Emory's Science Advocacy Network shares how they connect with their communities safely and virtually

At Emory University, the Science Advocacy Network (EScAN) is a nonpartisan, graduate student-led advocacy group that works to keep the Emory University community informed on policies that affect science and students, in Atlanta and beyond. NSPN caught up with Natalie Pilgeram, MA, ScAN’s Advertising Director about some of their recent actions and projects. 

Community involvement during a pandemic

Our group has faced unique challenges and opportunities over the past year, including a rapid transition to virtual event planning. When protests erupted around the country last summer, EScAN members wanted to get involved but were also concerned about protecting the health of our larger community and model adherence to public health guidelines. Ultimately, we decided to focus on distributing resources describing how to protest safely, including infographics on what to bring and what to leave home, and recommendations to wear masks and keep a safe distance from others in public spaces. We also connected our members with alternative means to advocate, highlighting specific bills and legislation, providing contacts for representatives along with scripts and talking points, and promoting the national #ShutDownSTEM movement.

In many ways, the political landscape in our state has attracted the national spotlight, with Georgia’s voters proving critical in the 2020 elections. EScAN joined many local organizations in highlighting the science policy issues at stake and in getting out the vote. We teamed up with the Atlanta-based, nonpartisan group The New Georgia Project in order to assist Georgians in registering for the multiple local, state, and federal elections in 2020, as well as the critical runoff election in January 2021. The New Georgia Project provided us with the tools and training to do so over the phone, as a safe alternative to conventional door-to-door canvassing. EScAN hosted two virtual phone banking events with our members, meeting via Zoom and unmuting at regular intervals to check-in and to share our experiences speaking with potential voters. 

EScAN is also proud of our members for taking First Place in the Second Annual Policy Memo Competition sponsored jointly by NSPN and the Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSPG). Emory students Amanda Engstrom, Gabrielle Delima, Emily Michels, and Jay Qui collaborated virtually to craft a compelling memo addressing the maternal mortality rate in Georgia, encouraging state legislators to take concrete action. We look forward to the 2021 competition!

New year, new partnerships

Moving further into 2021, our longstanding partnership with the advocacy group Science for Georgia (Sci4GA) proved instrumental in the launch of our Annual Letter Writing Campaign. This year’s campaign focused on supporting the Day One Project’s Federal Strategy for Science Engagement and, at the state level, urging our senators to protect Georgia’s waterways from harmful coal ash waste. We are also organizing a panel of scientists working in policy and advocacy to speak with our members about professional development and life beyond academia. EScAN’s goals for the future include expanding partnerships with nonprofit organizations across the state to offer our scientific expertise and skills in research compilation and data analysis. Potential partnerships on the horizon include local environmental, minority advocacy, and other science engagement groups. We continue to strengthen our existing collaboration with the New Georgia Project and with Sci4GA. We are grateful to the dedicated science advocates working in the larger Atlanta community who have supported EScAN in addressing policy issues relevant to science and to students.

Excited about EScAN’s efforts? Make sure to check out their website and Twitter (@EmoryScAN).

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