Recognizing Brooke Smith: Realizing The Vision And Finding COMPASS’s Niche

Brooke Smith and Vikki Spruill at the 2016 COMPASS Staff Retreat.

Vikki Spruill, author of this post, sits on the COMPASS Board of Directors and is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.

Fifteen years ago, Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State University), Chuck Savitt (Island Press), the Packard Foundation, and I all sat together discussing the need for science to be better connected to the rest of the world. We had all come to this table from different paths: a scientist committed to ensuring that her knowledge and that of her peers did more than just sit on shelves and in journals; a publisher working to ensure complex ideas were accessible and relevant to the world; a conservation and science change-maker working to support efforts so that environment and society can thrive together; and me, a communication professional who knew just how important—yet how hard—it was to get scientists’ voices elevated in the media and policy worlds. We collectively wanted the same thing: for scientists to be effective communicators and to be supported to navigate their way to relevant and meaningful people and conversations. This vision would become COMPASS. [Read more…]

Finding My Place In Science

Annaliese Hettinger

At COMPASS, we encourage scientists to share ‘why’ they do what they do, in addition to sharing their science. This week’s post is by Annaliese Hettinger, a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon State University, a Science Communications Fellow at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and a science writer. We’ve crossed paths with Annaliese a number of times – we helped her prepare to engage with decisionmakers on Capitol Hill, and she was a panelist for “Engaging with the Wider World: True Tales Told Live” at the 2016 Ecological Society of America Conference. We’re excited to share her story here. [Read more…]

COMPASS Transitions: Looking Back to Look Forward

Brooke Smith

Fifteen years ago, I sat in Jane Lubchenco’s office at Oregon State University asking for career advice. Jane’s office is a reflection of her – full of accomplishments and warmth. There are stacks (and I mean STACKS) of manuscripts and journals around the office, awards both on the walls and piled up on top of each other, pictures of her family (by blood and by lab genealogy), and keepsakes from Africa to the Arctic. Even though Jane’s reputation intimidated me (and still does), she was warm and welcoming (and still is).

I wiped my sweaty palms on my legs, took a deep breath, and said, “I would love your career advice.” Here was my privileged dilemma – I was considering two great job offers. I could accept a prestigious Knauss Fellowship in Washington D.C. for a year, or I could accept an advocacy position at an ocean conservation non-profit.

I asked Jane what she thought I should do. She listened intently to my rambling and reasoning. Then, of course, she asked a question. This is something that we teach at COMPASS – to listen; ask; listen; share. Even if you (especially if you) already have an opinion, listen first. Her question was simple: “What do you want to do?” After a heavy sigh, my response was: “I’m unsure exactly what IT is.” I went on to explain how I love science. How I love the environment. How I love to connect people and ideas, think big, and try new things. How my previous work experiences in Washington D.C. helped me understand the public policy process and culture – including the surprising lack of science at the table during decision-making. I didn’t feel like either of these job opportunities were the right choices for me. I wanted to find a way to bring in the science, but in a way that made it relevant to all these people, audiences and communities – policymakers, NGOs, the world… but where could I do that?

Jane said, “Let me tell you about this thing a few of us are starting called COMPASS.”

She explained the frustration she and other leaders in the science, communication, policy, and philanthropy worlds felt around the disconnect between scientists and the real world, especially on ocean issues. “What we know about how oceans work, how they are changing, and the benefits and consequences of those changes,” she explained, “is not reflected in how people think about oceans or in our policies and practices.” We went on to discuss how scientists were not well equipped to get out in the world and talk with people about what they know. In fact, sometimes they are even discouraged from doing so. We also discussed how there were not enough efforts to elevate knowledge instead of institutions – and how co-founder Vikki Spruill was working to address this in the social sector, and bringing her innovative thinking to science communication. COMPASS was born as an experiment – a way to help scientists fulfill their social contract. I wanted in.

I started with COMPASS that week. Four years later, I became the first Executive Director. And at the end of this year, I’ll be leaving, secure in the knowledge that COMPASS is stronger and more vital than ever.

That’s because over the past fifteen years our mission has only grown more needed and our work has only grown more impactful. Our vision and goal: to help more scientists to get out in the world and transform, frame and accelerate critical conversations about the environment. Our shared belief: that scientists should have a seat at the tables where public agendas about the environment are set and advanced, but they need help getting there and being effective once they are. Our core competencies: training scientists, and connecting scientists to influencers of the public discourse. Our amazing team: we all love science, and especially scientists. We care deeply about the environment. We want to make a difference. We thrive on thinking big, making connections, and generously supporting others.

The COMPASS team

The COMPASS Team – our biggest asset in supporting scientists to engage in the world.

We found our ‘special sauce’ in our collective experiences in policy, science, media and communication, which blend together to inform our work and help us achieve our mission. We continue to tweak and update our recipe – evolving and changing in response to the world around us. And, wow, the world certainly has changed. We used to have to motivate scientists to get out into the world. Now, scientists want to engage. The research about science communication has exploded. New media channels are dismantling old information sources. The political pendulum has swung back and forth, and players have come and gone. And our environmental challenges – from climate change to water availability to ocean acidification – have become more urgent.

In response to these changes, we expanded our scope beyond ocean science to include water, fire, climate, energy, ecosystem services and other scientific topics about the environment. We developed ways to help scientists and journalists meet and learn from each other. We pioneered new ways to reframe scientific conferences to be more relevant to the world, by hosting journalist fellowships or including policymakers as part of these conferences. We’ve created space for scientists and policymakers – from the White House, to Congress, to state legislatures – to share, discuss, and learn from each other. We’ve created communities of confident scientists prepared to engage around topics like fire, ocean acidification, or marine protected areas. And with partners like the Leopold Leadership Program, the Switzer Fellows, the Wilburforce Fellowship and others, we’ve empowered new cohorts of scientist leaders.

As we navigated the rules of scientific engagement, our organization evolved too. We began as a project incubated at Island Press and then SeaWeb. We started with a single funder, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, that not only shared our vision, but was willing to invest in the long term to give us space to try, learn, and grow. Now, we are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit with a diversified revenue portfolio, including both foundation grants and earned revenue. Our budget grows each year. We’ve built a strong operational, financial and administrative base, ensuring that our inter-disciplinary team is supported to do its great work.

We teach a lot of things in our training sessions; one important lesson we teach scientists is to push themselves to a place of discomfort – that’s where we all learn and grow. So, after 15 years at COMPASS, I’m taking our own advice – and pushing myself to a place of discomfort. My decision to step down from COMPASS at the end of this year was a hard one and an emotional one. In some ways, I could happily stay at COMPASS forever – the people, mission and work embody that hard-to-define “IT” that I was searching for in Jane’s office years ago. Being able to leave an organization during a time of strength is all too rare. I’ve learned it takes strength to do it. I’m proud to have been part of building and defining what this experiment has turned into. Some recent personal events, though, have starkly reminded me that life is short. I believe in new experiences; there’s still much for me to learn, try, and do.

Someone recently said to me, “I can’t imagine COMPASS without Brooke.” I can, without hesitation. COMPASS is stronger and more needed than ever. The opportunities for continued success and growth are enormous. The team is a remarkable collection of intelligent, innovative, and passionate people. We get more requests for our services than we can handle. We have ideas and opportunities waiting to be pursued. We have money in the bank and committed donors. Our board – a remarkable combination of scientists, communicators, and political appointees (Democrats AND Republicans) – is engaged and ready to help COMPASS transition to its next leader. I can imagine COMPASS without Brooke, but it’s a bit harder for me to imagine a Brooke without COMPASS. I’m both nervous and excited (“nerve-cited” as we say at COMPASS) to figure out what that looks like.

My first order of business will be to give my husband and two amazing daughters, who have had to share me with COMPASS for many years, my full attention over the holidays and the New Year. But after that? Much like fifteen years ago, I don’t know exactly what “IT” is – but I know it’s going to continue to be about my love for science and scientists, connecting them to society, facilitating changes that allow for more scientists to engage, and working toward a world where both environment and society can thrive.

Our search for COMPASS’ next Executive Director begins immediately. We’re looking for someone passionate and energetic, aligned with our mission, and eager to lead COMPASS as it continues to grow and support more scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment. The Board has retained Explore Company to serve as our search partner. Click here for more information, including a job description and Explore Company’s contact information.

Applications Open For The 2017 Wilburforce Fellowship In Conservation Science

Click here to download PDF.

The Wilburforce Foundation and COMPASS are excited to announce that applications are open for the second cohort of the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science.

The fellowship, which was designed to establish a supportive community of conservation scientists to effectively communicate their decision-relevant research, will begin in 2017. Fellows will participate in a six-day training in science communication, leadership, and engagement, and will receive support and coaching to reach their conservation goals throughout the fellowship year. The new cohort of fellows will join the 2015 fellows in building a network of skilled conservation scientists ready to contribute to action around conservation issues and solutions. [Read more…]

Happy Independence Day!

I was so thrilled to receive the official letter from the IRS stating COMPASS’ independent non-profit status.

It’s the Fourth of July—a day when we celebrate freedom, democracy, and independence. Our team is taking the time to celebrate with their loved ones this week, and we hope you’re able to as well! [Read more…]

Making Communication Accessible

Barbara in the field.

We’re excited to share stories from scientists in their own words. This guest post is by Barbara Spiecker, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU). Barbara recently participated in a ‘Making Your Science Matter’ graduate seminar I teach each winter at OSU. Our staff, past and present, provide services such as graduate courses, seminars, and 1:1 coaching to their home institutions (e.g., National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis [NCEAS], OSU, and University of Washington) in exchange for office space. This year, I added a new element to the course – a capstone project. Students could choose to put their learning into practice in any form they liked – through websites, blogs, dance, radio, video, K-12 outreach. They blew me away with their passion, creativity, and willingness to share their why’s. Barbara created an inspiring video for More Than Scientists. Here’s her story.

Karen McLeod, COMPASS’ Managing Director [Read more…]

Pulling Back The Curtain At Oregon State University

Journalists Chris Joyce, Ed Jahn, Nicola Jones, and Ashley Ahearn at OSU. Image by Karen McLeod.

This post is co-authored by Sarah Sunu, and based on a panel moderated by Nancy Baron at Oregon State University on March 9, 2016. 

Culture is an important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of communication. Understanding the behaviors, beliefs, and norms of your audience can (and should!) change how you talk about your own work. One key reason COMPASS brings journalists and policymakers to our communication trainings is to give scientists a window into their worlds. [Read more…]

Want To Work At COMPASS?

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Many of us on the COMPASS team get asked “What’s your favorite thing about working at COMPASS?” The initial response is always the same: “Just ONE thing? Yikes, that’s hard.” But when we get down to it, I hear two consistent answers:

The people. Our teammates. The scientists we support. The networks we connect them to, especially journalists and policymakers. We are people people.

The work. Making a difference in the world. Knowing that you helped support scientists to find their ‘so what’ and find their voiceto share both their insights and their passion.  Being part of society’s journey to help people and environment thrive. Figuring out what it really means to be a science communication practitioner. Being part of a small organization with big impact. Innovating. Busting silos. Connecting.
[Read more…]

Erica Goldman, Our New Director Of Policy Engagement

Erica has helped scientists navigate the policy world for years.

COMPASS is excited to announce that Erica Goldman will be taking on a new role and new responsibilities as our Director of Policy Engagement. Since joining COMPASS over four years ago as Assistant Director of Science Policy Outreach, Erica has passionately and tirelessly worked towards COMPASS’ vision of helping more scientists engage, and engage effectively, in the public discourse about the environment. Erica is an uber-connector – she is always matchmaking, especially between policymakers and scientists – and a silo-buster, constantly looking for ways to bridge ideas, communities and concepts. Erica has helped scientists get to know their policy audiences, been a cultural bridge between the worlds of science and policy, and championed ways for academic scientists to include policy engagement in their careers. Erica has also helped ensure communication is part of scientific training, through her co-leadership of our #gradscicomm effort and as a mentor and voice for non-traditional PhD careers (like her own at COMPASS, which we are grateful for!).
[Read more…]

Thanking Liz Neeley: Champion For Scientists And #SciComm

Liz Neeley, doing what she does so well -- bringing communications trainings to new levels with style and insight. Image by David Kline.

I still remember the first day I met Liz Neeley, a little over seven years ago. We met in a hip coffee shop in Seattle. She had recently relocated there from Washington DC, where she was working for SeaWeb (first as an intern, then as project manager) to continue discussions about potential employment with COMPASS. She stood up from behind her Mac and shook my hand. The first words out of her mouth were how excited she was about this opportunity with COMPASS, followed by “I have so many ideas.” She was buzzing with enthusiasm and innovations. She turned her computer around, and her screen was filled with mock-ups and visuals of ways we could evolve how we help scientists – and ourselves – communicate. Because that’s what Liz does: she imagines, and she produces. Over the last seven years, Liz has tirelessly channeled this energy into COMPASS’ mission to support scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment, while also working to move the larger field of science communication forward.

Today we are celebrating Liz, as we say farewell to her time with COMPASS. Listing all she has done would be impossible; the legacy and impact she leaves at COMPASS is strong. Liz has contributed to so many dimensions of COMPASS’ work to realize the change we want to see in the world, while also pushing us in new directions, particularly in the areas of social media and the science of science communication.

[Read more…]