Earthzine Outlook 2016: Virtual Poster Sessions and Writing Club

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In 2016, Earthzine will continue to aid professional development with Virtual Poster Sessions and a mentored writing club.

Probability map illustrating the predicted probability of cheatgrass cover. Image Credit: Wyoming Ecological Forecasting Team

The grand prize in the Fall 2015 VPS went to ‰ÛÏA Changing Landscape: Monitoring Cheatgrass with Satellite Imagery,‰Û conducted by a team of four participants at DEVELOP’s location in Fort Collins, Colorado.

While Earthzine’s primary mission is to foster Earth observations awareness, our staff also strives to develop the next generation of Earth observation and science writing professionals.

To that end, 2015 was a banner year for two professional development projects: Virtual Poster Sessions and the Writing Club.

Earthzine will continue to host Virtual Poster Sessions by students with NASA’s DEVELOP National Program in 2016.

DEVELOP, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences’ Capacity Building Program, addresses environmental and public policy issues through interdisciplinary research projects that apply the lens of NASA Earth observations to community concerns around the globe.

A total of 27 projects are lined up for a spring Virtual Poster Session (VPS) at Earthzine. Additional plans are in the works for the summer and fall terms.

During a Virtual Poster Session, teams of students present their findings using short abstracts and videos. Colleagues and Earthzine readers are invited to discuss projects with team members using a comment section at the bottom of each project page.

This dialogue is one factor that helps determine which teams advance in the competition, along with content clarity, scientific merit, and creativity. After a set period of time, a judging panel reviews each project and decides on a winning team or teams. Depending on the number of entries, there are sometimes multiple rounds of judging, with finalists named after the initial round.

Esri, a company that makes Geographic Information System (GIS) software, has been a longtime sponsor of the competitions, awarding prizes to winning teams. DEVELOP VPSes are archived here.

Image Credit: Princeton Writes

Image Credit: Princeton Writes

Earthzine Writing Club

In 2015, Earthzine staff member Jenny Woodman spearheaded a Writing Club to encourage and develop aspiring writers interested in Earth observation and scientific communication.

The first round included a series of online presentations led by professional writers in order to help participants grow and develop the skills needed to find story ideas, conduct research, interview sources, write articles, and move through the editorial process. Students also were asked to read and critique scientific articles, because great writers are always great readers.

In addition to the workshops and weekly assignments, Earthzine volunteers and staff provided step-by-step assistance and conducted a review process to help club members reach the final goal: publication. Since the class was conducted online, each student was assigned a mentor from our team to enrich the experience with more personalized coaching, which made a difference in the student experience.

Participant Kim Berry explains, ‰ÛÏYou were willing to keep my essay on track and gave me a generous extension and excellent coaching.‰Û She added, ‰ÛÏI’m very happy with how far I’ve been able to come with this Writing Club. I am more than happy to spread the word the next time Earthzine decides to host another!‰Û

Progress in the Writing Club was part of a Quill Blog, and some students contributed to Earthzine’s Socioeconomic Benefits theme.

The Writing Club was offered to current students enrolled in an accredited college or university degree program and to graduates who have completed a degree within the past five years. Earthzine received 33 applications, which were reviewed by the team in a three-tiered process. In the end, nine applicants were accepted.

Earthzine staff plans to run at least one session of the club again in 2016. Ideally, the summer club will begin in June. A number of lessons learned from the inaugural Writing Club will improve future clubs.

Between now and the next launch of the Writing Club, Earthzine would like to recruit new presenters to enhance student experiences, including presentations from scientists who can speak to the challenges and benefits of translating complex scientific materials for the public. If you are interested in participating, please contact Jenny Woodman at