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This photo shows a group of 18 Black people and one white woman posed for a group picture in front of a stone arch and palm trees.
Center for Communicating Science director Patty Raun, 5th from right, is spending most of May in Kenya, working with a group of agricultural scientists who are part of the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Communicating Science Project. Photo courtesy of Patty Raun.

CCS Director Patty Raun Named Alumni Distinguished Professor

“One of the really exciting things about this honor is that it shows that the university values our work,” said Center for Communicating Science director Patty Raun about her 10-year appointment as Alumni Distinguished Professor. “The work of the center to help people build their muscles of connection and communication is an integral piece of the award.”

A professor of theatre arts in the School of Performing Arts, Raun also was one of three faculty members who won the 2023 William E. Wine Award, which is accompanied by induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence. Each college may nominate one candidate for the Wine Award, and from the resulting pool of nominees three faculty members are selected.

“Effective science communication is challenging, especially when communicating about complex ideas in accessible, meaningful, and understandable ways and fostering connections between the university and the public we serve,” said Vice President Emerita and Dean Emerita for Graduate Education Karen DePauw in a letter of support for Raun’s nomination. “Under Patty’s thoughtful leadership, communicating science as an initiative and the Center have impacted over 20,000+ participants since 2012. Patty has inspired many to accept the challenge to enhance engagement between academia and society, which is greatly needed for today’s society and for tomorrow’s future.”

A graduate student who took Communicating Science (GRAD 5144) with Raun commented, “I am applying the things I learned about communication (and about myself) to communicate my science more effectively – this has ranged from giving talks at scientific meetings, to discussing research with my PhD committee, to doing science outreach with 4th grade students. Patty’s clear enthusiasm and passion for teaching is inspirational, and I strive to apply the same emotions towards communicating my own work.”

Dean of the Graduate School Aimée Surprenant also weighed in on the work of the center: “Students benefit profoundly from the experience of thinking through how to communicate their work with non-specialists, whether that be family members, friends, neighbors, community groups, large audiences, or researchers and scholars in other specialties. The communication skills gained through this approach transfer to collaborative innovation and creative problem-solving, with many other benefits along the way. In particular, when scientists and engineers step out of their comfort zones and work to directly communicate their work to the general public, everyone benefits. Indeed, these skills are ones that help us reach across differences and bridge divides across various groups and bring them together to help solve our most pressing problems.”

The center’s work extends beyond Virginia Tech, with workshops and intensives facilitated for professional organizations, other schools, industry partners, and government agencies. Said a graduate student from another university who participated in a series of online communicating science workshops, “In just six weeks, Patty built trust and modeled humility and sincerity. In my conversations with peers in that class, each one felt included and that they had grown because of it. Patty didn't ‘teach to the middle’; she taught us all.”

Raun is currently in Kenya, working with a group of agricultural scientists who are part of the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Communicating Science Project, a collaborative project between the Center for Communicating Science, Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Global Program, and Egerton University in Kenya.

“It is my hope and my mission that inclusive, creative and collaborative people build societies equipped to untangle the complex and intractable problems of our world,” she said.

For a quick peek at some of Raun’s approaches to helping others build communication skills, read her two essays that appeared recently in Times Higher Education:

"Taming anxiety around public speaking"

"Effective public-speaking techniques for university faculty"

For more news about the Center for Communicating Science, see our newsletter page, our VTX (News and Stories from Virginia Tech) page, and the "Other News and Media" section of our News page

Center for Communicating Science - teal and orange logo

Center for Communicating Science - teal and orange logo


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    Center for Communicating Science
    230 Grove Lane
    Blacksburg, VA 24061
    (Campus mail code: 0555)

    Director Patty Raun

    Associate Director Carrie Kroehler