Writing Science for the Public — In Action

LSC561 students write feature stories on UW–Madison experts for the Sustainability Experts Database

People writing writing at a table. Photo by iStock / slexp880
Photo by iStock / slexp880

“For UW–Madison to be sustainable, it must become a living model for sustainability, integrating all facets of the process into its culture, its purposes, and its practices.”  

This quote, found on the Office of Sustainability (OS)’s website, is the inspiration for many of the sustainability-related projects on campus — including the new Sustainability Research Hub and Sustainability Experts Database

It is also inspired by the devotion of UW–Madison students, who are key advocates for sustainability on campus. “Campus is a living, learning laboratory,” said Marek Makowski, graduate project assistant with the OS. “Students should have an effect on how the university is being operated, not just theorizing about sustainability, but actively applying it — which connects to the Wisconsin Idea.”  

Makowski wanted to make it easier for students—as well as others at UW–Madison—to work with the hundreds of sustainability experts across campus. As a journalist and doctoral student in the English department, he was also devoted to using writing as a tool for addressing sustainability

To make this idea a reality, Makowski teamed up with Madeline Fischer, instructor of Life Sciences Communication 561: Writing Science for the Public, to create a project for her students that would help them learn how to craft polished writing for a public audience while also helping improve campus’s sustainability efforts. 

With support from Fischer and Makowski, LSC561 students interviewed campus experts and developed feature stories, or profiles, that were eventually published on the Sustainability Experts Database website. “The profiles allow people to engage with the breadth of experts we have on campus and hopefully inspire future research or contributions,” Makowski said. 

The Sustainability Experts Database also supports the newly unveiled Sustainability Research Hub by providing a contact list of experts across UW–Madison, which Hub staff use to connect researchers and pursue interdisciplinary grants.  

LSC561 students who took the course in the spring of 2023 were assigned to interview an expert about their background, research, and what motivates them to continue their work. The students then wrote feature stories which went through a few rounds of revision before being published.  

“I always tell my students that if they want to become communicators, they need examples of their work. It doesn’t really matter so much where they get published, but just that they have been published in some way,” Fischer said. “There was some hesitation — some nervousness — at the beginning of the project, but by the end, the students were really grateful for the experience and got a lot out of it.” 

This project supports the OS’s goals of creating cross-campus involvement and fostering educational experiences. In a boarder sense, the profiles will be a springboard for students, campus researchers, and community members to learn more about the kinds of research happening on campus. 

Matt Ginder-Vogel, director of the Sustainability Research Hub, agrees. “We’re trying to put ourselves in a position where we know as much as we can about the types of sustainability research happening on campus, and then point people in the right direction and help get grants out the door,” he said. “I think we’re uniquely positioned in that we work across campus and have the opportunity to see the breadth of what’s happening across the university.” 

The spring 2024 LSC561 class will continue to write feature stories for the Sustainability Experts Database as Makowski works with the new cohort of students and new instructor of the class, Hannah Monroe.  

To read the published profiles, including those on the Nelson Institute’s Adrian Treves, Rebecca Larson, Tracey Holloway, Sean Schoville, visit the Sustainability Experts tag on the Office of Sustainability webpage.