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AAAS Selects 28 Mass Media Fellows, Bringing Scientists into Newsrooms Around the Country

AAAS selects 28 Mass Media Fellows for 2020.
The 28 AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows for 2020.
Photo credit: Courtesy of pictured

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has selected its 2020 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows, 28 young scientists who will head to newsrooms around the country this summer for ten weeks of hands-on science reporting. The program places undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate level scientists, engineers, and mathematicians at media organizations where they write stories for radio and television, newspapers, and magazines.

“The current COVID-19 situation underscores the need for accurate science journalism, and we’re glad we’re able to continue to bring scientists to our host sites this year,” said Kristin Lewis, director of the program. Given the current pandemic and various stay-at-home orders across the country, the program will need to be more flexible this year, and fellows may begin working for their host sites remotely.

Before starting at their host sites, fellows gather for a 3-day orientation, providing resources and training for scientists who likely have never worked in a newsroom before. "We’ll be conducting our orientation virtually this year to reduce travel,” said Lewis. “While I’ll miss being able to meet all the fellows in-person at the start of the summer, we’re still planning on gathering for a post-fellowship wrap-up at the end of the summer.”

Fellows come from across the United States and from different stages in their education and careers. Max Kozlov is a graduating senior at Brown University. “Fellows have the unique privilege to write at respected publications across the nation and be thrown in the middle of the dynamic and chaotic nature of newsrooms… Conducting research is crucially important, yet it is only half the battle. I hope to take the skills learned as a fellow and apply them to my own research as a graduate student in cognitive neuroscience,” he says. His motivations for focusing on both science and communication come in part from his family’s experiences in Chernobyl, Ukraine, where they were denied readily available information about the health effects of the 1986 nuclear accident that could have helped them.

Evelyn Valdez-Ward, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California Irvine, is also driven by her own personal history as an undocumented scientist and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. “I constantly seek opportunities to challenge the stereotypes and perceptions of who can/is a scientist,” she says. “Through my own identities and experiences, I know firsthand how stereotypes, toxic STEM cultures, and retaliation can affect marginalized scientists’ experiences and make it difficult to continue in their field. I have found through writing we can challenge injustices and advocate for a better STEM world.”

Although writing for the public and conducting scientific research are very different pursuits involving very different training, some of the fellows focus on the similarities instead. “Field epidemiology and science journalism draw from the same well of fundamental skills,” notes Jessica Craig, who recently earned a masters in public health from George Washington University and just returned from supporting Ebola vaccination in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “At heart, both are driven by curiosity and truth and are shaped by observation and documentation, the fundamentals of the scientific process.”

The program not only serves as a training ground for scientists wishing to dive into science journalism, but newsrooms benefit from the scientific expertise of the fellows as well. Tanya Lewis of Scientific American, one of the host sites, stated that “The AAAS program is an excellent way to introduce scientists to the world of professional science journalism, and fellows are valuable contributors to our news operation. We treat fellows as fully fledged reporters, and their enthusiasm and expertise are an asset to our publication.”

Over the summer, the fellows will contribute to their host sites’ coverage of science news, hone their own writing, editing and interviewing skills, and learn what it means to be a science journalist. After the program, many fellows continue in their scientific careers, while others move into a career in science communication. The program is in its 46th year and has supported more than 700 fellows. It is funded by sponsoring scientific societies, universities and private philanthropy.

The 2020 Mass Media Fellows and their host sites are as follows (to see their sponsors, go to their webpage):

  • Kevin M. Alicea Torres, El Nuevo Día
  • Jess Craig, NPR   
  • Matthew Diasio, The Raleigh News & Observer   
  • Katherine Dynarski, The Wichita Eagle   
  • Kelly Franklin, The Austin American-Statesman   
  • Ana Gorelova, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch   
  • Natalia Gutierrez Pinto, The Idaho Statesman   
  • Scott Hershberger, Scientific American   
  • Grace Huckins, WIRED   
  • Asher Jones, Voice of America   
  • Max Kozlov, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch   
  • Karen Kwon, Scientific American   
  • Max Levy, The Los Angeles Times   
  • Sarah Loftus, The Miami Herald   
  • Gina Mantica, The Dallas Morning News   
  • Donna McDermott, StateImpact Pennsylvania   
  • Earyn McGee, The Las Vegas Review Journal   
  • Jordan Nutting, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
  • Natalya Ortolano, STAT   
  • Marina Philip, The Las Vegas Review Journal   
  • Attabey Rodríguez Benítez, Science Friday   
  • Courtney L. Sexton, Smithsonian Magazine   
  • Rishi Sugla, Ensia   
  • Evelyn Valdez-Ward, The San Luis Obispo Tribune   
  • Lorena Villanueva Almanza, The Indianapolis Star   
  • Allison Whitten, Discover   
  • Seré Williams, KUNC   
  • Kasra Zarei, The Philadelphia Inquirer   


Elana Kimbrell

Communication Program Officer

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