A middle-aged Asian woman with dark hair, wearing a red shirt, and leaves in the background smiles for a professional headshot.
Amy Hubbard, professor of communicology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, visited Virginia Tech as the first stop on her sabbatical tour of science communication programs. Photo courtesy of Hubbard’s professor page on the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa website.

The Center for Communicating Science (CCS) was joined by Amy Hubbard, professor and director of the communicology program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, during a planned visit during the last week of March. Hubbard, who is currently on sabbatical, is visiting schools with oral communication and communicating science programs. The knowledge she learns throughout the spring semester will provide insight for her own projects — and possibly even allow her to bring a similar center to her home university. 

    Hubbard is a Honolulu, Hawaiʻi native, and she completed both her B.B.A. in marketing and M.A. in speech at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In 1996, she earned her Ph.D. in communication from the University of Arizona. 

    Part of Hubbard’s research interests include the nonverbal aspects of communication, deception, and conflict management. Her previous work has also focused on interpersonal communication and how sensory factors such as eye contact and exposure to different smells affect behavior and judgment. 

    The idea for a communicating science tour, she said, came from an intermingling of different experiences, all surrounding one question: What are misconceptions about communication? Science communication, she says, is of particular interest to her given its wide applications and relatability to the communication content she is already so passionate about. 

    Hubbard’s latest work includes a collaboration with Iowa State University in which tropical corn is being made more neutral to light stimuli via gene editing. This project specifically sparked her interest in science communication, as she found herself unable to understand the researchers’ explanations of the work and began looking for tools to help them “translate” their research for people outside the discipline. She hopes to bring back the knowledge she gains on her tour to help students and faculty learn to communicate more effectively with different audiences. 

    Her visit began early on March 27. After meeting with CCS director Patty Raun, Hubbard accompanied associate director Carrie Kroehler on a visit to Eastern Elementary/Middle school. Nineteen GRAD 5114 students, as part of the communicating science course, presented their research to the sixth and seventh grade students. Hubbard was able to observe three presentations and have more in-depth discussions with three of the graduate students.

    On the second day of her visit, Hubbard met with Greg Justice, one of Raun’s colleagues in the School of Performing Arts. Through Justice, Hubbard learned about theatre and consulting techniques that can be used in public speaking. She recalled the importance of blending perfection with uniqueness and how a presenter’s response to a blunder can change the interpretation of the presentation. 

    And, of course, there was plenty of time to discuss Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science during the visit. Raun and Kroehler spent her first afternoon in town sharing the story of the center’s origin and growth, providing information about the graduate and undergraduate courses developed by Raun, and describing some of the center’s current and upcoming projects. 

This image shows a blue toned piece of art with black-sketched people (3) and a large fish. Yellow-yolked transparent fish eggs are floating in the picture.
Visitors wander the "Wonders of Toms Creek" exhibit at the Squires Student Center Perspective Gallery. Photo courtesy of Carrie Kroehler.

    Included in the official itinerary prepared by the CCS were visits to the Perspective Gallery in Squires Student Center, which was hosting a CCS-sparked collaborative art-science exhibit about Toms Creek, and the Moss Arts Center galleries. 

    Hubbard also was able to take advantage of the first of three data comic workshops led by Dr. Emmy Waldman and Professor Anna Feigenbaum. In the Tuesday session, the concept of using comics for data communication was introduced. Waldman and Feigenbaum discussed how data can often be dehumanizing and isolating to those who are outside of scientific fields. Accessibility, the speakers said, is also an issue for many consumers of research papers. Often, the data is missing context or seems “sterile,” not allowing others to relate it to real life experiences. 

    Participants of the first data comic workshop completed an activity using two pie charts. The first contained a depiction of what each individual person felt that they should feel, while the second depicted what they actually feel surrounding a given topic. Hubbard felt that this activity was a wonderful perspective-taking exercise, and it reminded her of similar activities she’d completed to improve mentoring skills. 

    Thank you for your visit, Amy! We loved having you and look forward to hearing all about the information you gather in your travels. 

By Quinn Richards, Center for Communicating Science graduate assistant