~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities

Fresno State’s Department of Communication teaches students about the communication skills people need to function effectively in teaching, business, law, the communication professions, public service, politics and management.

Two new faculty hires for the 2017-18 academic year bring greater depth to the department’s offerings.

“We have been very strategic about our new cohort hires,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “We have branched out to nontraditional fields.”

Two of those nontraditional areas include science and environmental communication, with two new professors in the Department of Communication — Dr. Robert B. Lull and Dr. Brian Cozen.

“We need artists and humanists because we are the basis of all learning,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, associate dean of the College, at the State of the College in January. “A liberal arts education is based in reading, writing, thinking, producing, creating. If you don’t have this injection of new life with new faculty, your university will not thrive. … We are opening new horizons about how the arts and humanities communicate with these disciplines like science, technology and ag.”

Science communication

Dr. Robert B. Lull, assistant professor of communicationDr. Robert B. Lull comes to Fresno State from the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Lull has taught a Comm188 class on science communication in both the fall and spring 2017-18 semesters. In fall 2018 he will teach “Honors 101: Scientific Revolutions.”

“This is an especially important time for science communication because rapid advancements in science and technology are raising new questions that demand public input as well as engagement between scientists and society,” Lull said. “There are no precedents for advancements like human gene editing, autonomous vehicles, and synthetic biology. Much of the process integrating such advancements into society will require effective communication to ensure scientists adhere to principles of responsible innovation and consider the concerns of laypeople that are not always readily apparent. At the same time, effective communication is necessary to ensure that publics stay apprised of the ways science currently improves our lives and recognize the potential of new technologies to transform society.

Science communication is especially relevant in the Valley, where agriculture is a key industry.

“I cannot think of many places where the study of science communication is more relevant,” Lull said. “The agriculture industry has already been transformed in the last few decades through biotechnology and other improvements. Gene editing and synthetic biology will continue to transform agriculture in the coming years. Likewise, some of the classic science communication topics like climate change, water, and energy will continue to demand our attention here in the Valley.”

Lull has collaborated with students and faculty from other areas of Fresno State.

“I was recently interviewed by biology students [from the College of Science and Mathematics] who were writing a radio show about mosquito biotechnology and were interested in the public opinion angle, which I have studied for two years,” Lull said. “As I continue to make inroads as a faculty member at Fresno State, collaborations like these will continue. I envision future collaborations with the Jordan College as well.”

Lull and colleague Asheley R. Landrum published a commentary in August 2017 for the journal Nature Climate Change, challenging people to rethink the ways they discuss climate change and consider messaging that resonates with conservative values if they want to make inroads on this divisive issue.

“We argue that making progress mitigating climate change will require buy-in from conservatives,” Lull said, “but liberals rarely frame their climate change messages in ways that conservatives might agree with.”

Environmental communication

Dr. Brian Cozen, assistant professor of communicationDr. Brian Cozen comes to Fresno State from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research in the area of environmental communication examines how communication mediates human-environment relationships, particularly in relation to energy practice.

In addition to core classes — communication criticism and rhetorical theory —  Cozen has taught one section each semester of the upper division Comm188T class on environmental communication.

“There are no prerequisites for the course,” Cozen said. “I welcome anyone with an interest in questions related to the environment, and in particular an interest in how communication practices influence people’s relationships to our surroundings, plus how we use communication to persuade people to learn and/or care about environmental issues.”

Students in Cozen’s class participated in a class project focused on “No Impact Week.”

“The project challenges students to reflect upon the environmental impact of their everyday activities,” Cozen said. Students to start the week attempting to avoid purchasing anything new and adds an additional element each day: minimizing waste, seeking alternative — public or non-mechanized — modes of transportation, eating locally, reducing energy consumption, and reducing water use. “Students write daily discussion posts on their experiences, and in-class we discuss these experiences in relation to the film, ‘No Impact Man,’ which is the inspiration for the project.”

The Central Valley has many challenges that make environmental communication especially relevant at Fresno State.

“Take water issues. Fresno State has a water cohort — many professors hired at the same time, studying water issues from different disciplines and perspectives,” Cozen said. “My class participated in the water cohort’s reading group, in which we read from David Sedlak’s book, ‘Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource” (2014).’

“Obviously in the Central Valley, questions pertaining to drought and water management have been central social, political, environmental and behavioral issues for the region. Fresno State offers vibrant opportunities to engage in these important questions related to water, as well as food, energy, transit and so forth.”

A campaign by Chevron in 2007 captured Cozen’s attention –“Untapped Energy” is a 2.5-minute, sweeping narrative of the central role energy plays in people’s lives:

“I was taken by the scale of the commercial and wanted to learn more about the campaign’s communication strategies, and that focus initiated my research project on energy communication,” Cozen said.

“I have a book chapter, in ‘Tracing Rhetoric and Material Life: Ecological Approaches,’ (2018, Palgrave) that refers to the larger campaign as an illustration of how fossil fuel practices are often communicated in terms of the work energy systems do or enable people to do.”

Cozen has writter other published essays as well.

“The essay on Park(ing) Day was one of my most enjoyable projects,” Cozen said. “Park(ing) Day is an annual event that occurs in cities across the world, in which people temporarily convert a parking space into a park. … I like to talk about Park(ing) Day in many of my classes, as it’s a great illustration of how people engage in their surroundings to communicate new ideas.