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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

SUNY ESF Launches Advanced Program in Environmental Communication, Public Relations 9/22/2021


The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) launched a new certificate of advanced study in Science and Environmental Communication and Public Relations Management to help environmental professionals, decision-makers and engaged citizens learn how to communicate effectively about some of the most pressing issues of our time.

"There has never been a more urgent need for leaders who can inform people about the world's environmental challenges and motivate them to take action. This new program helps current and prospective professionals develop the critical communication skills they need to drive change," said ESF President Joanie Mahoney.

The online program is offered through ESF's Open Academy and complements the College's existing certificate in Environmental Leadership that was launched in 2017. The College plans to add a third related certificate in Environmental Justice and Inequality. The goal is for students who obtain all three certificates to add a Capstone course and earn a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Leadership, Justice and Communication. It would be ESF's first online master's degree.

"Conflicts over environmental and natural resources issues are a constant across the globe," said Dr. Benette Whitmore, one of the ESF faculty members who helped develop the program. "Consider the issues we face: climate change and related disasters such as severe storms, flooding and wildfires; our need for sustainable energy sources; the relationship between the environment and human health. It is critical to society generally, and policy influencers and decision‐makers more specifically, to have individuals who are trained in the skills of public relations, risk and science communication, and conflict management to engage stakeholders and publics in environmental problem‐solving."

The new certificate focuses on preparing students to communicate effectively and to analyze and assess factors influencing public perceptions of the environment, science and risk. The program emphasizes effective communication and dialogue in environmental decision-making as students learn to develop, engage and evaluate audience-centered communication strategies.

The program was introduced this fall; more information is available here.

Katherina Searing, associate director of the ESF Open Academy, said the certificate is geared toward working professionals or those interested in pursuing jobs in the following areas:

' Government institutions as either administrators, outreach and communications staff or on‐the‐ground managers who interact directly with the public

' State extension specialists and county agents

' Environmental consultants

' Interest group professionals (for example, environmental NGO staff) and grassroots organizers

' Media professionals

' Scientists and researchers

"Our students develop skills that enable them to foster inclusive, just and productive dialogue to navigate complex environmental and science-related issues, and spur action," Whitmore said. "This is a critical skill set at this time in our history. We need professionals who can communicate effectively – and honestly – as we address some of the most important environmental challenges the world has ever faced. If citizens don't have accurate, understandable information, it is difficult for them to be part of the solution."

Students in the program will evaluate factors influencing public perception of science and the environment; assess the target audience(s) for specific public relations, communications, advocacy, and engagement efforts; design research-based public relations programs, including crafting messages and selecting communication channels appropriate to the target audience(s); evaluate communication and advocacy campaigns; foster effective communication and dialogue in environmental decision-making, and analyze how stakeholders engage in conflict situations and select appropriate methods for addressing those conflicts.

In addition to Whitmore, courses are taught by Dr. Silje Kristiansen and Dr. Andrea Feldpausch-Parker; all three faculty members are part of ESF's Department of Environmental Studies.

The certificates and the affiliated courses can be applied to ESF's existing MPS in Environmental Studies, adding flexibility for students to complete the program in a hybrid or blended format.

ESF also offers an online program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Sustainability Management, which was launched in 2019. That program prepares students for entry-level jobs or mid-career opportunities in the expanding field of sustainability.