Cover Letter: Why Communicate Conservation?

Dear Dr. Broeckelman-Post,

As a seasoned conservationist and science communicator, I have seen firsthand how effective teaching can shape young minds into esteemed scientific communicators, environmentalists, and adults with the toolkit to critically address the many environmental issues our world faces, from climate change to deforestation. I would like to pass on my invaluable experience working in the nonprofit sector on issues like renewable energy, sustainability, and conservation to the next generation of leaders and build student rapport (Frisby & Martin 2010) in an engaged classroom setting, creating a dialogic environment wherein students can be free to speak their minds professionally via active learning (Broeckelman 2007) about environmental issues from public health to environmental degradation.  Effective communication, in my expertise, is the best weapon against public and government ignorance, which is the greatest cause of environmental destruction across the globe.

As a young adult in an ever-changing world, students may have noticed global instability caused by environmental problems, from droughts in Africa to climate change intensifying natural disasters, producing hotter summers and cooler winters than you were used to in your childhood.  The fact of the matter is, humanity is at the reins of this global epoch, dubbed the Anthropocene, where carbon gas generated by fossil fuels is dramatically raising temperatures, development threatens wildlife and habitat, and ecosystem services are diminished as pollution takes its toll on nature.

Students, however, can change all that.  How?  Through environmental communication.

Conservation is married to science, but also great communicators.  In this class, students will explore the works of such great minds as Charles Darwin, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, John Muir, E.O. Wilson and modern science communicators like Katherine Rowan, a prominent professor George Mason is lucky to have.  Students will read articles on environmental risk and crisis communication, science communication, and climate change communication as well, with guest lectures from leaders in conservation on Capitol Hill and the founders of Mason’s own Climate Change Communication Center.

Through a holistic approach to the natural world, students will develop a marketing plan for an imaginary nonprofit dedicated to conservation and also keep a nature journal of the natural world around George Mason, a time-honored tradition among science communicators.

In this class, I will be following Kiewra’s model for effective learning (Kiewra 2002), and I will teach students the skills necessary to become a successful student.  In a flipped classroom model focused on discussions, students will be expected to come to class fully prepared to discuss the readings in an engaging method – no one can ask to many questions or have too many opinions.  In John Bean’s book Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd Edition (2011), writing is the most important aspect of communication, which your weekly papers on our readings will help to strengthen your communication skills.  Finally, I want this class to be an equal playing field: following Frisby & Martin’s  (2010) model, peer-peer relationships and my own mentoring of students should allow rapport to grow.  I am a firm believer that teachers learn from students just as much as they will learn from me, so I want them to come to me with your burning questions or any improvements they have for the class.

My goal is that students will become effective environmental communicators ready to take on the greatest threat of our generation: mass extinction caused by climate change and overpopulation.  Without the valuable ecosystem services animals and plants provide, we too may be no more.  But there is hope: communication about environmental risk and conservation is raking in millions of dollars in relief and fundraising aid, shifting public perceptions, and encouraging our government to go green.  All students have to do is throw their hat in the ring, stand up for the planet, and speak out!  Under my guidance, I am confident they can.

Works Cited:

Bean, J. (2011) Engaging ideas: the professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Broeckelman, M. (2007) Creating sites for a connection in the classroom: dialogism as a pedagogy for active learning. Basic Communication Course Annual, Vol 19 (7), pp 1-37

Frisby, B., Martin, M. (2010) Instructor-student and student-student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, Vol 59 (2), pp 146-164

Kiewra, K. (2002). How classroom teachers can help students learn and teach them how to learn. Theory into Practice, Vol 41 (2), pp 71-80