Faculty Spotlight: Heather Akin

Heather Akin
September 22, 2020

About Heather

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and am a proud graduate of Lincoln High School, Irving Middle School, and Prescott Elementary. Growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors – at summer camp, skiing, fishing at Lake McConaughy, and exploring western Nebraska where my grandparents lived. These experiences inspired me to study Environmental Sciences as an undergraduate, and later applied my degree working in informal science education at the Field Museum in Chicago and as an Americorps member in Oregon.

After that, I knew I wanted to better understand how people learn and communicate about science, food, and the environment and went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in Journalism and Mass Communications and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With doctorate in hand I did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, conducting research on the science of science communication. My first faculty position was at the University of Missouri, where I worked in the Missouri School of Journalism and the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

In August 2019, I was thrilled to join the faculty at UNL and bring my family home to Lincoln. I am married and have two children who are three and six years old and a stepson who is 12. We live in my childhood home in the near south region of Lincoln.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I am an assistant professor of strategic communication in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication and hold a teaching and Extension appointment. I teach courses that focus on communicating with public audiences, strategic communication of science, and ethics in agriculture and natural resources. I do research and applied work to better understand how social and psychological factors affect people’s attitudes about science topics and risks, and how we can effectively communicate about these issues.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

It was always a dream for me to work at the university that I grew up near. I get to live close to my family and be a part of the amazing work the university does across the state and beyond.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

I love working closely with students from all over the world and I love doing research on how to communicate in ways that convey the importance of food, the environment, and science.

 What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have two – being a mother and the year I spent as a Fulbright scholar and teaching assistant in Gorontalo Indonesia. It was an incredible experience to live in a small village and become a part of the community where everyone treated me like family. I traveled to several of the country’s islands, got off the beaten track and was able to climb volcanoes, scuba dive, and eat the best food.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

That I speak Indonesian! It is a fun and relatively easy language to speak and I really love the rare chances I get to practice. Even though Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, many people outside Indonesia do not speak the language.

What is your life like outside of work?

With two pretty young children a lot of my time is spent parenting and working on my sleep deficit! Since my return to Lincoln my family and I enjoy having ‘staycation’ days where we explore our new-again hometown. When we can travel, my husband and I also try to visit a new baseball stadium every year.