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How to Woo Capitol Hill? Johns Hopkins Is Putting On a Research Extravaganza

Marcy Davis had her elevator pitch down. Huge deficits in reading ability had made it harder for Baltimore’s high-school students to succeed, she said, practicing into a computer screen on Monday morning. But a semester-long reading lab for ninth graders had helped them build vocabulary and read more fluently. That work, funded by the Department of Education, was making a difference.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

June 13, 2019

 

Marcy Davis had her elevator pitch down.

Huge deficits in reading ability had made it harder for Baltimore’s high-school students to succeed, she said, practicing into a computer screen on Monday morning. But a semester-long reading lab for ninth graders had helped them build vocabulary and read more fluently. That work, funded by the Department of Education, was making a difference.

Getting to a cohesive pitch took practice. Davis, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, isn’t used to short and snappy spiels explaining her work. Instead, she’s used to the language of academe, dotting posters and PowerPoint presentations.

But in two days, she and a group of other Hopkins professors expected to be pitching their work to a far different audience: A Capitol Hill bonanza packed with hundreds of lawmakers, congressional and funding-agency staff members, business leaders, alumni, and top university brass. She was nervous. It wasn’t her audience’s job to care. And some of them control the federal pursestrings that Hopkins’s research depends on.

At the other end of the videoconference was someone charged by the university with taking Davis’s presentation across the finish line: Keri N. Althoff, an associate professor of epidemiology with a communications background.

Skip the lengthy introduction with your full name and academic title, Althoff told Davis. Stick to “Marcy from the School of Education.” Explain the stakes of the problem: There are serious repercussions when many kids entering high school are reading at a fourth- to sixth-grade level. Then, jump right into the solution — the reading lab.

Althoff’s work is part of a larger strategy at Hopkins to encourage the university’s star researchers to step up their communications skills with policy makers, advocacy groups, funding agencies, and community members. A big part of her job is to train professors for Wednesday’s event, for which the university will bring several vans packed with cutting-edge hardware and newly developed materials. Two years ago, the inaugural program brought more than 200 people to a high-ceilinged room on Capitol Hill, with music and speeches. This year Hopkins is going bigger — bringing in more scholars, attracting more guests, and spending more money.

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