. Evelyn was also a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow and won the Ecological Society of America Science Communication in Practice Award. 

Soo Young Shin

SCIP Postdoctoral Fellow |

Soo Young Shin (she/her, Asian) is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. Her research seeks to improve the public’s relationship with media organizations and media professionals. Employing both quantitative and qualitative research methods, she works toward this goal by studying how news professionals engage with the public, as well as examining how audiences perceive news organizations and their practices. Her research and teaching are
inspired and informed by her professional experience as a digital journalist and copyeditor in South Korea. She started her career at a media start-up company and worked for 14 years while it expanded its service areas into newspapers, premium news services, IP TV, and news agencies. She received her Master of Science in Chemistry degree from Ewha Womans’ University [grammatically incorrect, but an official name with a specific reason] and her Master of Arts in Journalism from Michigan State University.

Phoebe Neel

Metcalf Communications Specialist |

Phoebe Neel is a Rhode Island native, and Communication Specialist for Metcalf Institute. She studied Environmental Studies at Brown University and Naropa University, and later started a sustainable floral design and event photography business, Ephemera Designs. She also worked as a journalist based in Hawaii, writing about the intersection of food, culture, and history. She also plays the fiddle.

Former Team Members

Leilane Menezes

SCIP Graduate Student Assistant, MSU |

Leilane Menezes is a Ph.D. student in the Information & Media program at MSU. She researches topics related to news inequality, political communication, and human rights, focusing on racial and gender issues. Before joining Michigan State, she completed her Master’s degree in Universidade do Porto (Portugal, 2021). She also worked as a reporter for 12 years, covering humanitarian issues in Latin America. Leilane Menezes has won 13 journalism awards, such as the Red Cross in Latin America and the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) prizes.

Adanma Mbonu

SCIP Graduate Research Assistant, MSU |

Adanma Mbonu (she/her, African American) is a first-year graduate student at Michigan State University pursuing a Master’s degree in International Journalism. Her research topics include African American studies, visual journalism, and international mass communication. In the future, she plans to use her journalism skills to create powerful visual and written narratives on the positives and negatives stories that happen in our communities and globally. She is now a current member of the National Association of Black Journalists for the Michigan State University Chapter.

Leigh Anne Tiffany

SCIP Graduate Student Assistant, MSU | 

Leigh Anne Tiffany (she/her, white) is a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University in the Information & Media and Environmental Science & Policy programs. She is a Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project Fellow, as well as an Environmental Science and Policy Doctoral Recruiting Fellow. Specifically, she researches topics around science communication. Most recently, she was the Communications Specialist for Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. She is an internationally-recognized storyteller whose work has been featured on NBC, PBS NewsHour, International Journalists Network, and NPR’s science radio program WHYY The Pulse. She received her Master of Science in Journalism (Science Concentration) degree from Columbia Journalism School. A scientist-turned-journalist, she received her University Honors Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at Saint Joseph’s University, and has worked in wildlife conservation for over a decade.

SCIP Advisory Board

Dr. John Besley is Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University. Dr. Besley is an influential science communication researcher who has focused on the goals and outcomes of communication training.

Dr. Cecilia Garibay is the principal of the Garibay Group, which focuses on the role of informal learning institutions in fostering social change. Dr. Garibay is a leading voice in the study and development of equity-focused research and evaluation in the informal learning field.

Dr. Cara Margherio is the Manager of Qualitative Research at the SEIU 775 Benefits Group, where she manages a diverse portfolio of research and evaluation projects designed to meet the organization’s needs in supporting the homecare workforce. Dr. Margherio’s approach to research and evaluation focuses on equity, professional development, and sustainable change.

The entire SCIP team mourns the passing of Dr. Stafford Hood, who served as a SCIP advisor and an emeritus professor at the Department of Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Hood was the founding director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment and was a national leader in culturally responsive approaches to program evaluation. We are grateful for the time we had to learn with Dr. Hood.