ComSHER in Minneapolis

by Anthony Dudo

The ComSHER Division’s continued growth and excellence was on display at our 2016 annual meeting in beautiful Minneapolis, MN. We received more paper submissions than any other AEJMC division—again!—and enjoyed well-attended research, teaching, and PF&R programming across the board. We also facilitated yet another enjoyable SHER-themed field trip and, as always, shared laughs at our social. Our annual business meeting was productive as usual; here are some highlights in case you missed it:

We received eleven entries for the annual Article of the Year award, which were evaluated by seven judges comprised of either past ComSHER heads, journal editors or senior professors. First place was presented to Erik Nisbet, Kathryn Cooper, and R. Kelly Garrett for their article “The partisan brain: How dissonant science messages lead conservatives and liberals to (dis)trust science.” The second place article went to Jeannette Sutton et al. for “A cross-hazard analysis of terse message retransmission on Twitter.” The 2016 Top Poster Award, which was determined by fourteen judges across forty-six posters, was awarded to Jay Hmielowski, Rebecca Donaway, and Yiran Wang’s poster “Examining the differential effects of emotions: Anxiety, despair, and informed futility.” Both of these competitions showed the high-caliber scholarship that characterizes SHER-focused research. Congratulations to all the winners.

ComSHER continues to be financially healthy. Last year, we raised faculty member dues from $15 to $20 and this increase has helped strengthen our security and, crucially, has helped sustain our Eason prize, which continues to he the largest financial award given to graduate students in all of AEJMC. Our membership also remains robust (>230 members), but we discussed the importance of trying to enliven our graduate students’ involvement with the division, in terms of attracting more student members and in terms of the type of support, mentoring, and recognition the division can provide. This is one of our goals for 2016/2017.

Another goal for the coming year relates to teaching. Given our division’s impressive growth and our extensive award system for SHER-focused research, we decided it is an ideal time to consider how we might also reward our members for their SHER-focused teaching efforts. Led by our current teaching chair, Chris Clarke (George Mason U.), a committee of ComSHER officers will explore what it will take to initiate an Excellence in SHER Teaching Innovation annual award. Please stay tuned for more information about this exciting new award in the coming months.

Last, let’s all be sure to thank our former head, Michael Dahlstrom (Iowa State U.), for his many years of committed service to ComSHER. For the last decade, Michael has played a key part in the rapid growth of our division …  and he did it all with a radiant smile on his face. And thanks in advance to the new roster of ComSHER offices who are already working together to ensure another successful year for our division.

ComSHER Teaching Panels

by Chris Clarke

I am delighted to announce two interesting and insightful Teaching Panels for AEJ 2017 that ComSHER will either lead or co-sponsor.

Panel #1: Teaching Controversy in the Classroom: Best Practices for Engaging Students about Politically Contentious Science, Environmental, Health, and Risk Issues 

Organized by ComSHER, co-sponsored by the Political Communication Interest Group

From climate change to stem cell research to nuclear power, there is no shortage of contentious science, health, environmental, and risk issues that divide Americans along political lines. As these issues become more connected to ideologically divisive debates over government regulation, individual liberty, and other topics, science communication in effect becomes political communication (and vice-versa) as scholars seek to understand how this divisiveness emerges, how motivated reasoning shapes people’s reactions to information, and how to engage in public conversations across these fault lines. A related challenge is how to train the next generation of political and SHER scholars (both undergraduate and graduate students) to do the same. In this panel, junior and senior scholars with expertise in political and/or SHER communication will address this topic by drawing on their own course experiences and best-practices. Discussion topics will touch on must-have course readings, must-cover topics, and must-do class assignments and activities.

Panelists TBA: Stay tuned!


Panel #2: Public Relations, Public Health, Public Good: Preparing a New Generation of Nonprofit and Public Sector Communications Professionals

Organized by the Public Relations Division, co-sponsored by ComSHER

In recent years, public relations has become more focused on doing public good. The areas of health, science, and environmental communication have been recognized as growing areas within public relations and concurrently, the number of nonprofits that address these issues continues to increase. While public relations, science, and health are often considered separate domains, education in these areas overlap, particularly related to strategies and tactics that nonprofit organizations use to reach audiences and motivate actions. In response to student interest in these careers, sector demand for trained communicators, and the service-focused missions that many universities are adopting, numerous colleges are experimenting with varying pedagogical approaches. For instance, numerous public relations programs have been enhanced with courses focused specifically on nonprofit organizations. Health, science, and environmental communication courses and certificate programs are proliferating across the country. Still other colleges and schools are experimenting with preparing students through special topics and skills courses, and service and experiential learning.

This panel will demonstrate how varying approaches can be used to prepare students to work in nonprofit public relations with a special focus on health, science, and environment. Panelists will share their experiences from classroom innovation including examples of effective activities and case study suggestions that will help prepare students for the unique challenges that face them in their chosen career paths.

Panelists include: Brooke McKeever (University of South Carolina); Geah Pressgrove (West Virginia University); Katherine E. Rowan (George Mason University); Autumn Shafer (University of Oregon); and Christopher Wilson (Brigham Young University)