Student Spotlight: November 2017

Student Spotlight: November 2017

PWR Student Spotlight: Becca Nelson

There may not be another student on campus who loves ants more than sophomore Becca Nelson. Her love affair with the tiny, powerful creatures began as a small child and is sustained in part by her current ecology research on ants and oak trees. Becca’s ability to communicate her fascination with and knowledge of ants is just one of the skills she has honed in her PWR class.       

“Learning about how to write for specific audiences in PWR has helped me in deciding what rhetorical strategies to use when sharing my research with nonscientists to specialists within ecology,” says Becca.

Her PWR 1 course “What Are We Trying to Sustain? Rhetoric of Nature’s Values and Services,” was taught by Dr. Lauren Oakes. Becca decided to focus her research for the course on de-extinction, the global biodiversity crisis, and the future of conservation biology.

“The urgency of the global extinction crisis inspired me to research current solutions to preserving biodiversity and evaluate their effectiveness,” says Becca. As part of her project, she assessed whether or not de-extinction (reintroducing extinct genes into populations of living organisms) could be a useful conservation biology tool by analyzing several case studies including the woolly mammoth in a Siberian preserve, and the bucardo, a mountain goat that once roamed the Pyrenees.

Ultimately, she says, the project introduced her to existing tensions and solutions within the field of biodiversity conservation and provided her with a rhetorical framework in which to address these issues.

“In beautiful prose, Becca explored the controversial ethics behind de-extinction and proposes a five-step model to evaluate potential candidates,” says Lauren Oakes. "I always use her writing as an example in class because it gracefully blends scholarly research with compelling narrative. She uses literary descriptions to bring the more abstract and theoretical into tangible reality for the reader."

Becca has continued to build upon the writing and research skills she learned in PWR 1 in various capacities at Stanford. She is currently participating in the Notation in Science Communication and she serves as a dorm sustainability leader, an experience that afforded her the opportunity to meet renowned environmental author Elizabeth Kolbert and discuss her Pulitzer-prize winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

“I first read her book when I was doing research for my PWR 1 project, so it was exciting to talk to her about her rhetorical process,” says Becca.

This past summer, Becca interviewed rangers at state parks and conducted observations of how park visitors interacted with educational materials as part of a large research project on the ways in which redwoods can be used in climate change education at California parks through Professor Nicole Ardoin’s social ecology lab. She also conducted an extensive literature review on climate change education to help develop a theoretical framework for her research.

“I applied the research skills I learned in PWR 1 about how to conduct a scholarly search throughout the literature review process,” says Becca. “I later translated the academic results of the literature review into a Students for a Sustainable Stanford blog post that gave practical tips about how to more effectively communicate about climate change.”

Becca credits her experiences practicing different ways of manipulating tone, voice, and diction to better resonate with different audiences with providing her with a skill set that she was able to use when translating the literature review into a more accessible blog post.

“Through writing, I seek to share intersectional narratives about conservation and interactions between people and the environment,” says Becca, who is planning on pursuing a career in conservation biology as both a researcher and a science communicator. “For me, the boundary between art and science is illusionary—both are essential to solving global social-ecological issues.”