S-D1 How Telling Stories About Our Work Help Us Do It Better

The food-energy-water nexus is subject to catastrophe: flood, drought, loss of power, failure of crops. Our system-by-system reductionist approach is also subject to failure as these systems are not just complicated, but complex. Rather than waiting until catastrophe to react, this session focuses on the use of storytelling as a way to motivate action and change. Drawing on different perspectives —communication and the media; game theory, role playing, and simulation; and facilitation and conflict management—this session explores how storytelling can break through this complexity. Speakers will also engage the audience on how they might be able to use storytelling and stories in their own work.

Moderator: Lara Fowler, Senior Lecturer, Pennsylvania State Law and Research Fellow, Pennsylvania State Institutes of Energy and the Environment


  • Beth Karlin, Research Director, Norman Lear Center, University of Southern California
  • Liz Neeley, Executive Director, Story Collider
  • Thomas Seager, Associate Professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; Lincoln Fellow of Ethics and Sustainability, Schools of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University

Lara Fowler is a mediator/attorney focused on environmental issues, including all things water. Prior to joining Penn State in 2012, she worked on public policy issues for the Oregon Water Resources Department, attended the University of Washington School of Law, and practiced with a law firm in Seattle. She now holds a joint appointment as a Senior Lecturer at Penn State Law and a Research Fellow with the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment where she is researching how water and conflict play out in a region that includes Marcellus Shale development, the Chesapeake Bay, and flood prone rivers. (814-865-4806, lbf10@psu.edu Twitter: @fowler_lara)

Beth Karlin’s current projects include investigating climate communication, documentary film, digital activism, and science engagement. In addition to her role at the Lear Center, Dr. Karlin works with government, private, and non-profit organizations on strategy, implementation, and evaluation of behavioral programs, and lectures regularly on Transformational Media and the Psychology of Sustainability. Prior to joining the Lear Center, Beth previously founded and directed the Transformational Media Lab with the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs at the University of California, Irvine and spent a decade working in K-12 education as a teacher, counselor, curriculum developer and school administrator. (bethkarlin@gmail.com)

Liz Neeley leads an organization focusing on true, personal stories of science told live on stage. Her team includes producers, actors, comedians, teachers and PhD researchers. Story Collider blends the best ideas from the arts with the strongest research on communication. Over the past ten years, Beth has specialized in environmental science, journalism, and social media. In her workshops, coaching, speaking, and writing, she is always searching for the best ways of spreading ideas through influential networks and delights in good data, beautiful ideas, and gorgeous design. (LizNeeley@StoryCollider.org Twitter: @LizNeeley)

Thomas Seager leads a project funded by the National Science Foundation that applies game theory to develop new strategies for teaching ethical reasoning skills relevant to sustainability to science and engineering graduate students. This project interprets sustainability primarily as an ethical concept, and places students in noncooperative game situations that confront the salient problems of sustainability, such as intergenerational equity and weak vs. strong formulations of the sustainability concept. Dr. Seager also conducts research related to environmental decision analysis, and the life-cycle environmental impacts of alternative energy technologies. (Thomas.Seager@asu.edu; Twitter: @seagertp)

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