News: News Archives
Harvard, USC Undergrads Begin Science Minority Writers Internships
Two aspiring science communicators are working this summer at the journal Science, where they will experience what it's like to cover a range of scientific and technological issues that shape the global community.
Briahna Gray, who will be senior this fall at Harvard University, and Diane Garcia, who will be a junior at the University of Southern California, will spend the summer at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of AAAS and Science, the largest interdisciplinary journal in the world. Under the guidance of the weekly journal's staff of writers and editors, Gray and Garcia will help reporters gather information for news stories; attend scientific meetings, congressional hearings and press briefings; and work on their own stories for the journal or for Science Now, the daily online news service of Science.
The two-year-old internship for minority undergraduate students has two purposes: to give students an opportunity to experience the life of a science reporter, and to help increase diversity in the nation’s newsrooms. According to the April 2006 results of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) annual census of newsrooms, only 13.9 percent of the newsroom workforce was made up of minority journalists in 2005, a small increase from 13.4 percent in 2004. Also according to ASNE, the number of minority interns fell from 948 in 2004 to 861 in 2005.
Considering that a third of the current U.S. population is minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, newsroom diversity is clearly falling behind the nation’s rapidly changing demographics.
Since science coverage has been facing cuts as the newspaper industry struggles economically, efforts to expand the diversity of science reporting staffs also are threatened. Jeffrey Mervis, a deputy news editor at Science who manages the internship program, said that although many aspiring writers shy away from covering science, minority journalists are even more likely to avoid the topic because of their under-representation in science and engineering higher education programs and careers.
“Since science is a multicultural and global enterprise, science writing should be, too,” said Mervis. “But many minority journalists don't cover science because they haven't experienced it themselves, or they think it's too difficult, or it doesn't appear to affect their lives. The summer internship at Science is meant to remove those barriers by showing the interns that they can cover science, that it's fun, and that it's important to society.”
Garcia, an English and journalism major, who also has a passion for and studies geography, was part of a geographic information system (GIS) program at Cypress College, a community college in southern California, where she began her education. GIS—the frontier in the digital world, according to Garcia—is a computer system capable of integrating, storing, editing, analyzing, sharing and displaying geographically referenced information. The emerging technology can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, development planning, cartography and route planning. Garcia noticed that she was not only the sole Latina student in the program, but also one of very few women.
“In Latino culture there’s an idea that science is inaccessible, that it’s too difficult,” Garcia said. In her family, she explained, she’s the only one who understands basic science, especially technological advancement. In fact, she’s the only one of six children who will finish college, having waited until mid-life to begin. For her, all it took to get hooked on geography was a little bit of encouragement from a professor. Now a love of writing has led her to journalism.
She said she’s “thrilled to have this internship” and wants to “understand more about science and how it can be communicated in a simpler way.” She explained that as a person of color in the newsroom, she may choose to write about topics that other people wouldn’t, or interview people who would be most effective in communicating to her culture.
Low expectations within the Latino community create an obstacle, according to Garcia. “That’s the mindset we have to fight against,” she added. Her personal battle involves helping Latino students apply to college and working to publish a series of children’s books which teach world geography.
After just a few days in the internship at Science, “I have already learned so much … and I’m just starting,” said Garcia. “This is a unique opportunity that I’ve been given and I’ll use it to the max.”
Gray, an African American studying the history of science and history of art and architecture, occasionally writes for The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper. She hopes to learn the nuts and bolts of science writing this summer and to make use of her knowledge of the history of science to get people thinking about the social implications of the latest scientific developments.
The importance of having women and people of color represented in any field, according to Gray, is that “essentially, human nature is self-interested.” In other words, we gravitate toward the stories that most affect us and we’re more likely to trust people who are just like us.
“Journalism is a way to communicate the diverse needs of a diverse population, informing both those who are marginalized and those who have the power to level the playing field,” Gray said.
She described what she considered to be bias in media coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year—the portrayal of some New Orleans victims as looters, for instance. “In science journalism it is important to have people present who can represent, defend, and lobby for needs that might otherwise go ignored by a disinterested majority,” she said. Science writers, she added, “have the power and responsibility to communicate a diverse range of facts that interest an increasingly diverse audience and in doing so, to effect change in the lives of individuals.”
Mervis hopes that the interns, after sampling the world of science writing, will “go back to their schools and share their knowledge with friends, professors and fellow journalists on campus.”
Other AAAS activities that support women and minorities in the sciences include Delta SEE (Science & Everyday Experiences), which is geared toward African American children and their families; the Minority Scientists Network, or MiSciNet, a bi-monthly online publication that provides support to underrepresented minority students pursuing an education and career in science, mathematics and engineering; the Graduate Scholars Program, for African-Americans seeking doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics; and the Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship Program, a 10-week summer program that places graduate and post-graduate level science, engineering and mathematics students at media organizations nationwide.
Judy Kass, a senior project director in AAAS Education and Human Resources and Mass Media Program Manager Stacey Pasco administer the Minority Science Writers Internship.
23 June 2006