ESL Graduate Students Bring Science Research to the General Public

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Left-right: Ekaterina Bogomoletc (Russia), Bita Akram (front, Iran), Byungsoo Kim (back, South Korea), Nancy Swisher (*), audience member. Photo courtesy of Nancy Swisher.

Public speaking is intimidating for many people. But what if your task is to explain complicated academic or scientific topics to an audience with no background in your field? And speak clearly and idiomatically in your second language? Even more intimidating.

ESL students rose to the challenge when they participated in the first-ever Science Slam, part of the NC State Department of Communication’s “Com Week” held March 28 – 31.

Very popular in Europe, Science Slams provide a format whereby graduate students explain their research projects via short, 10-minute talks in a social setting at an off-campus venue. Afterwards the audience votes to select a winning presentation.

The inaugural Raleigh Science Slam, held at the East Village Bar and Grill just off Hillsborough Street, was initiated and implemented by committee of three: Ekaterina Bogomoletc, Bita Akram, and Milica Lakobrija. Two of the committee members are current ESL students. Ekaterina, an ESL student from Russia pursuing an MS in communication, states: “We had only two weeks to organize the event. I truly believe that we did a good job. I also really appreciate the opportunity to study with such talented people from all over the globe; this event wouldn’t be possible without their help and active participation. The main idea of the Science Slam event is to make science accessible for a wide audience. I hope that our future events will not only attract students, but they also will attract regular citizens of the Triangle Area.”

Byungsoo Kim, who is studying toward a master’s degree in industrial design, is shown here during his talk on universal interior auto design. Photo courtesy of Nancy Swisher.

Bita Akram, an ESL student from Iran who is a PhD candidate in curriculum and instruction, not only acted as one of the three event organizers but also gave a presentation on computer learning. ESL Student Byungsoo Kim, who hails from South Korea and is studying toward a master’s degree in industrial design, gave a talk on universal interior auto design. He was gratified to receive “interesting feedback from those outside my field.” It is notable that, of the five event speakers, two were ESL students. All three ESL students who were involved in the Science Slam are currently enrolled in FLE 402, Advanced Written Communication in English for International Students.

These young scholars are to be commended on their willingness to step out of their academic milieux and to share their knowledge and research with a wider, more diverse audience. There is an increasing demand that scientists be able to communicate with a layperson audience in an understandable, coherent, and engaging manner. These young people are well on their way to achieving this goal as they hone their communication skills outside of the academy. Their emerging ability to explain science to the public will prove to be valuable as they pursue their careers beyond the university.

(*) Nancy Swisher teaches English as a Second Language in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

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