The program, established in 1908 as the Department of Agricultural Journalism, recently moved into newly refurbished offices in Hiram Smith Hall, which was home to its publications unit for nearly two decades. To mark its centennial—and its return to a historic building—the unit hosted an open house on Sunday, April 20. The event included a formal rededication of Hiram Smith Hall, a Queen Anne-style structure built in 1892. Named for a visionary leader in the Wisconsin dairy industry, the building originally housed the nation’s first permanent dairy school, and its tenants included notable dairy scientists such as Stephen Babcock and Harry Russell.
Both Hiram Smith Hall and the Agricultural Journalism program were products of the College of Agriculture’s first dean—William Henry. Henry believed the college had a moral obligation to disseminate information on emerging agricultural research to citizens, and this became the department’s core focus. During the early 1900s, Agricultural Journalism operated one of the nation’s first agricultural radio stations, which sought to share news with Wisconsin’s rural populations. That connection with the public continues today through the involvement of professors like Larry Meiller (Wisconsin Public Radio) and Patty Loew (Wisconsin Public Television), and the scope has broadened to include a wider range of life sciences.
In 2000, the department adopted the name Life Sciences Communication to reflect this expanding focus on the effective communication of science-related issues—and the increasing importance of clearly communicated science in public discourse. Faculty teach and conduct research on issues such as the public perception of nanotechnology research and genetically modified foods, environmental communications, the design of effective public-health campaigns, and cross-cultural understandings of science.
“It’s a challenge,” says department chair Jacquie Hitchon McSweeney. “Yet it is absolutely vital.”
Sunday’s event was jointly held in Hiram Smith Hall and the Microbial Sciences Building. “We were inspired by the fact that you can see Hiram Smith Hall in the windows of the new Microbial Sciences Building,” says Hitchon McSweeney. “It helps to join the old and the new and the kind of community feeling that we have.”