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Five Questions with Katherine E. Rowan, Membership Engagement Chair for Section Y (General Interest in Science and Engineering)

As part of our modernized volunteer governance structure, we now have Membership Engagement Chairs for all 24 sections to support two-way communication with Section members and help grow Section membership. These chairs serve two-year terms as members of their Section Steering Committee.  

headshot of Kathy Rowan
AAAS Member Katherine (Kathy) E. Rowan.

Katherine (Kathy) E. Rowan is the Membership Engagement Chair for Section Y, General Interest in Science and Engineering, and is serving until the end of 2023. Learn more about her career and what she is most excited about her role below! 

1.  Please share a little bit about yourself.  Where do you live and work?  What is your official title?  

I live near Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.  I am an emerita professor of communication at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.  I retired from full-time teaching in 2020 and now teach on an occasional basis. Currently, I am a proud member of several research teams.  One team is working on an NSF-funded project identifying methods for communicating coastal flood risk and emergency preparedness. Another examines effective methods for science communication training. Much of my research is on topics such as earning trust and explaining complexities in science, risk, and crisis communication.    

2. Why are you a member of AAAS?  

I was invited to join AAAS when I was a faculty member at Purdue in the 1990s.  Section Y members Sharon Friedman, Sharon Dunwoody, Carol Rogers, JoAnn Valenti, and others all encouraged me to be an AAAS member. In 2000, I joined George Mason University’s faculty, and in 2011, I was elected an AAAS Fellow for research and teaching about science communication. It has been and continues to be a privilege to work with and learn from AAAS and particularly with Section Y.  Section Y attracts individuals with a broad array of professional interests. Many study the “science of science communication” as college and university faculty. Others are involved in science communication through their work as museum leaders, librarians, or strategic communication officers for universities and national labs. Another large group are leaders in the National Association of the Academies of Science, an organization that encourages youth to pursue science  

3.  How did you get involved in your current discipline of science?  

At Purdue in the late 1980s, I studied and taught science journalism. My teaching and scholarly writing involved helping journalists use evidence-backed methods for explaining complexities such as key terms often misunderstood, hard-to-envision complex structures, or counter-intuitive but well-supported ideas such as many in physics. I was invited to give workshops and talks on these topics to the Ohio Environmental Protection Department and federal agencies. These government scientists and engineers were interested in effective methods for sharing science and engineering, especially on matters that worry people like toxic waste, genetically modified food, or low levels of ionizing radiation. In 2000, I had the opportunity to join George Mason University’s faculty in Fairfax, Virginia.  Mason was launching graduate programs in communication at that time, and I was able to continue researching and teaching science, risk, and crisis communication at Mason as well as to bring what I learned in these domains to instruction in mass media writing and public relations.  

4. What excites you the most about being a Section Membership Engagement Chair why?  

Early in my career, I benefitted professionally and personally from the friendly encouragement I received from AAAS members such as Sharon Friedman, Sharon Dunwoody, Barbara Gastel, JoAnn Valenti, and Bruce Lewenstein. I believe I attended my first AAAS Annual Meeting in February 1990. I was asked to speak at that meeting, and it meant a great deal to me. Today I hope to help those I meet as Engagement Chair participate in AAAS in ways that support their professional advancement and the well-being of their communities. We need Section members interested in sponsoring workshops, online discussions, regional activities, or programs at the annual meeting on science important to them and to society.  We also need members interested in doing the work of the Association such as reviewing program proposals and functioning as Section Y leaders.  

5. What activities and conversations would you like to start with Section Y members?  

I want to start conversations on topics that might lead to workshop proposals, online sessions of interest to large numbers of Section Y members, or regional science activities. Here is one possible conversation starter:  

What science topics do you feel are NOT sufficiently discussed in popular news or social media and should be? That is, is there work in your field that many people should know about because it affects them? If so, please write a brief description of that work and, if possible, provide a link to a study on that topic. If you can, also provide a link to an introduction of this topic or puzzle, one that many people could read. It may be that some of the science journalists or science communicators who are members of Section Y would have ideas about how we could encourage greater discussion of these topics. Or it could be that if there is sufficient interest, there could be an AAAS online program or regional activity promoting learning about and discussing this topic.