CELS Professor Explores Nexus of Ecology and Rhetoric

Caroline HeadshotGrowing up lifeguarding and kayaking on Lake Michigan, Dr. Caroline Gottschalk Druschke was drawn to the outdoors at an early age. Her keen awareness of the connection between urban and natural environments and her fascination with language led to an academic career in which Druschke has distinguished herself as a leading expert on science communication both at the University of Rhode Island and abroad.

In just a few short years, Druschke has made her mark at URI by helping to advance the important connection between writing, rhetoric, and the sciences. In addition to creating new courses on science communication and public engagement, Druschke has contributed to the establishment of a rhetorically based science-writing program and the expansion of multidisciplinary partnerships across colleges at the university. In her dual-college role, she is also working with colleagues to develop a new graduate certificate in science writing and to weave environmental communication more explicitly into the Masters of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) program.

Druschke earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she was also a graduate trainee in a National Science Foundation-funded Landscape, Ecological and Anthropogenic Processes IGERT program focused on urban ecology. The interdisciplinary traineeship allowed Druschke to deepen her understanding of the critical interdependence between human and ecologic processes.

A few years after joining URI in 2011 as an Assistant Professor of Community-Based and Interdisciplinary Writing in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, part of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, Druschke was able to create a joint appointment with the Department of Natural Resources Science (NRS) in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS). The joint appointment has enabled her to use her background in rhetoric to study and teach about the human dimensions of natural resource management.

“One of the things that I really love about URI is that it is actually possible to do more interdisciplinary work here,” says Druschke of her experience collaborating with faculty and staff across both colleges.  “We’re big enough to have the resources, yet small enough that we need to work together.”

“Caroline has been an invaluable resource for the NRS department, providing insight into the complex human dimensions that arise within ecosystem management and stakeholder engagement,” says Dr. Arthur Gold, Chair of the NRS department. “We are lucky to have her.”

Working with faculty from the Departments of Nutrition & Food Sciences, Natural Resources Science, and Writing and Rhetoric, Druschke played an integral role in launching the innovative SciWrite@URI initiative at the university. The project, funded by a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation, aims to implement a new writing-intensive model for graduate training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines. The program allows cohorts of graduate students, faculty fellows, and faculty mentors to participate in workshops, courses, and internships with an emphasis on both academic and public writing. With her colleagues, Druschke plans to grow the SciWrite@URI program and establish the first ever Graduate Science Writing Center at the university, leading the way to help the next generation of young scientists become better science communicators.

Druschke in France with a pro-dam sign: “These lakes are in danger of disappearing. Admire…and join us to save them!”

Her passion for studying the nexus of language and science is also evident in her work as part of a $6 million federal grant to study the future of dams in New England. The Future of Dams initiative, a four-year project in partnership with Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and universities in New Hampshire and Maine, enables Druschke and other CELS faculty to examine the social, cultural, and environmental tradeoffs that are involved in removing and retrofitting outdated dams in the region. Druschke’s research examines the roles of public perception, science communication, and public engagement in community decision-making associated with dams.

In addition to crossing state boundaries, the project also transcends national borders, allowing Druschke and the Future of Dams team to work with a group of researchers under leadership from the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers studying similar issues of dam removal in northwestern France. The international partnership allows for shared research questions and fieldwork, as well as comparative work related to governance and media coverage of issues surrounding dams.

With the Future of Dams project now in its second year, Druschke looks forward to collaborating with researchers from around the world, and to further developing interdisciplinary partnerships with her colleagues at URI and at RISD.  

Whether it is internationally or at home, Druschke’s work is at the forefront of efforts to bring deeper insight to the relationship of rhetoric and ecology. “I think there’s a lot to be explored,” Druschke says. “There are two thousand years of rich overlaps between the fields, and we have only just scratched the surface.”