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Minority Science Interns Communicate Science for a Broad Audience
Two young writers are getting a taste of what it's like to work in a science newsroom and communicate science to the public as part of the 2007 AAAS Minority Science Writers Internship program.
For the past month, Veronica Raymond, who will be a junior this fall at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), and Marissa Cevallos, who will be a junior at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), have been in the news department of the journal Science working with award-winning science journalists and filing stories for ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of Science.
But while they are majoring in different subjects on campuses 2,700 miles apart, both young writers came to Science's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to help communicate science to a broader audience.
"I was really excited about the science writing internship because it is like working as a translator," said Raymond, who has written for The Famuan, the student newspaper at FAMU. "I like breaking things down so other people can understand them—whether it is my dad or a reader I will never meet."
Raymond, an African American and journalism major, recently wrote an article for ScienceNOW about a common gene variant that scientists believe may slightly increase one's risk of colon cancer. Interviewing scientists from three different studies, Raymond wrote that the gene variant is found in a region of a chromosome that has been previously linked to prostate and breast cancer.
Before working in the news department of Science, Raymond had held two summer internships at the United States Department of Agriculture and taken several undergraduate science courses in the physical sciences and biology. But she never considered science writing until she happened upon a pamphlet that talked about the internship in her dean's office.
"I was really interested in science throughout high school and have always like writing, but I never thought about putting them together," said Raymond, 20, who grew up in Miami, Fla. "I am excited to be able to combine both of my passions into one activity, and in the process, help others learn about important issues."
When she returns to campus, Raymond looks forward to serving as a role model for underrepresented minorities in math and science, including African-Americans and women.
"At my school, there are not a lot of female science majors, and certainly not a lot of female science writers," Raymond said.
Cevallos, 20, a physics major of Ecuadoran descent, became editor-in-chief of The California Tech, the student newspaper of Caltech, in February 2007.
Although she constantly surrounded by math and science on campus, Cevallos said that there is a lot to write about outside of academics.
"The skills necessary to explain science to the general public are very valuable because they can be applied to almost any other topic," said Cevallos, who has also written articles about cancer research, the Caltech women's water polo, and a mysterious green liquid leak from a Caltech party that attracted a HAZMAT team.
While at Science, Cevallos has also worked on science policy articles including a recent National Academies' report urging scientists to explore extreme environments on Earth. By studying places like the boiling hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, the report says, scientists can learn about microorganisms that have different characteristics than other known life on Earth.
Cevallos said that she has been interested in math and science from a young age and remembers "Marissa's Math," a quiz-like math game invented by her father Jose Fernando Cevallos-Candau, a chemical engineer for Dow Chemical. Her mother, Kathleen Mimnagh, is a physician who specializes in internal medicine and an expert on Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that weakens the tissue surrounding a valve in the heart.
In 10th grade, Cevallos said her interests took a turn towards cosmology, astronomy, and astrophysics.
"With both of my parents in science, I grew up around it and learned to love it," said Cevallos, who is from Charleston, W.V. "As I matured, I found science could begin to answer questions like how we got here, how the universe formed, and how life started."
After finishing her internship at Science, Cevallos would like to continue with science writing.
"I really want to bring science writing skills back to my campus to help others explain their research to a broader audience," said Cevallos.
Cevallos says that she finds science writing both interesting and intellectually challenging.
"In science writing, you have to give your reader a logical path to follow, whether your reader is a curious 12-year old or a biology professor," she said. "If you don't, the reader will turn away to learn about something else less convoluted. That's the challenge, and fun, of science writing."
Currently in its third year, the paid 10-week internship brings minority undergraduate students interested in a science journalism career to Science's newsroom to experience what it's like to cover some of the summer's most interesting scientific and technological issues.
In the process, the interns attend congressional hearings, interact with top-level policy makers in Washington, and talk with scientists conducting groundbreaking research on the frontiers of science and technology.
The internship is open to any minority undergraduate with a strong interest in science writing, with preference given to applicants pursuing a degree in journalism and some scientific exposure.
"Because science is an extraordinarily diverse world, it is essential to have a diverse news department to effectively cover it," said Jeffrey Mervis, Science deputy news editor and head of the Minority Science Writers Internship program, which runs from June to mid-August. "In addition, many writers bring their passion for science and writing to back to their communities, serving as scientific communicators for their families and friends."
AAAS Education and Human Resources' Senior Project Director Judy Kass and Manager Stacey Pasco administer the Minority Science Writers Internship.
Kass and Pasco also run the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship Program, a 10-week summer program that has placed graduate and post-graduate level science, engineering and mathematics students at media organizations nationwide including National Public Radio, Voice of America, the Los Angeles Times, and U.S. News and World Report.
24 July 2007