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Science communicator on the frontier of science: Celebrating the career of former Science Journal editor Barbara Kennedy
31 October 2019
Barbara Kennedy

Under her guidance, the Eberly College of Science published 28 issues of the Science Journal, distributed hundreds of research press releases, and hosted more than 150 public science lectures that were attended by tens of thousands in the State College community. It’s impossible to overstate the contribution that Barbara Kennedy’s 29 years of dedication to the Eberly College of Science and her total of 40 years with Penn State made on the college’s impact in the local community and its reach worldwide.

Kennedy joined Penn State in 1973 as a technical writer and editor for the Department of Psychology and later served as a field representative for the College of Education’s Cooperative Education Program until she left the University in 1978. In 1984, she returned to Penn State and ultimately joined the Eberly College of Science in 1990 as director of communications under Dean Gregory L. Geoffroy. As her career grew, she took on the roles of director of media relations and editor-in-chief of the Science Journal. Kennedy’s leadership on the Science Journal set the standard for the college’s science communication efforts. Today, the Science Journal reaches as many as 50,000 people around the world—from State College to Malaysia and beyond.

“I translate lab language into kitchen language,” said Kennedy of her role as a communicator. “My goal has always been to share the excitement of discovery of new knowledge from the research team with the rest of the world.”

“Working with Barbara has been a helpful collaboration all around,” said Abhay Ashtekar, Evan Pugh University Professor of Physics, Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics, and director of the Penn State Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. “She is excellent at communicating science without oversimplifying. There is a golden mean between making it accessible while keeping its scientific integrity.”

Through her passion for making research widely accessible for all, Kennedy developed and maintained connections with reporters who covered the broad range of the college’s research stories. But beyond translating the often-complex language of research findings into an easily understandable form for the general public, she also took the personal initiative to ensure that research from the college was accessible in multiple languages to readers worldwide.

“Barbara had this very long list of reporters from not just the U.S. but also from other countries,” said Daniel Larson, professor of physics and former dean of the Eberly College of Science. “One of the things that she does for the college is help in development and fundraising, because it’s building the reputation for the college as a place that is interesting and significant both nationally and internationally.”

Associate Dean Teresa Diehl, Barbara Kennedy and Dean Doug Cavener

In addition to forging connections around the world, Kennedy has dedicated herself to cultivating relationships between the college and those in the local community who are curious to learn more about science. In 1995, Kennedy helped to launch a college-wide free public lecture series, the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019. On Saturday mornings from January to March, hundreds of attendees travel to the University Park campus each week to hear a range of speakers—from current professors to international award winners—speak about cutting-edge research and the latest issues in science. Her work for the Frontiers of Science has made her a local icon for science accessibility.

 On behalf of Eberly College of Science, we thank Barbara Kennedy for her dedication to science communications in the college and wish her all the best in her retirement.