CSU hits ‘send’ on graduate certificate for conservation communications

a woman explains conservation research to a group of children. she is holding a jar with a plant and a child is using a magnifying glass to look at itA majority of conservation managers and scientists agree that they should do more to help the public and policymakers understand their work and develop policies based on scientific evidence. But they don’t, in part, because they lack the necessary communication skills.

This disconnect is among the motivations for a new online graduate certificate at Colorado State University.

Communications for Conservation, a new six-course, 12-credit program, launches in fall 2019. The online program stems from the Warner College of Natural Resources and is offered through CSU Online. It will provide students with concepts, skills and practices for communicating conservation science and management.

“Media relations, public outreach and communications with decisionmakers are no longer responsibilities just for spokespeople and public relations managers,” said Josh Zaffos, Communications for Conservation program director. “Conservation practitioners are charged with managing and studying people’s relationships with wildlife, water and natural areas. It’s critical that they can effectively explain their work and decisions, and why conservation and natural resources management matters.”

The program provides early- and mid-career conservation professionals with research-based ideas and tools to learn and apply critical communications skills. Course content and activities cover a range of topics, including:

  • writing and messaging for conservation
  • communications and conservation social science fundamentals
  • media relations
  • social and digital media for conservation engagement
  • crisis communications
  • conservation storytelling and presentations
  • social marketing, and
  • political and leadership communications.

“Natural resource professionals regularly comment to me about the importance of having strong communication skills,” said Warner College Dean John Hayes. “Our college, with its strengths across the full breadth of natural resource management disciplines, conservation science and recreation and tourism management, is well-positioned to enhance communications skills among conservation professionals. This new certificate will fill an important need for our students and stakeholders.”

Skills in demand

In 2016, the Warner College surveyed employers at 36 different conservation organizations about what job capabilities they valued most among staff and new hires. Five of the top six responses were communications skills – including writing, collaboration and speaking with the public.

a tour guide shows parts of a tree to a group of tourists in ponchos“Many of the passionate, committed individuals in our organization are trained in traditional ecology, forestry and natural resource conservation fields, and they often find themselves in positions where they want to, or need to, communicate. They see the value of interacting with the public but maybe don’t have the related training or skills,” said Jennifer Hayes, director of science application and communication for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station (no relation to the dean).

“A graduate certificate program like this will be very valuable because we can hopefully harness the passion and dedication of these individuals and help them grow through the organization,” she added. “Programs like this one will also mean we have more people qualified to do this work when we recruit in the field of natural resources.”

The program’s online format offers students an accelerated but flexible platform to complete coursework on a pace and schedule that fits their careers. Courses include narrated presentations, video interviews and discussions with communications and media experts, interactive assignments and discussion groups, and a range of multimedia content. The certificate program is now accepting applications for the upcoming semester.

“We want students to complete our program and be ready to engage with stakeholders and media, to write for print and digital media, and to speak at public meetings, presentations, or in front of members of Congress,” added Zaffos.

The online Graduate Certificate in Communications for Conservation is the latest among a number of programs developed by CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources to serve the needs of conservation professionals and students. The department also offers an online bachelor’s degree completion program in Natural Resources Tourism as well as a suite of online graduate tourism programs for Ski Area Management, Adventure Tourism, and a Master of Tourism Management, which is also available on campus.

CSU University Communications Staff