logosPublic Engagement & Science Communication (PESC) is dedicated to providing an integrated approach to science communication research, communications education, and stakeholder outreach, with particular attention to water science and policy. In partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Water Policy, PESC combines the efforts of interdisciplinary researchers who draw on methods in communication studies, information science, science and technology policy, environmental studies, and freshwater science in order to pursue a broad array of initiatives. PESC researchers are currently focusing on three broad areas of inquiry:

  • Science and environmental policy deliberation and decision-making
  • Transdisciplinary approaches to address wicked problems
  • Public engagement with water science and policy

In addition to our research initiatives, PESC is also devoted to science communication education serving the School of Freshwater Sciences, UWM, and the broader Milwaukee area.


Check out the PESC Guide for practical advice on effective approaches to science communication and public engagement.


You can also improve your science communication skills through participating in one of PESC’s workshops. Programs include:

  • Research Poster Design Workshop
  • Presenting Water Science
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Professional Development Workshop

S. Scott Graham is a Water Policy Scholar with the School of Freshwater Science’s Center for Water Policy and an associate professor in scientific and technical communications at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research primarily explores how experts and public stakeholders communicate about matters of risk and uncertainty, especially in the contexts of science and environmental policy decision-making.


Affiliate Researchers
Daniel J. Card is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There he studies technical communication, science communication, and rhetorics of science, technology, and medicine. His current research focuses on identifying and assessing approaches to science communication and public engagement. He is particularly interested in the communication of risk and uncertainty and policy deliberation.


Dani DeVasto is a doctoral student in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her primary research focuses on risk and hazard communication before and during natural disasters such as earthquakes. She also studies composition pedagogy, visuality and rhetoric, artist statements, feminist theory, and rhetoric of science.


keithBill Keith is the PESC associate director and a professor in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His current research centers on the role of rhetoric and communication in public deliberation, with a focus on the intellectual and pedagogical history of the speech communication field. His recent work includes scholarship on the role of expertise in democracy.

kesslerMolly Kessler is an assistant professor at the University of Memphis. Her research interests include rhetoric of medicine, rhetoric of science, new materialisms, critical/cultural theory, and body image studies. Her work examines various medical contexts through to analyze how the body and medical technologies influence patients’ treatments, quality of care, and quality of life.

rebeccaRebecca Klaper is a professor at the School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Director of the Great Lakes Genomics Center. She conducts basic and applied research to inform policy involving freshwater resources and studies the impact of emerging contaminants such as nanoparticles and pharmaceuticals on aquatic life and how we may design chemicals to minimize their environmental impact.

Emily_TynerEmily Tyner is a doctoral student in the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She studies linkages between research, funding sources, the media, and policy. Her work has focused on the impacts of invasive mussels on benthic oxygen in Lake Michigan and a study of nearshore fecal contamination and sanitation practices at fishing villages on Lake Malawi, Africa.


Research Assistants

kpKristiana Perleberg is a masters student in scientific and technical communications at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research interests include studying the complex relationship between scientific controversy and the media, rhetoric of science, and rhetoric of medicine.


Geoffrey Gimse is a doctoral student in professional and technical communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interests include the social impacts of digital architecture, data structures, media management systems, and participatory culture in online and offline spaces. His current work examines the evolving relationships between digital technology, publics, organizations, and the individuals that comprise and build them.



Current Research


Environmental Regulation at the FDA 

fda-evalRecent research indicates that endocrine-disruptive pharmaceuticals and and pharmaceuticals byproducts have serious adverse effects on our natural environment and waterways. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for environmental oversight of prescription drugs products, it is essential that its evaluative approach effectively balances human health needs with environmental consequences. PESC researchers are currently conducting an assessment of FDA environmental regulatory procedures in order to identify possible sites of intervention. Funding provided by the Argosy Foundation. Project Lead: Rebecca Klaper

Wicked Problems and Transdisciplinary Team Science 

Web_Scott-Graham_111x150Effectively addressing wicked problems, that is, those arising from complex multifactorial biological, envrionmental and socioeconomic causes, requires transdisicplinary team science. However, significant bodies of research point to substantial difficulties in cultivating transdisciplinary collaboration. Accordingly, PESC reserachers are engaged in the ongoing study of effective strategies for catalyizing team science. In particular, PESC focuses on modifying Systems Ethnography and Qualitative Modeling (SEQM) for wicked problems. SEQM protocols were initially designed to catalyze transdisciplinary responses to national defense concerns. We are currently investigating adapting these protocols to address cancer–obesity comorbidity and risk coincidence. Funding for this project has been provided by the UWM Center for 21st Century Studies. Project Lead: Scott Graham

Public Deliberation and the L’Aquila Earthquake

hazardOn October 22, 2012, six scientists and one civil servant were convicted on charges of manslaughter for failing to properly warn the people of L’Aquila, Italy, of an impending earthquake that resulted in over 300 deaths and 1500 injuries. This ongoing project investigates public participation at key events leading up to this conviction, including an emergency meeting of scientists, civil servants, and politicians that was convened to determine whether or not an advanced warning should have been issued to the residents of L’Aquila. Our investigation of this emergency meeting explores the primary breakdown in deliberation that ultimately led to a message of calm and reassurance immediately prior to the devastating earthquake. The results of our study provide insights into not only the events in L’Aquila but also broader issues of risk, uncertainty, fact, and value in science-policy deliberation. Project Lead: Dani DeVasto.

Drugs Advisory Committee Decision Making

drugsIn recent years, concerns have been raised over the closeness of industry-regulator ties at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there has been very little research conducted to explore the practices of one of the primary interfaces between the FDA and pharmaceuticals companies: Drugs Advisory Committees. Accordingly, PESC is currently conducting a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of drugs advisory committee deliberation and decision making. Funding for this project has been made available by the UWM Research Growth Initiative. Project Lead: Scott Graham

From Science to Policy: Micro-Plastics in Personal Care Products  

While many scientists hope their research will eventually have broad impacts on policy and society, the pathways between publication and policy uptake are seldom straightforward. Accordingly, PESC researchers are developing network models of scientific publications and their dissemination within and beyond scholarly communities. Current work is focusing on the science that lead to the US’s Micro-Bead Free Waters Act of 2015. This project will help communication researchers and scientists alike better understand which kind of publications and which dissemination pathways are most likely to lead to policy. Project Lead: Emily Tyner

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and the Modified Body

The goal of this project is to identify the ways in which female Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) patients, who have had substantial modifications to their digestive tract (e.g., removal of some or all of their large intestine, appendix, gall bladder, etc.), feel and talk about their bodies as they are transformed through technologies like j-pouches and stomas (medical devices used to collect waste when the colon has been significantly altered or removed). This study further aims to identify how the use of these medical technologies affects patients’ body image.The results of this study will help to identify intervention strategies that more appropriately treat women with IBD both physically and mentally. Project Lead: Molly Kessler


PESC Publications and Presentations


Graham, S.S., Harley, A. Kessler, M.M., Roberts, L., DeVasto, D., Card, D.J., Neuner, J.M, & Kim, S.-Y. (forthcoming). Catalyzing transdisciplinarity: A systems ethnography of cancer-obesity comorbidity and risk coincidence. Qualitative Heath Research.

DeVasto, D., Graham, S.S., Zamparutti, L. A. (2016). Stasis and matters of concern: The conviction of the L’Aquila Seven. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30(2), 131-164.

Graham, S.S., Kim, S-Y., DeVasto, D.M. & Keith, W. (2015). Statistical genre analysis: Toward big data methodologies in technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly. 24: 70-104.

Kelly, A.R., Fanning, S.N., Kessler, M.M., Graham, S.S. & Card, D.J. (2015). Expertise and data in the articulation of risk. Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry. 11(1).

Graham, S.S. & Teston, C.B. (2014). From stakeholders to experts: A careful approach to democratizing pharmaceuticals policy. In J. Goodwin, M. Dahlstrom & S. Priest, Eds. Ethical Issues in Science Communication: A Theory-Based Approach. Proceedings of a symposium at Iowa State University. (pp. 81-96). Ames, IA: Science Communication Project.


Evans, R., Weinel, M. Williams, S. Deepanwit, D., Graham, S.S. (2015). The values of expertise: Studies of expertise and experience in practice. Seventh International Conference on Science in Society. Chicago, Il.

Card, D.J., Kessler, M.M., DeVasto, D., Roberts, L., Olson, M.K. & Graham, S.S. (2015). Laboratories and lived experiences: Assessing patient inclusion in FDA pharmaceuticals regulation. National Communication Association. Las Vegas, NV.

Kessler, M.M., Graham, S.S., Card, D.J., Keith, W., Anderson, C. (2014). Packaging risk of innovation adoption: A rhetorical-ethnography of continuing medical education. Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology. Chicago, Il.

Graham, S.S., Card, D., Kessler, M.M., Keith, W.M., Kim, S-Y., & Hartke D. (2014). The effects of differential inclusion on FDA pharmaceuticals policy deliberation. National Communication Association. Chicago, Il.

*note: PESC was formerly known as SAMComm and some publications list this earlier title.


PESC is actively recruiting new members, affiliate researchers, and community partners. If you are interested in becoming involved with PESC, please contact us today.

S. Scott Graham, PhD
Director of Public Engagement & Science Communication
School of Freshwater Sciences 2003D