Scientific Storytelling

Kenyon will develop a science-writing initiative with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

By Mary Keister

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Kenyon a $150,000 grant to support a science-writing initiative that will empower students to clearly and artfully articulate important scientific topics to a general audience. 

The grant, matched with Kenyon funds, provides a solid foundation for a top-flight writing initiative that will encourage strong collaboration among the sciences and the humanities for compelling scientific storytelling. Through the initiative, students from all disciplines will hone their ability to explain their research and to inspire discovery and deeper understanding of a range of scientific pursuits. 

“This Mellon grant will help Kenyon expand its already renowned writing program, positioning the College as a premier destination for students and faculty interested in science writing,” President Sean Decatur said. “Importantly, it also recognizes a pressing need in our society for skilled storytellers who can unravel complex scientific issues for a general audience. I’m grateful to the Mellon Foundation for helping Kenyon galvanize this initiative.”

The grant will support the development of humanities-based science writing curricula, building on recent grassroots work by English and biology faculty to create team-taught science-writing courses. Those courses have drawn students from every academic division to explore genres ranging from nature writing to biomedical narrative, and to practice communicating about pressing scientific topics. The Mellon funds will provide Kenyon faculty with the resources needed to design and teach new science-writing courses and to coordinate regular science-writing symposia and workshops. 

Funds from the grant will support the appointments of emerging science writers, especially those who have recently graduated from master’s-level science-writing programs, as visiting faculty members. They will be charged with teaching, sharing pedagogical best practices and cultivating a vibrant literary science community at Kenyon. The grant also will support short-term visitors who are renowned science writers. 

“With this initiative, we will continue to break down the false dichotomy between the humanities and the sciences, while demonstrating the value of the liberal arts in connecting disparate disciplines for a more holistic view of the world. I’m grateful to the Mellon Foundation for recognizing and rewarding the importance of this work,” Provost Joseph L. Klesner said.

Kenyon students have already demonstrated their desire for humanities-based science-writing courses, quickly filling the rosters of the College’s three team-taught science writing courses that have so far been offered. In 2018, the Kenyon Review extended the interdisciplinary approach to high school students,  debuting a national summer science-writing workshop for young writers interested in learning to tell compelling stories about nature and other scientific topics. Inspired in part by these efforts, Kenyon students founded Lyceum, their own literary science journal. 

To date, the Mellon Foundation has awarded Kenyon College and its affiliated Gund Gallery 23 grants totaling more than $7 million. Recent grants include $400,000 to support a digital storytelling initiative and $800,000 for development of a community engagement center.