Members of the STEM workforce are notorious for lacking the ability to describe their work to people outside of their narrow fields. This primarily results from a lack of training in oral communication that focuses on how to communicate with the public. Graduate students do not receive extensive opportunities to practice the communication skills crucial for effective professionals. Most communication experience in graduate school comes in the form of presenting at technical conferences or presenting their work to their peers. The resulting inability to communicate effectively, and communicate to a wider audience, contributes to the void in scientific engagement of our citizens. As a long term consequence, our broader society does not understand the importance of STEM and in turn, does not strongly support nor champion STEM-related policies. To meet the grand challenges that face our population, we need a STEM workforce with exceptional communication skills, as well as a society that understands and supports large scale initiatives to spur STEM innovation and bolster STEM education. This paper presents a novel oral communication curriculum that is being developed and tested at Montana State University. The program, called the “STEM Storytellers Program”, uses a transformative approach to training graduate students that pulls knowledge from the journalism and performing arts community. Our program has three specific components: (1) creating jargon-less podcasts; (2) receiving training from an improvisational actor on stage presence; and (3) presenting at “curiosity cafes” to audiences from the general public. This project is funded through the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program within the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) track. This paper will present the design of the curriculum including the overarching theoretical framework, programmatic issues, and recruiting. This paper will be of interest to faculty that wish to improve graduate student oral communication skills and are seeking novel programs that are being pilot tested at other universities.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.