Rising: Saving the world with science communication

three students pose in front of the Allen Hall staircase
SOJC students Liz Sgro, Lily Wong and Luke Southall are co-leaders of the Rising Project, a UO student organization dedicated to helping students take sustainable action in their personal lives. Photo by Jeremy Parker.

In a world that is slowly melting, understanding scientific topics is more important than ever. But if scientists don’t know how to communicate their findings to the world, there is little hope of helping people comprehend the stakes we are facing.

The Rising Project is a UO student organization intended to make science communication easier to understand.

“Our goal is to make this information digestible and empower students to make climate-conscious decisions that inspire real change in the world,” said Lily Wong, an advertising major and one of the club’s three leaders.

Getting people to take sustainable action in their personal lives relies on their belief that they can make a difference in the world. That’s where Rising comes in.

Each term, the club’s members take on new projects designed to show how small steps can make a big impact.

“I think that people are often turned off by the idea of climate change and their role in it because they think it's so big,” said Liz Sgro, another one of the club’s leaders. “So something we try to reiterate is that there are small changes you can make. And while they may be small, they are easy, and we can all do them together.”

several student members of UO Rising make silly faces
The Rising Project, a student organization dedicated to helping students make climate-conscious decisions, has grown to 30 members this year. Photo courtesy of the Rising Project.

Members welcome from around the university

The latest iteration of Rising’s journey began at the end of spring term 2023, when three sophomores, Lily Wong, Liz Sgro and Luke Southall, found themselves the heirs of a club with big dreams, but not exactly a well-known name.

Rising has gone through many transformations since it started in 2022, said Sgro, an advertising and public relations major. Initially it was a club for advertising majors, specifically focused on connecting advertising principles to science communication. It was a great fit at the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), which is also home to the Center for Science Communication Research and a science communication minor.

The club was made up of a group of students who talked about things, but it had very little structure, Sgro said. The club wasn’t getting much traction on projects, so the leaders felt like the membership — and the goals — of the club should be broadened. “Science goes beyond the journalism school,” Sgro said. So they opened up membership to every student on campus.

The club now has 30 members from around the university who are all very excited to learn about science communication, which is the whole point of Rising, Sgro said.

“It’s amazing to have a group of people that are super nice and encouraging. They all care about the issue without making it radical. We spark conversations, not opinions,” Sgro said.

Documentaries and social posts help students make small changes

Rising members kicked off fall term by creating short documentaries encouraging students to make small changes in their lives to better the environment. Focused on the statement "I can do that,” the documentaries were designed to illustrate how students can participate in practical sustainability while still living their lives as college students.

digital graphic that says "Handwashing or Dishwasher? Dishwashers use 5x less the amount of water than handwashing dishes uses"
The Rising Project uses fun graphics on social media designed to educate people about simple ways they can make a difference. Even washing dishes involves sustainable choices. Image courtesy of the Rising Project.

The documentary topics ranged from easy, sustainable recipes that students can make to instructions on how to properly dispose of cans, bottles and jugs. The documentaries, which are posted on Rising’s website, are meant to be short, fun and relatable.

“If you paint it to people as simple changes they can make, it's a little bit more decipherable and more approachable,” said Southall, and advertising major.

Winter term brought the club to new heights, with more people joining, and excitement increasing about what the club could become. Members worked on a variety of projects, including Topics of the Week, hosted on Instagram @uorising.

“Someone will bring in a pretty heavy scientific topic, and we’ll brainstorm ways to make the content easier for people to understand.” Southall said.

A recent Topic of the Week dissected the environmental effects of light pollution, outlining three simple things that readers can do to reduce their impact. Another offered ways to camp without leaving a trace and another compared the water used in handwashing dishes to using a dishwasher. Spoiler alert: Dishwashers use less water than washing dishes in the sink.

Get involved to make a difference

The group is also working with Clean Creatives, a New York-based advertising agency that actively encourages advertising and public relations agencies to cut ties to fossil fuel organizations. Rising members are asking PR and ad students on campus to sign an online pledge promising never to work for fossil-fuel sponsored agencies in their careers.

several students collaborate in a large classroom
Student members of the Rising Project brainstorm ways to make science topics easier to understand through clear science communication. The team has created documentaries and fun social posts to make sustainability choices easier to grasp. Photo courtesy of the Rising Project.

This term, the club will put on an event on Earth Day on the EMU green. “We're focusing on ways to exemplify science and climate change in a way that's engaging,” said Southall, an advertising major. “It’s evolving. Stay tuned!”

Rising’s story has just started a new chapter, and there is an exciting future ahead, say the three leaders, who affectionately refer to themselves as the three Ls. They have big goals for the club and want Rising to be known as a place where students can come from across campus and band together around a shared desire for a cleaner future.

“I want it to be something that a lot of people view as very open,” Sgro said. “That no matter who you are or what you care about, you can join these conversations. It can be a safe space for you to have fun with it and not concentrate on climate change as being such a scary thing.”

As for the big picture, Rising has the potential to be a major catalyst for change. “If we can play a role in making that research and those cutting-edge topics easier to digest, then people can have their own conversations,” Sgro said.

Want to join the club or learn more? Rising applications are open to any UO student in any major. Direct message @uorising on Instagram or email uorisingproject@gmail.com.

—By Kaia Mikulka, class of '26

Kaia Mikulka is an advertising major, a member of the School of Journalism and Communication direct-admit program, and a member of Clark Honors College. Her passions include design and art direction and their intersection with technology and psychology. She is also a designer for Allen Hall Advertising.