Communicating technical content to a non-technical audience is becoming a highly sought-after skill within the STEM workforce and also a critical component of the general well-being of society. STEM-related innovations fuel the modern economy and are increasingly becoming embedded in everyone’s lives. When STEM knowledge is created and used to develop systems that impact society, it is critical that the population at large understand how STEM research is funded, how it is critical to society, and how if left unchecked, its unintended side-effects can lead to problems on a scale that can seem insurmountable. When the non-STEM population does not have a general understanding of the STEM field, it leads to a void in scientific engagement within the citizenship and results in a population that does not strongly support nor champion STEM-related policies. This can lead to a STEM community that is susceptible to influence by either ill-informed or ill-intentioned polices that can be designed for the benefit of a small portion of society at the expense of the majority. In this paper we describe an on-going project that aims to increase the oral communication skills of STEM graduate students by creating a training program that pulls knowledge on listener engagement from the improvisational acting community. The program, called STEM Storytellers, puts the onus of educating the non-STEM population on the STEM community itself. Instead of trying to make the entire population STEM experts, this program seeks to create a STEM workforce that can communicate critical information to a non-STEM audience. This program is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Trainee (NRT) program within the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGT) track. This program is currently in its first year at a medium-sized land grant institution. This paper will describe the first-year activities including a fellowship program where STEM graduate students are trained by an improv acting troop on engaging storytelling techniques, components of a compelling story, and reducing technical jargon. This paper will be of interest to STEM faculty that wish to improve graduate student oral communication skills and are seeking novel programs that are being pilot tested at other universities.
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