Grad Student Drew Story Wins AAAS Poster Competition, Earns Feature in Science

Graduate Student Drew Story with his winning poster at the 2017 AAAS Conference

A Chemical and Environmental Engineering doctoral student has won the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) poster competition for his efforts to develop and implement a community engagement analysis on the Salton Sea. Drew Story, who studies under Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering Interim Dean Dr. Sharon Walker, earned top honors against 18 other submissions in the Science and Society category. His project is now featured in the March 2017 issue of Science.

Story’s project titled California Natural Resources Agency & the Salton Sea: Case Study in Science Communication focuses on community engagement analysis of the Salton Sea, which is facing rapid desalination and reductions in volume due to drought, water transfers, and fallowing of agricultural land. Despite the resulting public health risks and ecological losses, the Sea has struggled to gain attention or support from many California policymakers and residents.

Story and his lab mate Holly Mayton worked alongside California’s Natural Resources Agency (NRA) to develop and incorporate a public outreach component to the agency’s Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP). During a six-month period, the NRA hosted 14 public workshops in Southern California and Story analyzed community engagement with the development of a pre- and post-workshop survey that documented public knowledge, opinions, and priorities toward the SSMP.

Story’s efforts provided the NRA with best practices on how to communicate with the public about California’s largest lake. Survey findings indicated that NRA communications about the Salton Sea should focus on salient issues of environmental and public health risks, continue to have an audience-centric presentation that prioritizes local and resident needs, be free of confusing jargon, and focus on key points upfront before offering supplemental background and details.

With these assessment results, the NRA can modify their existing workshops to better educate the public on the Salton Sea and the SSMP as well as enhance public knowledge and build public confidence in the State’s plans and intentions.

The survey outlined in the poster competition is the latest in a series of efforts by Story and his colleagues to expand public outreach regarding the Salton Sea. As part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research (IGERT) Fellowship, Story, along with his cohort of fellows, produced a public engagement and science communication blog called SaltonSeaSense.org, which helps promote thoughtful conversations that lead to an improved understanding of the ecological, economical, and cultural value of the Salton Sea. In 2016, they held a stakeholder panel at UC Riverside with local, state and federal Salton Sea decision makers as well as hosted the Pacific Institute’s Senior Associate Michael Cohen for a talk titled “The Salton Sea and the New Normal: A Managed Environment in the Context of Prolonged Drought.”

Through his work on the Salton Sea, Story has developed an aspiration to bridge the gap between science and policy. By becoming an advocate for science, he can help develop effective science communication and promote active engagement with policy makers. Turning this goal into reality, Story is supplementing his engineering education by becoming one of only a few students on campus taking part in the Designated Emphasis in Public Policy pilot program through UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy. In addition, he was selected as one of only two students nationwide to attend AAAS’ Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering workshop in D.C. this April.

For more information on Story, please visit his LinkedIn page. For more information on the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting, please visit the organization’s website. Poster submissions will re-open in July.

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