Journalism master’s student Herbert DaCosta awarded fellowship to help educate public about climate change

Herbert DaCostaHerbert DaCosta, a graduate student in the journalism master’s degree program, was awarded the 2023-24 Thornton Tomasetti Foundation Technical Literacy Fellowship for his exceptional submittal to help the wider public understand and connect with climate change. DaCosta is a research development manager at the University of Illinois Office of Proposal Development. 

The fellowship offers up to $5,000 in funding for projects that further the public’s technical literacy on environmental issues and other topics. Submittals were reviewed by Jim Glanz, New York Times international investigative reporter; Richard L. Tomasetti, consultant and founding principal; and Elisabeth Malsch, managing principal of Thornton Tomasetti, Inc.

DaCosta said he plans to use the fellowship to carry out the research needed to write about climate change in a way that a broader audience can understand. 

“The fact that there is a significant percentage of the population who believes that climate change is a hoax means that we still have a large gap to reach when it comes to the academic community to reach [people’s] minds and hearts,” DaCosta said. “It is possible that although the academic community has sent out the message, it was not in a way in which the public could relate and understand. My goal is to give a small contribution to narrow that gap.”

“We’re extremely proud of Herbert for earning this fellowship where he can make an impact by improving how journalists communicate environmental issues to the public,” said Mira Sotirovic, associate professor and Karin and Folke Dovring Scholar in Propaganda, and head of the Department of Journalism. The Department of Journalism has prioritized the study of science and technology journalism, creating an online curriculum that begins Fall 2023.

In his current job, DaCosta supports the Illinois research community in the development of large and multidisciplinary grant proposals. The position, which he’s held since 2017, has been a great fit for DaCosta, who is a trained scientist with a passion for writing. 

After obtaining a PhD in chemistry with minors in physics and computer engineering from the University of Florida and a Doctor of Science in chemistry from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, DaCosta worked as an industrial research engineer. He developed novel catalytic converters to decrease regulated emissions from diesel engines and new technologies to capture carbon dioxide and to convert it into useful products. 

Realizing he liked writing more than research and development, DaCosta found a career in research development that allowed him to combine his science skills and his interest in writing.  

DaCosta plans to complete his master’s degree in journalism at Illinois next year. He said his goal is to be able to “write about science for the wider community and to become better at assisting the Illinois research community in the development of large grant proposals.” 

DaCosta feels it’s important to be able to communicate science and technology concepts clearly to educate others. 

“Learning is more effective when the new lessons learned are built on previous knowledge,” he said. “Also, learning is enabling, in many ways. The more one learns, the more one can learn.”

—Kelly Youngblood