California State University, Long Beach
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Public Knowledge Initiative Launched

Published: January 23, 2017

Despite an overall recovery of the economy, state funding for public higher education continues to dwindle. If current trends continue, average state fiscal support will fall to zero by 2059.

Universities are responding by seeking external sources of funding to help fulfill their respective missions.

Beyond conferring students with bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees, public universities are now seeking creative ways to demonstrate their value to the communities they serve with the hopes of garnering external support.

This past fall, CSULB launched its Public Knowledge Initiative, an effort to help share the scholarly work of faculty and graduate students with the public at large.

The initiative grew out a series of discussions between Terri M. Carbaugh, CSULB’s associate vice president of Government and Media Relations, and faculty member Christopher G. Lowe, a professor of biological sciences who also serves as one of the world’s preeminent shark researchers. Lowe leads a team of dedicated students in conducting cutting-edge research into the migration of marine animals, and Carbaugh is tasked with sharing the many newsworthy things taking place on campus with legislators, media, the public and other stakeholders. The initial discussions with Lowe turned into a lot of hard work to engage the news media through targeted pitches and the use of compelling b-roll video surrounding his research. Those stories, which appeared in outlets ranging from the local Patch news site to the “CBS Evening News,” resulted in the public gaining better insight into how the scholarly work taking place on campus impacts the greater Long Beach area. It also helped illustrate the unique experiences students gain by attending CSULB and, in turn, increasing the profile of the university on both advocacy and awareness levels.

And the idea for Public Knowledge was born.

“Dr. Lowe provides an outstanding example of how sharing knowledge through the media emphasizes CSULB’s role as a top university, where professors give students practical experience working on significant projects with fascinating results,” said Carbaugh. “News articles and features provide relevant companies and organizations information on university programs involving outstanding future interns and employees. Those news stories also allow taxpayers a way to see how their money contributes to furthering education with real-world applications.”

With support from the Office of the President and the generosity of donors Katey and Paul Johansen, the idea became a full-fledged initiative with a goal of developing a roster of faculty who can serve as media experts and leveraging their considerable knowledge and research through news media. To implement the enterprise, Carbaugh tapped veteran public relations professional Susan C. Mills as the director of Public Knowledge.

“Susan has an outstanding knack for being able to insert her clients and messages into the national conversation through news media and is the perfect person to help get the knowledge residing on the CSULB campus out into the minds of the public,” said Carbaugh.

The initiative began with a call out to faculty and graduate students interested in participating in a series of fall workshops covering a variety of topics, including developing compelling story angles, creating sound bites and visuals, and best practices in the use of social media platforms. Eleven CSULB faculty members and eight graduate students in disciplines from biomedical engineering to art history registered to be part of the first cohort.

public knowledge workshop
Participants in one of the Public Knowledge training sessions during Fall 2016.

Guided by Mills, the workshops took place over five Saturdays from September through November and featured guest speakers who are professional story tellers, public relations experts and members of the news media. These guest speakers shared communications concepts and supervised hands-on training, all aimed at making participants better communicators. Upon conclusion of the workshops, Public Knowledge participants received certification that they are media trained.

Those who attended the workshops were appreciative of the initiative and the opportunities to share their scholarly work.

“There are quite a few things I’ve learned from the workshops that I could take away,” said José Rodríguez, a professor of communication studies who was a member of the first cohort. “I would definitely recommend this to colleagues because it helps us to translate what we do in terms of research and the classroom into messages that can be useful to help promote the university.”

University leaders feel that aspect of the initiative is critical.

“I think it’s really vital to do a better job of informing the people who actually write our budgets about what the role of a university really is,” said President Jane Close Conoley, who gave introductory remarks at the opening of the first workshop.

With the workshops concluded, Conoley also hosted a reception where newly trained Public Knowledge practitioners received certificates acknowledging they had completed the training. Lowe received the first Public Knowledge Champion Award for his commitment to sharing scholarly work with the public.

Mills will continue to work with the Public Knowledge practitioners to share their scholarly work with the news media and public, and the next series of workshops are scheduled to return next fall.

President Conoley shared how important the initiative is and voiced her enthusiasm for Public Knowledge.

“I am absolutely committed to this and I am looking for ways to create more support for it and extend it,” she said.

Faculty and graduate students interested in participating in Public Knowledge training or to gain insight into how to better communicate their research can contact Mills here.