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Steven Cruz Institute bridges the gap between science and storytelling

Many believe that science research and storytelling go together about as well as water and oil. But FIU’s Steven Cruz Institute for Media, Science + Technology (SCI) is changing this narrative by showing students how, in reality, you cannot have one without the other. 

Without research, there is no story to tell. And without the proper means to tell a story, the research may never be seen. 

In an effort to bridge the gap between the two, the institute hosted a series of workshops and trainings aimed at helping researchers share their findings, and students from all over the world are joining in on the conversation 

“There is an increased understanding among scientists and policy makers that it is necessary to make scientific research accessible to the publicso that they can see the relevance of science and use the information to make decisions about their activities, their health and their civic participation,“ said Dr. Villar. “At the Steven Cruz Institute, we partner with researchers and students in the sciences and communication to join forces toward this goal.” 

In SCI’s latest workshop, “Improving Your Research Through Storytelling,” co-directors of the institute, Dr. Maria Elena Villar and Dr. Susan Jacobson along with Elizabeth Marsh, assistant professor for CARTA’s Department of Communication, showed science researchers how to craft elevator pitches, how to break down information for the general public, why storytelling is needed in the sciences, how to use image and visualizations to help tell their research stories and even showed how research has been disseminated in the past through different storytelling mediums. 

The 2006 documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” centered around the consequences of global warming is a stunning example of just this. 

“Before An Inconvenient Truth people didn’t talk about global warming, but after the film, people began to take global warming really seriously,” said Marsh during the workshop. 

Apparently, the film was taken so seriously that it prompted the oil and gas industry to launch an aggressive counterargument against the content shared.   

Stories, according to the Steven Cruz Institute, are so vital to the dissemination of research because they allow people to recall the information more seamlessly, making it more likely to be remembered it; they help establish an emotional connection between the listener and the teller; and makes listeners more inclined to empathize with and accept the information.   

In terms of storytelling, the institute is teaching researchers all the different ways to share stories – ways that do not have to take the shape of long narratives. 

Some of the different storytelling methods described by SCI include films, books, blogs, social media, infographics, data visualizations and more.  

“Infographics and visuals are important, especially in science communication, because they help you communicate your ideas to a wider audience,” said Jacobson. “Visuals can help explain and further demonstrate your ideas in a way that text may not.”  

In helping researchers become engaging communicators, the Steven Cruz Institute offers STEM and communication graduate students a certificate in science communication. 

“When I started the graduate certificate in science communication, I knew how important it was to find engaging ways to connect people with science, and the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly heightened that importance,” said Jessica Rodriguez, research coordinator for the institute and current graduate student in the FIU Department of Earth and Environment. This crisis has demonstrated just how much of a difference effective, engaging, research-based science communication makes, and how crucial it is to all of our day-to-day lives.” 

To learn more about the Steven Cruz Institute for Media, Science + Technology and the remarkable strides they are making in science communication, visit carta.fiu.edu/cruzinstitute. 

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