A B O U T T H E J O U R N A L I S M
When Stony Brook University geoscientist Timothy Glotch was putting the pieces together for his RIS4E grant proposal to NASA in 2013, he and his colleagues at Goddard Space Flight Center wanted to include education and public outreach as an element of the five-year proposal. They thought it was important to communicate the research they were undertaking—to make the science and its relevance to the future of space exploration understandable to the public.
That initiative led to an unusual partnership between the RIS4E project and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, part of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. “Communicating science is a necessary part of the scientific enterprise,” they wrote in the grant proposal. “On one end are those who are trained in communication, but perhaps have had minimal exposure to scientific research. On the other hand, trained scientists often lack the tools and skills necessary to effectively communicate their science to a general audience.” The partnership between RIS4E and the Alda Center “will bridge the gap.”
Among the ideas that emerged was a new “special topics” course for students in the School of Journalism who were interested in science reporting. It created an unusual opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a high-level scientific research endeavor by visiting scientists in their labs, interviewing them and writing articles and producing multimedia reports on their work. Over the first year of RIS4E the initiative evolved to include plans for a small number of the student journalists to accompany a field team on its 10-day research mission to Hawaii in June 2015.
The journalism team included two graduate students in Stony Brook’s masters program in science journalism and three undergraduates with strong interests in science (two are majors in science disciplines who are minoring in journalism). The student journalism team embedded with the RIS4E research team of 13 scientists, a NASA astronaut and the project’s two-member education/public outreach team.
The students and their faculty supervisors went on the team’s research treks, observing, videotaping and photographing as the geoscientists tested cutting-edge equipment and gathered geological samples. The student reporters were each assigned to an instrument team and interviewed all members of the field team in-depth, both in the field and at their base near the field site. The journalism team worked cooperatively with the scientists but virtually without restriction on their reporting. Editorial control remained with the School of Journalism.
Each of the students also went on reporting assignments for stories that were outside the RIS4E project itself but related to its themes: On-scene reporting ranging from a visit to a domed habitat in which six researchers were days away from the end of their eight-month stay inside experiment to protests by Hawaiians against a mammoth new telescope being built on Mauna Kea.
This website is the result of the reporting during those 10 memorable days on the volcanoes of Hawaii.
S T U D E N T S
Jasmine Blennau, then a junior at Stony Brook University pursuing a major in broadcast journalism and a minor in political science, was the lead video producer for the RIS4E reporting team. She has written for the Stony Brook Statesman and Long Island Herald Newspapers and produced live video for the School of Journalism. Blennau was also a production assistant in the SBU athletic department and a senior consultant in the technology department. After Hawaii she was an intern at News12, Long Island’s cable news station.
Anthony Denicola was a graduate student in the Stony Brook masters program in science, health, technology and environment journalism. The son of two Navy career officers, Denicola, 28, has lived in states from California to New York. He’s been a technical writer and works for a military help desk responsible for assessing the health of soldiers. What he loves about science, he says, is that it’s about constantly asking questions and digging deeper for the answers. After 10 days with the RIS4E scientists, he says, he’d love to spend his career embedding with scientists and writing about their quests.
Ahmad A. Malik
Ahmad Malik was a triple major—in political science, physics, and astronomy and planetary science—and was also double minoring, in business management and journalism at Stony Book University. His goals include earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics, directing a major manned space flight mission for NASA and running for Congress. Malik plays 12 instruments, including piano, clarinet, percussion and bassoon. He also sings, dances and is an avid fan of extreme skiing. After the RIS4E trek in Hawaii, Malik attended the annual SSERVI forum in California at the invitation of SSERVI director Yvonne Pendleton.
Kristen O’Neill was then a sophomore pursuing a major in coastal environmental studies and a minor in journalism. A native of Connecticut and lifelong lover of marine life and animals in general, she worked in the fish lab of the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center throughout high school. She says she is most interested in studying and protecting endangered and invasive species and hopes to someday work at an aquarium, researching and writing about endangered species. She has her eyes on one in particular: the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sea otter sanctuary in California.
Ali Sundermier was a graduate student in Stony Brook’s masters program in science journalism. The daughter of two science teachers, she was curious from an early age and developed her fascination with science experiments at home and summers at science camp. Sundermier graduated from Stony Brook with a bachelor’s degree in English and returned to pursue a career in science communication. After returning from the RIS4E field expedition to Hawaii, she headed for a summer internship at Fermilab, the country’s leading particle physics laboratory, outside Chicago.
F A C U L T Y
Richard Firstman, a veteran journalist and faculty member of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, led the student reporting trip to Hawaii and oversaw the ReportingRIS4E website project. Firstman teaches in the Stony Brook graduate program in science journalism and is a faculty member of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. He’s a former reporter and editor at Newsday and the author or co-author of eight books, including The Death of Innocents, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He also writes, produces and hosts podcasts for the City University of New York.
Kevin Lizarazo is a multimedia producer and adjunct lecturer in the Stony Brook School of Journalism. For ReportingRIS4E, he coordinated and guided the students’ multimedia storytelling efforts in Hawaii and produced the project’s website. (He also designed our team’s NASA mission-style patch above.) Kevin is an assistant producer at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he produces CFR.org’s weekly podcast The World Next Week. He has also worked on CFR’s award-winning interactive InfoGuide series. He graduated from Stony Brook in 2014, earning a BA in journalism and political science.
Barbara Selvin, an assistant professor of journalism at Stony Brook, helped plan the School of Journalism’s partnership with the RIS4E project and taught the spring 2015 course that prepared the student journalists for their reporting trip to Hawaii. She teaches courses examining the digital revolution in journalism and runs the School of Journalism’s internship program. Before she became an educator, she was a reporter for Newsday, writing about economic development, health-care reform, medical research and sexuality. Her freelance work has been published in The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review and business and health-care magazines.