Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

2021-22 Taylor/Blakeslee Fellows pursue journalism with a passion for science, justice

Six talented journalists passionate about science, health, the environment, and social justice have been awarded prestigious Taylor/Blakeslee University Fellowships for 2021–22 from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Each will receive a $5,000 academic year award to support graduate training in science writing. Their selection brings to 178 the number of science writers aided by CASW’s graduate fellowships since 1981.

Chosen for the fellowships from a record field of 36 outstanding applicants were:

Iris M. Crawford (@IrisMCrawford) will begin MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing this fall. “What brings me to science journalism is seeing the ways in which bias and racism, particularly within the realms of environmental and biomedical science, continue to have lasting effects on communities such as my own,” she says. As a science journalist she wants to be part of the solution. In applying for the fellowship, she wrote: “That means exposing the truth, shifting the narrative so that it is rooted in equity, and most importantly, holding power accountable.” A first-generation Guyanese-American, Iris intends to become an investigative environmental science journalist and hopes to rebuild and strengthen trust in science among communities of color. Her work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Yes! Magazine, and The Crisis Magazine, and she has written for InvestigateWest and The Oaklandside. She earned a BA in political science and African American studies at Syracuse University.

James Dinneen (@jamesNESW) will also start the MIT science writing program in the fall. Once a dramaturg who wrote and directed plays about environmental peril, James shifted his focus after realizing that science writing could have the same narrative power as theater but engage environmental concerns in a more direct way. As a freelance science and environmental journalist, he has covered stories “that highlight the strange and alarming changes of the Anthropocene.” Along the way, he has “learned to understand science not as an institutional monolith, but as a community of people with diverse histories and motivations.” He looks forward to going deeper through graduate study and is interested in pursuing long-form projects. James has published stories in Discover Magazine, Popular Science, Smithsonian, Undark Magazine, Mongabay, and bioGraphic, among others. He has a BA in history and philosophy from Colorado College.

Lindsey Leake (@NewsyLindsey) is pursuing a master’s in science writing at Johns Hopkins University. The onset of the COVD-19 pandemic coincided with her first semester as a part-time student there and forced her to become a trial-by-fire health journalist for TCPalm, the USA TODAY affiliate covering the Treasure Coast of Florida. “Each day at work I utilized writing techniques and reporting strategies I’d studied the night before, the line between work and homework blurring with each passing week,” she recalled. A little more than year later, she is now TCPalm’s health, welfare, and social justice reporter. She believes that science communicators have never been more needed and hopes their value will be appreciated long after COVID-19, which, she says, “has exhumed a host of logjams and disparities in the American health care system.” As a biracial Black woman, Lindsey hopes to inspire other women of color in media and the sciences. Lindsey holds an MA in journalism and digital storytelling from American University and a BA in Italian with journalism from Princeton.

Brittney Miller (@BrittneyJMiller) will enter the science communication master's program at the University of California at Santa Cruz this fall. As a student at the University of Florida, Brittney has creatively pursued her interest in science writing. She created her own journey through the field with a double major in biology and journalism, has written for the school’s independent newspaper, and has covered environmental issues for WUFT News, the university's National Public Radio affiliate. She was also a communication and reporting intern at the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute, where she curated environmental feature stories, blog posts, and social media content. Brittney will graduate with a BS in May before heading to Santa Cruz, where she looks forward to courses in investigative and policy reporting. She plans to pursue stories about environmental injustice. “My hope is that my words can make a difference in the connection between my readers and the natural world around them,” she wrote.

Isabel Ruehl (@IsabelRuehl) will pursue a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School, specializing in the Stabile Program for Investigative Journalism. Based on her family experiences with autism advocacy, she is interested in writing about health and disability rights. “By dispelling ignorance, stories compel readers to engage and react," Isabel wrote. "I want to examine disability rights violations and flawed healthcare systems, developments in medicine and technologies, and the social vectors that impact all facets of health and medicine.” Isabel completed an master of philosophy degree in health, medicine and society at Cambridge University to prepare herself for the next step: studying health and disability reporting at Columbia. She also holds a BA in English from Harvard.

Graycen Wheeler (@GraycenWheeler) will enter the science communication program at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the fall after completing a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder in May. Throughout graduate school, Graycen discovered that writing articles for Science Buffs, the university’s student STEM blog, greatly bolstered her enthusiasm for science. She is now the blog’s editor-in-chief and co-creater of its companion science news podcast, for which she is host, editor, and producer. “It has been such a genuine pleasure to learn about and report on other people’s science throughout graduate school," she wrote. "What a delight it is to spend some time wandering around in someone else’s science story. What an honor to borrow someone else’s excitement and build a narrative around it.” Ultimately Graycen hopes to share her excitement for science through broadcast media. She holds a BS in biochemistry from the University of Oklahoma.

CASW's graduate fellowships are underwritten by a grant from The Brinson Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropic organization. They honor the late Rennie Taylor and Alton Blakeslee, science writer and science editor respectively for The Associated Press.