#MasonCOMM Faculty, Chris Clarke, Combines His Love of Science and Communication

by Catherine Wright

#MasonCOMM Faculty, Chris Clarke, Combines His Love of Science and Communication

One thing you’ll quickly learn about Chris Clarke is his passion for the environment, and the recent COVID pandemic has broadened his research interests.  When he’s not researching and teaching, he spends time with his wife and dog.  This week, #MasonCOMM’s Friday Faculty Feature takes a look at the intersection of science and communication. 

Clarke arrived at Mason in 2012 and said he was, and continues to be, “amazed at how green everything is on campus. The landscaping always looks great, especially when spring and fall flowers are planted.”  His main work is with the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C), where his research allows him the opportunity to study a wide variety of topics.

Drawn to 4C and Mason because of his desire to contribute, Clarke found an academic home where he can make a difference.  While his office is not on the main campus, but he takes the time to walk or bike down to keep in touch with his peers and students and is an active part of our departmental life.    

His undergraduate degree is a BS in Environmental Policy from Rutgers University, and he earned both his MA and PhD in Communication from Cornell University.  When asked why he chose to do his advanced degrees in a different major than his undergraduate degree, Clarke replied, “I started freshman year of college in the same semester as 9/11 and the anthrax letters that were sent through the e-mail. Both events spurred my interest in how individuals think about, react to, and communicate about risk events of all types. It’s a passion that continues to this day, even if the specific issues of interest have shifted over the years.”

Clarke’s research focuses on “Understanding public perception of various risk topics and how we can develop more effective messages (and messengers) based on this insight.”  Throughout his career, he has studied many different aspects of climate, health, and risk communication.  More recently, he said, “much of the work these days is COVID-related, and I’m particularly interested in promoting COVID vaccination to as many people as possible, especially the skeptics and hesitant.”

The research he does is recognized world-wide and is well respected.  Clarke has published about 35 articles in peer-reviewed journals.  Asked if there was one article about which he was most proud, he replied, “I am proud of all of them, to be honest, but you always remember your first article, which for me was way back in 2006.”  During his undergraduate studies, he enrolled in a class where he wrote an undergraduate honor thesis that “reviewed communication goals and strategies that Rutgers University used to communicate the threat of bioterrorism to the university community in the fall of 2001. It was published in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism – an awesome name, I think!”        

When not researching, he teaches several different courses as Mason and oversees several graduate students who teach courses in which he has expertise.  Clarke teaches undergraduate Research Methods as well as Media Theory.  In the past, he also taught Mason’s popular Environmental Communication course.  At the graduate level, Clarke teaches courses in Science Communication and Research Methods.  He enjoys “teaching both undergraduate and graduate students irrespective of the course” and appreciates the passion his students have about their areas of study. 

Hiking with his wife and dog is one of his favorite pastimes because it allows him the opportunity to spend time outside.  His advice is to “get out there and enjoy all the nature the DC areas has to offer.  Many local, state, and federal lands offer tons of opportunity to experience the great outdoors.  It’s both relaxing and inspiring!”  #MasonCOMM imagines it also gives Clarke the opportunity to find more subjects to research!

Over the past decade, Clarke has seen Mason change and through his work with 4C has made an impact on both his local and global communities.  His passion for research spills over into his classroom, where he inspires the next generation of science communicators to combine their love of science, the environment, health, and their global community with their passion for communication.