Casey O’Hara has worked in the roles of high school science teacher; musician in Bren School’s Brengrass band; medical-device developer; award-winning documentary filmmaker; and Bren School master’s student. This summer he’s tackling a new role back in his hometown of Portland, Ore., putting his Bren education to good use as a science news reporter at The Oregonian newspaper.
O’Hara is one of 15 students nationwide to be awarded a Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the 40th year that AAAS has assigned science and engineering scholars to top newsrooms for summer reporting jobs.
Since the program’s inception, more than 625 student scientists, engineers and medical professionals have been supported. In some cases, AAAS says, the fellows have produced the only original science-news reporting at their assigned media outlets over the summer.
O’Hara and the 14 other fellows were selected from a pool of 130 outstanding applicants. Collectively, the fellows are likely to generate 200 to 300 original science stories for print articles, blogs, podcasts, radio segments and multimedia features.
O’Hara, whose focus at Bren was the school’s new Strategic Environmental Communications and Media emphasis, said he learned about the fellowship opportunity from his brother, Corey O’Hara, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture at Tufts University.
“He realized that it was just the sort of thing I would be interested in,” he said.
The Bren alum is honored to have been selected, noting that AAAS “is one of the most well-respected organizations in promoting scientific collaboration, education, and outreach worldwide” and has supported many notable science communicators. Previous fellows include Erica Goode and Kenneth Chang of the New York Times; Richard Harris, David Kestenbaum, and Joe Palca of NPR; and renowned biologist Eric Lander, co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
“I am excited to have a chance to work with professional environmental journalists and editors at the Oregonian,” O’Hara said, “and to build a network with the other fellows in the program, who will be working at media organizations across the country.”
He headed off to Oregon after participating in Bren’s commencement ceremony, where he received his MESM degree and was honored with the University Award of Distinction and the MESM Academic Achievement Award.
During the summer, O’Hara will work with the editor of The Oregonian’s Investigations Team, focusing specifically on environmental issues.
“The Oregonian, like most newspapers, has shifted in large part to digital media," he said, "so I expect to be incorporating multimedia into my work over the summer as well.
“While my fellowship is technically a ‘Mass Media Science Fellowship’ through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, much of my writing has been on topics that cross between environmental science, policy, and management. So my Bren background has been invaluable. It has definitely prepared me well to communicate the bigger picture of these issues.”
Already a few weeks into the fellowship, Casey is doing just that, and has had a number of articles published.
Some of the topics he has reported on so far include mass bumblebee die-offs attributed to pesticides and starvation; funding for wolf conservation and livestock replacement; and tent caterpillars’ war with wasps and other natural enemies.
“I'm currently working on a story related to fishery management that I think fits in well with some of my Bren classes as well,” O’Hara said.
Once his fellowship is over, O’Hara hopes to continue working in the education field.
“Prior to UCSB/Bren, I taught high school physics and green tech engineering in the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said, adding that his goal is “to extend my career in education, working with other teachers and education professionals to improve environmental science education and outreach.”
For more information about the AAAS Fellowship, visit the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program website by clicking here. Click here to read about all 15 AAAS fellows.