Alliance Director Sarah Evanega wins 2021 Borlaug CAST Communication Award

By Joan Conrow

May 11, 2021

Cornell Alliance for Science Director Sarah Evanega, an imagineer, international leader and icon of young science communication professionals, has been awarded the coveted Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

“With her ability to communicate on a variety of issues facing science, agriculture and technology, she is a worthy recipient of the 2021 Borlaug CAST Communication Award,” noted a press release from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).

“The world is facing numerous grave challenges that can benefit from scientific solutions,” said Evanega, who is also a research professor in the Department of Global Development with a joint appointment in the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture at Cornell University and an adjunct faculty member at the Boyce Thompson Institute. “I’m deeply gratified that CAST has recognized the work of the Alliance for Science at a time when it has never been more important to advocate for science.”

Evanega, who received her Ph.D. in plant biology from Cornell University in 2009, was recognized in part for envisioning and leading the Alliance for Science. Through innovative training and multimedia communications, the global initiative promotes science-informed decision-making around agricultural biotechnology and actively counters misinformation around that topic and other science issues, including vaccines, climate change and COVID-19. In the seven years since its founding, the Alliance has trained 800 people in 50 countries with progressive tools for communicating effectively about agricultural science. Evanega’s efforts have been especially significant in creating an international platform that allows others to speak up in support of access to agricultural technologies.

“Sarah’s passion for effectively communicating about agriculture and science has taken her around the globe, directed her academic and professional pursuits and shaped her personal life,” wrote Cornell Professor Ronnie Coffman in his nomination letter. “It has also inspired many others to become outspoken science champions, dedicating their own lives to helping laypersons and policy makers better understand the scientific process and the critical need to ground food and agriculture policies in science.

“Sarah has a unique ability to influence and inspire others to take up the banner of science advocate and defender,” Coffman continued. “Her talent in galvanizing others allows her work to extend far beyond her own personal sphere and assume global significance, particularly in developing nations, where science champions and scientific organizations are less prominent than in the west.”

“Sarah’s work as a communicator has empowered me and countless others whom she has trained and who have impacted millions of lives across the world,” wrote Nigerian farmer Patience Koku in support of Evanega’s nomination. “The way in which she has been able to demystify and science and has broken it down in ways that laymen can understand is outstanding. The passion and zeal with which she does her work is palpable and her fire can only but ignite others.”

In addition to extensive speaking engagements, Evanega teaches on agricultural biotechnology at the graduate and undergraduate level and is part of an interdisciplinary team that developed a massive open online course (MOOC) on the science and politics of GMOs on Cornell’s EdX platform.

She is always looking for new ways to engage with the public around science, which prompted her to launch an imaginative outreach tool, the “Modified” food truck. As pandemic restrictions ease, Modified will be traveling around the country to deliver compelling, science-based information about genetically modified foods. It is staffed by the Modsquad, a group of science communicators who share stories of how biotech can help combat climate change and food insecurity—in other words, solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity now and into the future.

In other efforts to advance science communications, Evanega in 2005 co-founded Science Cabaret, an informal science “café” in Ithaca. She currently serves on the advisory board of the Ithaca Sciencenter as well as the advisory board of the Insitute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California, Davis. An alumna of the program, she also helped facilitate the long-term funding of an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship specifically for graduate students in plant and agricultural sciences who have a strong interest in communicating about agricultural biotechnology.

Evanega is an ardent advocate for social justice and the advancement of women in STEM. She was instrumental in launching AWARE (Advancing Women in Agriculture through Research and Education), an initiative that promotes women in agriculture through Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“In the past decade, Sarah has communicated about challenges and networked assiduously with unlikely allies on behalf of social justice in agriculture,” Coffman wrote. “Those communications cut a wide swath about gender-based issues as well as biotechnology.”

Her enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism have earned Evanega numerous awards and honors and helped her secure millions of dollars in grant funding for science communications projects, including sizable awards for the Alliance for Science.

“She is truly an unstoppable force for positive change, and a powerful inspiration to many as she strives to engage unlikely allies, forge partnerships, and break down the barriers of ideology and ignorance that are hindering the progress of agricultural biotechnology, particularly in the public sector and developing nations,” Coffman wrote.

An award presentation will occur during World Food Prize Symposium week in October 2021. The Farm Journal Foundation is the 2021 sponsor the Borlaug CAST Communication Award, which honors the legacies of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. Charles A. Black, the first president of CAST.