Courtesy of Serena Stern and Benjamin Fields

Serena Stern ’20 (left) and Benjamin Fields ’20 (right) were the first graduates in the Science Communication and Public Engagement Minor

October 8, 2020

Cornell’s First Science Communication and Public Engagement Minor Graduates Tackle Health, Racial and Medical Issues

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Benjamin Fields ’20 and Serena Stern ’20 wrote to The Sun with how the science communication and public engagement minor has helped them in their post-Cornell endeavors.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans do not believe the actual coronavirus death toll is as high as its official count. Scholars have suggested that COVID-19 health literacy is a serious and underestimated problem, making the importance of communicating science more prevalent than ever.

The science communication and public engagement minor was designed for science, technology, engineering and math majors who want to break the divide between scientists and the general public by translating complicated science concepts into more digestible terms — something that is particularly pertinent to a global pandemic.

Benjamin Fields ’20 and Serena Stern ’20 were the first two graduates to receive the science communication and public engagement minor. After graduating from Cornell, the two are now applying the skills they learned from the minor to writing .

“It is important to be a great science communicator because if [you are] not, people’s biases and ignorance will rule the world,” Fields wrote in an email to The Sun. “This is exemplified in our handling of COVID-19, the climate crisis, and many other things. We need new scientific and innovative ways within science communication itself to defeat backward thinking.”

Fields just started his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in sociology and demography and is currently working on a book that describes the African American diet from a sociological and public health perspective.

He is also doing engagement work with the Black Economists Network based in the U.K., which aims to develop relationships that can funnel opportunities to Black economists by finding jobs, co-hosting events and conducting research reports.

Fields noted that he became interested in science communication because he wanted to have a large impact disseminating science, particularly with issues surrounding public health, race and society.

“Because I want to finish my Ph.D. and begin a career in research, I want my impact to be intellectual and analytical in nature,” he wrote. “This takes skills that go beyond normal communication and thus venture into the realm of science communication.”

Stern currently assists a team with the Tompkins County Age-Friendly Center for Excellence, an organization that strives to make Ithaca a place where older adults can thrive. She also is working as a communications specialist for the Human Services Coalition and the Best Practices Specialist for the Finger Lakes Independence Center, which strives to break down barriers people with disabilities may face through education, outreach and providing resources to the community.

“I get to employ my science and health communication skills every day, from when I discuss my ideas with colleagues to when I consult on communications campaigns or interview community organizers,” Stern wrote in an email to The Sun.

Stern said that the courses she took in the science communication and public engagement minor allowed her to explore her interests in health communication in flexible and engaging ways.

“Being a science communicator is more than just facts and figures — it’s about our world and our own place within it,” she wrote. “Storytelling is a crucial element of any communication, but science and health communicators, in particular, seem [especially] aware of this fact.”

Stern and Fields believed the science communication and public engagement minor helped them get where they are today. Stern recommended that for those who may be interested in the minor or want to go into science communication, they should try one or two courses.

“If you are considering it, you already have a latent interest,” Fields wrote. “Worst case scenario is that you have an awesome credential from a phenomenal school that could probably win you some arguments with family or flat earthers at Subway (true story).”