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ESF Students Earn Spot in ‘Storyfest’ Finals

Five projects featured in annual environmental storytelling competition
Posted March 2019

Storyfest 2019, Galapagos — Photo by Sven-Olaf Lindblad

Five projects submitted by ESF students are among the finalists in Planet Forward's annual Storyfest competition.

The students who submitted those projects will join scores of other honorees from around the country next month for the annual Planet Forward Summit in Washington, D.C., where the winners will be announced. The grand prize is a 10-day storytelling voyage through the Galápagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions and Planet Forward in August.

The ESF finalists, their project titles and the categories they compete in are as follows:

  • Devon Camillieri, "No water in sight," multimedia/photo essay
  • Lindsay Eberhart, "Soil toxicity in Viueques, Puerto Rico," podcast
  • Jennifer Meislin, "Tackling food deserts with Plant a Row," (Gillian Hall also worked on the project but only one person per project is listed as a finalist, as per Planet Forward rules), podcast
  • Marina Rullo, From bike lanes to bands: Inspiring a movement," video
  • Mackenzie Sadler, "Insects and the future of food waste," shareable/short video

ESF Interim President David Amberg said the Planet Forward projects highlight the need for scientists to develop communication skills.

"No time could be more important than now to train the next generation of environmental scientists in communication, in particular in digital communication," Amberg said. "We live in an age when people are even questioning the science behind vaccination, resulting in outbreaks of measles, something I thought I would never see again in my lifetime. We at SUNY have a responsibility to not only train the next generation of scientists in their field of choice but to train them to communicate the importance of their work to the broader public. This is the only way to counteract a barrage of digital misinformation that is confusing our fellow citizens and policy-makers. I congratulate our students on their success in this important field."

Four of the ESF projects were submitted by students enrolled in Dr. Silje Kristiansen's Public Communication of Science and Technology class; everyone in the class submitted projects to Storyfest. The fifth finalist, Rullo, was a student in the class last year when it was taught by Dr. Benette Whitmore, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies.

"Communicating science in an attractive way and to a wide audience is difficult," Kristiansen said. "Since I started working at ESF last year, I have been impressed seeing my students use their knowledge and creativity to design innovative, captivating and informative communication. Being a finalist at Planet Forward's Storyfest will have huge significance in their future careers because it proves to them and others that they are great communicators able to identify important environmental issues, break down their complexity and make knowledge available to a wide audience."

"Communication is absolutely central in our societies, and science communication continues to gain importance," Kristiansen said. "I am very proud of our students' achievements, and I am excited to see them come this far. All students in this class have worked hard on their projects. I congratulate all, and wish them success."

The students were able to use the resources provided by ESF's Digital Storytelling Studio staff (Tyler Dorholt, Sarah Grabman and Ben Carpenter). The studio provides audio/video equipment, while editing instruction and additional support comes from the staff.

"It's particularly impressive when outcomes like this are directly linked to projects done in class," said Whitmore, whose department is home to the studio and the communications courses.

The ESF students achieved success among a competitive field. Some 200 projects were entered, more than any other year. Planet Forward reported that 32 projects were chosen as finalists in five categories. George Washington University, which hosts Planet Forward, has 11 finalists. ESF has the second-highest number of finalists. Other schools with finalists include Columbia University, Middlebury College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California-Berkeley, Wake Forest University, Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

The summit will be April 4 and 5.

Planet Forward is a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. The project teaches, celebrates and rewards environmental storytelling by college students. It was formed in 2009 by Emmy award-winning journalist Frank Sesno to empower new voices and lead a global conversation on the planet's future. Planet Forward uses storytelling, media and educational events to tell the stories of invention and innovation that can move the planet forward.

ESF Students Make their Mark