Poulson retires from Knight Center

Dave Poulson, the senior associate director of the Knight Center, will retire Aug. 15 after more than 21 years on the MSU Journalism School faculty.

We at the J-School miss him already.

Poulson, a professor of practice, is the founder and editor of Great Lakes Echo, the Knight Center’s award-winning regional environmental news service. In recent years, he spearheaded the center’s initiatives to boost diversity among environmental journalism students and practitioners, securing grant support from the Mott Foundation and Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments program.

“Dave has been committed to the notion that knowledge about the environment belongs in the hands of everyone. He’s been a powerful science communicator – through Great Lakes Echo, the Knight Center and other news outlets – and a terrific science educator, helping those with scientific knowledge communicate that insight to the public,” J-School director Tim Vos said.

“Dave has done exactly what the center, School of Journalism and a land grant university would expect of a faculty member – disseminate meaningful information to the people who need to have it. He has been doing important work and doing it very well,” Vos said.

Poulson’s many contributions to the Knight Center reflect his wide range of experiences, the countless words and stories he has written as a journalist and instructor, and his deep interest in things international in our increasingly globalized world, center director Eric Freedman said.

“He preached the message that environmental reporting requires journalists to venture away from their computers and into the field because boots-on-the-ground reporting helps bring readers, listeners and viewers to the scene and makes environmental news more tangible to the public,” Freedman said.

Dave Poulson and Katie Coleman, then a Knight Center student, paddle on the Red Cedar River

Dave Poulson and Katie Coleman, then a Knight Center student, paddle on the Red Cedar River

Poulson also saw a key part of his mission at the center as helping science and environmental researchers to communicate effectively to lay audiences about the impact and importance of their own work, he said.

His students canoed rivers, mapped pollution sites and flew drones. They sifted computer data for trends and stream bottoms for macro-invertebrates. They created narratives for high-tech global data animations and produced a shadow puppet show to explain the history of the sea lamprey invasion of the Great Lakes. They interviewed scientists, activists and victims of the consequences of environmental threats. They wrote and rewrote.

And rewrote.

Poulson joined the center in 2003 after more than two decades as a professional reporter and editor, mostly covering the environment. His career took him to newspapers in Cheboygan, Holland, Port Huron and Lansing. For 12 years, he was the environment reporter at the capital bureau of Michigan’s Booth Newspaper chain, now MLive.

Center administrative assistant Barb Miller said, “Over the years I have observed Dave continually step up to any challenge presented to him as a teacher and administrator of programming here at the Knight Center. He has an ability to troubleshoot issues and navigate changing deadlines, not only for our workshops, but also for grant work, teaching and department committee work.”

“His contributions to the Knight Center and the School of Journalism are immeasurable,” Miller said.

Poulson takes pride in the career success of the students he mentored.

Among them is Katie Coleman, a Knight Center alum who is now director of strategic communications at a public affairs agency, where she creates messaging, content and strategy for  nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate clients

“What I remember most about Dave is that he treated me like I was a professional while I was still a student. He edited my work just as thoroughly as he would any reporter’s work,” Coleman said.

“He pushed me to consider my biases. He held me accountable for doing good work. And he did all that while still being extremely kind, approachable and funny. Somehow, when I saw a sea of hand-written ink on my drafts, I never felt devastated – I felt supported and respected,” she said.

As a faculty member, Poulson taught environmental, investigative, public affairs and data analysis reporting, and organized workshops in the U.S. and abroad, in India, Malawi, Tanzania, Peru, Chile and elsewhere to help journalists better report on the environment and to train researchers to better explain their work to the public.

He also was an instructor in Capital News Service, the J-School’s public affairs reporting practicum in which students report on Michigan government, politics and public policy for news outlets across the state.

Center research director Bruno Takahashi said, “I have fond memories of the times I worked with Dave training journalists and scientists how to effectively communicate about the environment and science. It was inspiring to see his experience and knowledge in full display, positively affecting the work of so many.”

“Dave is a generous colleague, always providing constructive and practical feedback to improve our collective efforts. I learned much from him during the years, particularly regarding environmental journalism and science communication teaching and practice,” Takahashi said.

In the classroom, Poulson was an early adopter of using the latest technologies and resources as part of teaching environmental reporting, including drones and NASA and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite imagery to tell stories that resonate with audiences and readers.

On the international front, he also led the J-School’s summer study abroad program on Australia’s media, environment and culture and collaborated on a documentary about the MSU alum who founded India’s largest milk cooperative.

In addition to Great Lakes Echo, Poulson built The Food Fix, a news and podcast service affiliated with MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation. Its title refers to the “fix” the world is in as it struggles to feed a growing population and refers to the “fix” that innovators – researchers and communicators – pursue to meet that challenge.

A former member of the board of directors of the Society for Environmental Journalism, he also has served on boards for Michigan Sea Grant, MSU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program and the university’s Global Water Initiative. He served on advisory boards for both the National Catholic Reporter’s Earthbeat and Boston University’s Religion and Environment Story Project.

Vos said, “He was a talented journalist who was able to transition to being an effective educator. That transition is harder than a lot of folks realize. But he did it well, and our students benefitted enormously.

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