New journalism lecturer and science writer Nancy Averett strives to highlight humanity behind research

Nancy AverettAs an independent science journalist for the last 17 years, Nancy Averett has dedicated her career to writing about the intersection where science and humanity connect. 

The award-winning reporter, who has a passion for the “sociological side of science and putting a human face on it,” says her secret weapon as a science writer is simple—she’s not a scientist. Instead, she views herself as a translator, reaching into the minds of scientists, engineers, and doctors to explain how their research will impact people. 

She’s looking forward to sharing that passion with students and fellow faculty this fall as a new lecturer in the Department of Journalism.

Averett, who has been published in Scientific American, Discover, The Nation, and other magazines, will teach three courses this fall: Science Journalism, Intro to Journalism, and Newsgathering across Platforms.

Averett will bring a breadth of experience to the classroom, having served as an adjunct instructor at Miami University of Ohio, where she designed and taught courses in news writing, editing, and feature writing.

In addition to teaching and mentoring young journalists, Averett was one of five journalists selected by a national nonprofit in 2019 to teach a workshop for scientists on how to communicate better with the press. She has always found teaching to be a worthwhile pursuit. 

“I just found all of those [teaching] experiences pretty rewarding,” said Averett, who is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and Society of Environmental Journalists.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in international affairs at the University of Colorado, Averett went on to obtain a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. 

For the next 10 years, Averett worked as a reporter at three daily newspapers including the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri; the North Jersey Herald & News in New Jersey; and the Morning Call in Pennsylvania. She was recognized with awards for her writing at each post. 

With aspirations to write more long-form articles for magazines, Averett ventured into freelance writing, publishing her first articles in Runner’s World. Soon after, she attended an American Society of Journalists and Authors conference where she met other freelance writers and learned many of them were covering science news.

“After a while [I thought], I want to do what they’re doing. Their stories are really cool,” she said.

Averett started to pitch story ideas to Audubon magazine and “did a lot of writing about birds.” She also began to write for university publications.

From there, Averett focused on writing about wildlife, climate change, and environmental science, gaining recognition at top national publications including Sierra, Undark, and Mother Jones.

Her extensive journalism experience also includes working as the Midwest Climate Reporting Fellow for the Food & Environment Reporting Network, writing breaking news and long-form stories about climate change and agriculture, food production, and land rights issues. 

In 2020, she won first place for Outstanding Feature Story from the Society of Environmental Journalists for an article on air quality and industry titled “Undone Science: When Research Fails Polluted Communities.” That same year she also won the Robert G. Fenley Writing Award (silver) from the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

Averett says she will likely cut back on freelance work to focus on teaching, and perhaps, to pursue a long-held dream of writing a book. 

For now, she’s thinking about ways to help students realize the importance of effectively communicating science.

“We’ve got to find a way to excite people about science and understand really how science works,” Averett said. “I think being science literate would basically save lives.” 

—Kelly Youngblood