PANEL & ROUNDTABLE: Building Communication Competencies for STEM Graduate Students (40 mins)


  • Heidi Lawrence George Mason University
  • Jessica Rosenberg George Mason University
  • Jill Nelson George Mason University
  • Susan Lawrence George Mason University
  • Stephanie Foster George Mason University
  • Melissa Broeckelman-Post George Mason University



In this panel/roundtable discussion, we will discuss how to best help graduate students build communication competencies, leveraging current research from theories of process, situated learning, transfer, and metacognition to improve those competencies through communication-building activities in graduate classes, professional development activities, and programming across Mason’s campus. The panel will also share recent efforts in communication professional development at Mason, including a Professional Development Workshop offered in spring 2020 for graduate students. Funded by a Curriculum Impact Grant, the panelists have created an innovative semester-long workshop series designed to help STEM graduate students build skills in oral and written communication, though findings in this panel will apply these lessons to all graduate students. Topics and activities in the workshop included communicating across a range of genres and contexts, including producing white papers, TED-style talks, and communications in other situations. We will share early outcomes of the workshop series and lessons learned. We will also solicit discussion from the audience members, who will be asked to identify their most pressing needs for supporting graduate students.

Author Biographies

Heidi Lawrence, George Mason University

Heidi Y. Lawrence teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on professional writing and rhetoric. Her research focuses on the rhetorics of medical and scientific controversies, specifically public debates about vaccinations, campus sexual assault, and opioids. She studies the role that professional communication produced by physicians, health officials, and researchers plays in shaping public debate and parental beliefs about vaccines.

Her work has appeared in the journal Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, Critical Public Health, Journal of the Medical Humanities, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, and the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. Her book on vaccine controversy, Vaccine Rhetorics, will be available from The Ohio State University Press in Spring 2020.

She teaches courses in proposal writing, research methods, technical and professional writing. She is also the faculty advisor for the George Mason Student Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC).

Jessica Rosenberg, George Mason University

I am an associate professor of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University and Director of Education for the Quantum Materials Center. My astrophysics research is focused on understanding the evolution of galaxies over cosmic time primarily by studying the baryonic content of galaxies and the intergalactic medium. Astronomers are not the only ones fascinated by how the universe works, making astronomy a great way to draw in students and educate the public about science. My work in STEM education research spans undergraduate education, graduate education, and faculty development. I am interested in how we expand the use of research-based teaching practices as a mechanism to improve student learning in the undergraduate classroom. This is the focus of a current project that I am leading in physics which involves introductory physics teaching, but also graduate student and faculty development. With the Quantum Materials Center I am exploring how we can prepare students coming from a broad range of STEM backgrounds for the quantum information science workforce.

Jill Nelson, George Mason University

****TEA 2014 Winner****

Jill Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at George Mason University. Dr. Nelson's research focus is in statistical signal processing, machine learning, and detection and estimation. She has considered applications in target tracking, intelligent sonar systems, and physical layer communications. Her work on sonar tracking and automation is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Nelson also conducts research in engineering education and STEM faculty development, funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Nelson is a 2010 recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and the IEEE Signal Processing, Communications, and Education Societies.


Susan Lawrence, George Mason University

Susan Lawrence is Director of George Mason University's Writing Center, which serves undergraduate and graduate students across the university. Her current projects focus on graduate student writers in the disciplines and examine the role of theory in empirical studies of writing.

Susan has taught courses in writing center theory and practice; research methods including ethnography and discourse analysis; professional writing; and rhetorics of reconciliation. She consults with professionals in government, business, and non-profit organizations about communicating with public and congressional audiences.

Stephanie Foster, George Mason University

My work in universities has included learning outcomes assessment, program development and evaluation, faculty development, service-learning, grant writing, professional education, and academic advising. My scholarly interests include professionalization and expertise in university labor, political influences on the post-secondary curriculum, and gender in higher education. I earned a PhD at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education (2012) and a MA in Higher Education (2005) from The University of Arizona.

Melissa Broeckelman-Post, George Mason University

Melissa A. Broeckelman-Post (Ph.D., Ohio University, 2009) is the Introductory Communication Course Director and an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and a Senior Scholar in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University.  She is responsible for planning, supervising, assessing, and improving the communication courses that meet the general education requirement at GMU.  Each year, she is responsible for recruiting, training, and supervising a staff of 50-60 instructors who teach 3700-4000 undergraduate students per year in these courses.  In 2016, her program was the recipient of the NCA Basic Course Division Program of Excellence Award, which recognizes introductory communication course programs that can serve as best practice models for programs across the country.  In 2015, she was the recipient of the NCA Basic Course Division Textbook of Distinction Award for the textbook that she extensively adapted to meet the specific needs to GMU’s students, instructors, and program.  Dr. Broeckelman-Post also served as the co-chair of the Social Science Research Council’s Measuring College Learning Project Panel on Public Speaking and was a co-recipient of a National Communication Association Advancing the Discipline Grant for A National-Level Assessment of Core Competencies in the Basic Communication Course.   





MONDAY 11:00am-11:40am