Cal Poly Professors Awarded $140,000 USDA Grant to Teach Environmental Science Communication

Contact: Jason Peters

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Yi-Wen Chiu, an assistant professor in Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, and Cal Poly English Professor Jason Peters have been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Chiu and Peters will receive approximately $140,000 over three years to pilot an undergraduate curriculum that combines environmental science and rhetoric. One goal of the new curriculum is to teach students how to best communicate about sustainable agriculture.

“Creating sustainable agriculture requires scientific skills like quantitative analysis,” Peters said. “It also requires students to learn to talk to a range of stakeholders in all sorts of situations to get people working together in innovative ways based on what the science is telling us. That’s where environmental rhetoric and communication comes in.

“With the program Yi-Wen and I are designing, students will learn how to get legislators, farmers, environmental scientists, citizens and consumers all on the same page and collaborating to make the science of sustainability work.”

The curriculum will consist of required courses in environmental life-cycle analysis combined with courses in public rhetoric and environmental communication. The project is a partnership between professors and researchers in the two academic departments and the University Writing and Rhetoric Center at Cal Poly.

The grants are funded through NIFA’s Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program, which aims to help higher education institutions teach the next generation of food and agricultural science professionals. HEC also seeks to improve local economies by supporting the development of degree programs that respond to emerging employment opportunities.

Chiu and Peters will design and implement the pilot curriculum over the next three years. They plan to publish the results of the collaboration.

“We’ve learned so much from other scholars and teachers working across traditional disciplinary lines on these issues all around the world, we hope to be able to contribute what we learn from doing this work at Cal Poly,” Peters said.


About the English Department

The Cal Poly English Department promotes the study of literature, language and rhetoric in an effort to better understand the human condition. Undergraduate and graduate students learn to read carefully and deeply, to think critically and creatively, and to write clearly and persuasively. The department produces several publications each year that showcase student writing, including Byzantium: A Literary Annual and “Fresh Voices: Composition at Cal Poly.” Visit

About the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department

Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department prepares passionate leaders who drive change in sustainability and stewardship of the environment and restoration of land resources related to soil, water, forests, range and wildlife. Visit

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