Rutgers Professor Aims to Engage Two Polarized Majors
By Courtney DuPont
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. Nov. 5 – Lauren Feldman is a new professor at Rutgers University who hopes her professional research will encourage students to embrace science and political communication through a class she created specifically for journalism and media studies students.
As Feldman enters her third year at Rutgers University, she hopes her professional research, involving the issue of climate change, and newly formed class will make science accessible to all.
“She doesn’t sway students to think one way or the other,” explains Kiana Miranda, one of Feldman’s current students, “But encourages them to learn more about science issues, and it works!”
The Margate native enjoys juggling her personal and professional lives as she takes on academic research and a new classroom at Rutgers. Feldman’s work focuses on applying political theories to science communication issues in a way that is accessible to non-science majors.
She attended Duke University where she received a degree in English, along with a minor in psychology. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she got her master’s and PhD in communication and focused her research on political communication and the effects of media.
After completing her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Feldman became a professor at American University in Washington D.C.
“DC was great,” says Feldman, “Especially for someone like me who taught courses and conducted research in the area of political communication. American University hosted incredible speakers and it was great to have resources like the Library of Congress at my fingertips.”
Feldman’s passion for scientific communication only grew stronger with the various resources available to her. In fact, she developed her own research program while at American. It revolved around her continued interest in media and climate change issues and she was later awarded a supportive National Science Foundation grant.
Although Feldman found success while in D.C. she says she missed her home state and decided to continue her research in New Brunswick as a professor at Rutgers University.
Yes, Feldman would miss the resources available at D.C., but she says she felt assured she could bring valuable insight to the Rutgers student body.
“The biggest adjustment for me was getting used to the size of the campus and the student body,” says Feldman, “But I love being able to teach students from my home state, and I really like teaching students from diverse backgrounds.”
Upon her arrival, in the fall of 2014, Feldman jumped right into two research projects thanks to the aid of the Rutgers Climate Institute.
The first involved the analysis of media coverage and climate change, while the other focused on developing media messages that would help engage the public with climate change issues while also decreasing political polarization of the problem.
Feldman wanted to develop a class that would allow student to engage in debates with each other, as well as her research on climate change issues and create an environment that was both interesting and informative.
“The potential to connect with students and make a difference in their academic careers is a huge motivation for my job,” says Feldman.
The class she developed is called Media, Science, and Public Engagement. It is a 400-level senior journalism course that started off as a special topics course in the fall of 2014 and was accepted as a regular course in the spring of 2015.
In class, students are given an opportunity to develop their own opinions about science issues such as child vaccination policies, climate change and genetically modified foods.
While the class does talk about numerous science problems, it does not have scientific prerequisites. It aims to motivate communication majors to study science instead of being intimidated by it.
That being said, the class approaches science issues that directly affect the average person. Students are encouraged to speak their minds and develop personal opinions about the way politics interfere with media and vice versa.
“The politicization of science topics can create partisanship in science discussion and a false balance in the news media,” argues Miranda. “But, Professor Feldman clarifies these issues in the course.”
Feldman’s students say they know she really cares about their opinions. Between Feldman’s passion for science journalism and her ability to engage with the class, students are effortlessly learning.
Any form of learning starts with a sparked interest, and interest is only grasped when someone has passion about an issue.
“I hope to continue to build my research in the area of media and science,” she explains, “and continue to attract students to this area as well.”