Developing Scientific Identity Through a First-Year-Writing Course
for STEM Undergraduates

with June Oh, PhD Candidate in English, MSU

Beginning in the fall of 2019, the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of STEM group at Lyman Briggs College began a pilot program to unify the learning goals and outcomes of the first year writing courses, LB 133, with the goal of creating a supportive experience for all incoming students. During the first year of the project, Dr. Brandt developed and taught three sections of an experimental course that includes various activities including a weekly colloquium for all incoming students as one large group, and projects intended to cultivate both writing skills and scientific identity.

While the project at large still aims to investigate the overall impact of this course on student learning, we propose to dedicate this second year to continue exploring Science Ed Op-Ed writing assignment. Science Ed Op-Ed was designed to help STEM undergraduates develop their scientific identity through a writing assignment in an authentic genre. This assignment asks students to argue for the need of science education while using their own experience as evidence. It aims to 1) validate first year undergraduates’ own experiences with science as valuable history in order to 2) encourage them to find their scientific voice. Finally, it seeks to 3) help students become better writers who understand the concept of science as culturally situated.

The students are evaluated on the Science Ed Op-Ed twice during the semester. They develop a first draft as their first writing assignment for the course, thus offering both them and the professor a piece of diagnostic writing they can use to start a conversation about writing standards and goals for the course. At the end of the semester, the students revise the Op-ed and include a cover letter that asks them to articulate how what they have learned about both science and writing over the semester informs their revision. The present study seeks to evaluate success of the course in meeting its aims by comparing key features of the first and final versions of the op-ed, including traits of skilled argumentative writing, science literacy level, and the ways in which science education is justified.

Cybertherapies and the Future of Care

Through several projects, I explore how digital technologies extend therapeutic care beyond the clinic, focusing primarily on military-sponsored projects. What values and ideas about self and healing are embedded in their design? How do designers imagine they will be used and how does this compare to how both clinicians and patients use them? Projects have investigated the making of a virtual reality exposure therapy called Bravemind for the treatment of war trauma; the history and current develop of online conversation agents (or “chatbots”) as psychological counseling for military mental health issues; another looks at comic-book creation as therapy for veterans; while a third very new project investigates therapists’ experiences with tele-therapy technology. The civilian world owes much of its technology to the military. Therefore, I see the future of therapy being designed in these projects.

Drawing on disability media studies literature, I also co-authored a chapter investigating multiple applications of virtual reality technology for people with disabilities, with help from former LBC students Mitchell Reddan and Morgan Kiryakoza.

This research has been supported by the Andrew V. and Florence W. White Dissertation Scholarship through the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

As part of this work, I joined San Diego Veterans Administration Heathcare System as a Research Health Science Specialist.

Zapatista Corn: A Case Study in Biocultural Innovation

Supported by the UC Center for Global California Studies, I also worked with Schools for Chiapas, an NGO based in San Diego and Mexico to study the citizen science efforts of the indigenous organization, the Zapatistas, in resistance to transgenic maize. My article on this work, which shows how the group developed biocultural innovation practices to protect their autonomy from the perceived neoliberal threat presented by agricultural biotechnology, recently came out in Social Studies of Science.

Biomedicalization and the public sphere:
Newspaper coverage of health and medicine, 1960s-2000s

Building links between science studies, health communication, and journalism studies, I co-authored a content analysis with Daniel C. Hallin and Charles Briggs on the politicization of health news in the United States. We examined historical trends in the reporting of health and medicine in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune from the 1960s to the 2000s. We found that the reporting of controversy increased, and portrayals of biomedicine shifted from lopsidedly positive to more mixed. We use these data in pinpointing how media play a constitutive role in the process of “biomedicalization,” through which biomedicine has both extended its reach into and become entangled with other spheres of society and of knowledge production. This research was published in Social Science & Medicine.