Communication is essential to everything we do. At LSU, we strive to give our students the communication tools they need to successfully complete their degrees and excel in their careers. One of these initiatives is the Distinguished Communicator certification program through Communication across the Curriculum (CxC). To learn how to communicate within their field, Distinguished Communicators build digitial portfolios and take communication-intensive courses in four areas: written, spoken, visual, and technological.
Each college within LSU that supports CxC has its own coordinator that works one-on-one with each CxC student to ensure that he or she is meeting the program requirements, finding communication-intensive courses within his or her major, and effectively showcasing his or her work. The CxC Science Studio is led by ecologist and biological sciences alum Becky Carmichael. Read on to learn more about the CxC and some of the College of Science students who have earned their Distinguished Communicator Tiger stripes.
Becky: LSU Distinguished Communicators (DC) is a unique academic excellence program designed to lead undergraduate candidates through a variety of training to develop discipline-specific communication and critical evaluation skills so they can excel in their chosen field. No matter your field or career aspirations, you have to be able to share your ideas through multiple platforms and with many different audiences. These are skills that students can hone simultaneously as they work toward their degree through communication-intensive courses, interacting with faculty, and creating portfolios as a Distinguished Communicator. Also, communication is tied to learning, so if you can share your ideas with others, you are integrating that knowledge into your own understanding. That’s a win-win. The skills gained during the Distinguished Communicator program are transferable no matter the career.
Communication is particularly important in science and math fields.
Becky: As scientists, we need to convert our data into publication, present results at meetings, visually display key pieces of data in graphics or posters, and use specialized technological tools to relay research discoveries. To effectively promote scientific research and discovery, one needs to consider the message they want to share and how to construct it. Scientists need to be equipped to interact with experts in the field as well as general audiences across disciplines.
This year, five of our seniors will be graduating with this honor - Amy Adair (Mathematics), Allison Barbato (Geology and Geophysics), Stacey Knowles (Biological Sciences), Cindy Nguyen (Biological Sciences and Sociology), and Heidi Nowakowski (Chemistry). Read more as these students communicate why the program has been beneficial to their undergraduate degree and career after graduation.
Why did you participate in the Distinguished Communicator Program?
Amy Adair majored in Mathematics and plans to be teaching math at the high school level following graduation. She grew up in Baton Rouge and loves engaging with her community, particularly through math and science education. As one of the coaches for the LSU Math Circle Competition Team, she shares her enthusiasm for math with high school students. This past year, the students have participated in math tournaments at Harvard-MIT and Berkeley. In the evenings, she tutors at the LSU Veteran and Military Student Services Center.
Amy: I think I recognized early on that there is a huge gap between researchers and the general population. I want to be able to bridge that gap - to communicate the incredible ideas of mathematicians and scientists to those who want to learn and use these ideas to create a flourishing community.
Heidi Nowakowski majored in Chemistry and will be attending medical school at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. She grew up in Gonzales, LA in a Polish family that kept the culture alive even in the U.S. Her research project increased the mosquito repellency of a known, naturally-derived repellent, which ultimately helped explain why the known repellent works. She loves to play songs from the Charlie Brown cartoons on the piano!
Heidi: I joined the DC program because I was interested in improving my communication skills. Science is a very creative field, but it can be challenging to portray that to others. The DC program taught me different skills to aid in this very important part of science and scientific research.
Stacey Knowles majored in Biological Sciences and minored in English because of her love for literature. This past year, she served as an LSU Research Ambassador and enjoyed teaching other student students how to get involved with undergraduate research. Following graduation, she will be completing a one-year masters program during her gap year before going to medical school. Outside of school, she loves spreading science to homeschooled children in her hometown and kayaking and has several black belts in martial arts!
Stacey: I decided to join the Distinguished Communicator Program because I felt like I was lacking in verbal communication skills and I knew that that could hinder me later on during important interviews. However, the program has helped me grow in so many more ways.
Cindy Nguyen double majored in Biological Sciences and sociology. She was born and raised in Baton Rouge and is a first-generation college student. She has worked as a research assistant for Dr. Matthew Calamia in the Department of Psychology and in the Our Lady of the Lake Emergency Department to give various psychological tests to potential concussion patients. Besides science, she loves musical theatre and poetry. She plans to pursue an MD/Master of Public Health beginning in Fall 2019.
Cindy: I first heard about the Distinguished Communicator program through Boz Bowles (College of Engineering Coordinator) when I was a biological engineering major. Even after I switched to biology, I was still interested in becoming a better communicator and decided to join the program.
What was your favorite part of the Distinguished Communicator program?
Heidi: My favorite part of the DC program was making the samples for my online portfolio. I also enjoyed working with Dr. Becky Carmichael, the coordinator for the College of Science. She was a wonderful mentor and was integral in this journey for me!
Stacey: My favorite part of the program was that it helped me connect with a mentor, an advisor, and students of completely different majors that provided me with a lot of support and constructive criticism. Getting advice from so many different people helped me to develop as a communicator.
Cindy: My favorite part would be check ins with Dr. Becky Carmichael. She's so sweet and really cares about your success. She has been so supportive of me and gives really good life advice!
What do you love most about your field of science?
Stacey: I love being surrounded by like minded and driven people. I enjoy hearing about the incredible research that they do as some of the LSU projects completely astonish me! I wanted to conduct undergraduate research because I wanted to make the most out of my undergraduate experience and I knew that it would give me the opportunity to develop many techniques that would help me later in life.
Heidi: Chemistry is like music. You can only really improvise after you understand music theory and the instrument. There are rules and theories that govern chemistry, but if you understand them, you can be really creative and discover new ways to use these rules. I pursued a degree in chemistry because I realized that this field of study requires understanding and not memorization.
Amy: I love how universal mathematics is. Mathematics provides us with a set of tools, as well as a language, that we can use to communicate and solve problems. I think that teaching others this language of mathematics is what has motivated me the most to pursue a degree in this area.
Cindy: I'm pre-med, so my motivation comes from my love of service to others and experiences of illness in my family.
How did being a Distinguished Communicator enhance your research and/or coursework at LSU and how will it help your future career plans?
Stacey: Being a Distinguished Communicator helped me learn how to tailor my research to people of all backgrounds, so that my core message is always understood. I was also able to take a research course as a Distinguished Communicator that helped me strengthen my visual and technological communication skills as I designed a research poster!
Cindy: I've enjoyed all of my CI courses from biology in engineering to theatrical design to prokaryotic diversity. I love the various ways I've learned to communicate besides just giving presentations as well as how to communicate to different groups of people. The portfolio I've created as part of the program will help me stand out in my applications and will further showcase my resume.
Amy: When I sat in my math classes, I would always think "But how would I teach this?" I think having that question in the back of mind has shaped how I approach math as well as the opportunities that I have sought out in terms of future career plans.
Heidi: In the future, the skills I learned from the Distinguished Communicator program will help me to communicate with patients so that they can understand what is happening to them or their loved ones. The Distinguished Communicator program taught me to think about the audience, not only the information, when communicating.
How does the Distinguished Communicator program prepare students for life after LSU?
Becky: Our DC graduates tend to outcompete others for industry jobs, positions in professional school, and even in pay because they come with evidence of and experience in communication skills. Students can demonstrate their ability to utilize visuals and technology to showcase their skills via a portfolio. Plus, the portfolio is deep, it houses evidence of internships, job shadowing, volunteer work, and research that connects the student to the desired field. DC students learn to be reflective – to take each experience and critically consider what they gained and how they can improve on those skills. Insight training builds character and understanding within a field.
DC students are also prepared to share their work with many audiences across different platforms. We work with students to identify their audience and what the audience will need to understand the message, as well as how to select the best platform to deliver their message. Such skills are valuable when we consider the importance of outreach to communities, broader impacts of funding opportunities, or simply helping another better understand why they should care about our particular area of research.
What excitements and challenges do you face when doing science on a regular basis?
Heidi: Through science, one tries to understand how the world works and to use that understanding to create and discover new ways to make life on earth better. Science regularly reminds me how amazing this planet is! Of course, there is so much to know, and everything is interconnected. This can be daunting, but the professors at LSU are always willing to help and guide the students.
Amy: The most exciting moment in math is when everything "clicks" - when you can see all of the puzzle pieces fitting together. One big challenge is the feeling that I don't really belong in the "math world." When I compare myself to others, it's easy to feel lost and discouraged in the learning process. I think, in a way, this happens to many people at some point in a math classroom. We experience this feeling of "I can't do this" or "I don't get it...and I never will." The most significant way that I have found to overcome this challenge is to seek out support from mentors and peers and to have open conversations about our challenges. This support can help to shift our perspectives and create more positive experiences surrounding our work.
Cindy: Science is so exciting because there's always so much more to learn and new challenges to face; it's never stagnant. A big challenge I face, however, is perfectionism. I think there will always be doubts of not being good enough, but I just have to power through that and know that striving for perfectionism is a non-realistic expectation. It holds you back and is a hindrance to good work.
Stacey: I get excited to go to the lab and check in with my postdoc, she's become really good friend of mine and I love getting the chance to work with her! I have found about 1,000 ways to creatively mess up my research, but my postdoc helps me figure out what went wrong! I never make the same mistake twice and I think that is my definition of progress. One time I plotted my data and it literally looked like an abstract art painting, that was a beautiful mistake!
What’s the oddest / most dangerous / craziest thing you’ve done “for science”?
Stacey: I took an uber at midnight to life science so that I could check the chromatography column during a precious protein purification!
Cindy: I got a lot of crazy looks for running up and down the stairs with personal urine samples for BIOL 4161.
Heidi: My research advisor, Dr. Carol Taylor, is fond of saying that you need to let the reactions run your life. Once I was eating lunch with my friends in the Union, but I had to leave every half hour to freshen the ice bath holding my reaction so that it would stay at 0°C. I made two trips. My friends still laugh at me about my precious ice bath!
Who is your science role model, and why?
Stacey: Rosalind Franklin - She continued to study science even when her father and peers tried to stop her. Even though she received little recognition during her life she made one of the most iconic discoveries in science history.
Heidi: Richard Schrock - A really cool chemist. His success stems from his curiosity. He is always asking questions and trying to find the answers. I want to be more like this!
Cindy: While I am inspired by women in science, I can't exactly say that I have a role model. It's more important that I persevere and pursue science "on my own" rather than emulating someone else.
What is your favorite memory at LSU?
Amy: My favorite memory at LSU is working at the LSU Math Circle summer program. Working with other people in the LSU community to create activities for high school students to learn and have fun with math was a really inspiring and rewarding experience.
Heidi: Once, I gave a presentation on a chemical reaction during the group meeting for my research group. My research advisor emailed me later that evening that I had done a really good job. I was literally jumping for joy in house! It meant a lot to me.
Cindy: One of my favorite memories of LSU is looking down at the quad from the top of Atkinson hall. It really is a beautiful view and a great way to reflect.
What advice do you have for first-year students pursuing a degree in science?
Stacey: A degree in science is extremely versatile and can open up opportunities that you never even knew existed. Developing yourself as a science major will allow you to grow as a leader and a scholar so that you can achieve whatever your future goals may be! My goal was to get into medical school and majoring in Biological Sciences was one of the best decisions that I made at LSU.
Heidi: Doing research is a very valuable way to learn more about chemistry and the scientific process. There are lots of professors doing really interesting research here. Don't be afraid to contact one of them!
Cindy: There's a lot of talk about "weed-out classes" but don't let that deter you! If you ever feel you're struggling, there are plenty of resources out there to help you and professors who are happy to help students who are putting in the effort!
Amy: Keep an open mind and heart to new ideas, experiences, and opportunities!
To learn more about the Distinguished Communicators program and requirements, visit http://www.lsu.edu/academicaffairs/cxc/distinguished-communicators.php.
What services are available to students enrolled in the Distinguished Communicator program?
Becky: DC candidates take a select number of courses certified as communication-intensive in four modes: written, spoken, visual, and technological. Within these courses, students learn how to communication within their field as they learn course content, testing their understanding and potentially creating examples of their skills.
While in the program, DC candidates have access to mentoring services, course support, and professional training through workshop opportunities. Students have access to mentoring from both a faculty advisor of their choice and from their CxC representative. The faculty advisor supports communication development particular to the student’s specific area of the field, providing feedback and suggestions for the student’s website, and highlighting opportunities valuable for the career the student is pursuing.
What communications services are available to all LSU students?
Becky: The resources in the CxC Science Studio (151 Coates Hall) has a wealth of resources available to any LSU student! These include one-on-one communication mentoring such as writing and poster design feedback and support, a professional audio sound booth, a multimedia conference/presentation practice room to capture classroom and conference talks, a multitude of AV equipment, open-access Mac workstations with Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, Final Cut Pro & iMovie, support with professional digital portfolios, podcast, and website creation, and 3D printers to create models.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out CxC Science Studio!