People Directory

Lee Ahern

Associate Professor, Advertising/Public Relations

Biography

Lee Ahern is associate professor of advertising and public relations in the College of Communications. He is also a senior research fellow at the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, and project manager for the Page Center’s Sustainability Communications Initiative. He is current chair of the International Environmental Communication Association (www.theieca.org) and past head of the Communication Science, Health, Environment and Risk Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. He joined the faculty at Penn State in 2008 as an assistant professor.

Ahern studies the science of science communication, a field of growing recognition and importance. Effective public policies relative to science and technology require public understanding of complex concepts. Over the past two decades, communications scholars have begun to identify the social and psychological factors that combine to make meaning about scientific issues in the minds of different audience segments. They are also beginning to understand why science communication campaigns so often fail to deliver the intended and desired results. These findings have made it clear that scientists must consider not just the science itself, but how audiences will react to and make meaning from science communications.

Global warming is a dominant and broad area of interest, with many interrelated sub-areas that cross many disciplines. In addition science communication encompasses health issue-areas (vaccinations, obesity, stem-cell research, nanotechnology, fetal-alcohol syndrome, etc.) and environmental concerns (pollution, species extinction, solid waste, recycling, etc.), as well as issues that bridge the two (genetically modified food, crop failure). Virtually any area of scientific discovery has a communications dimension.

Ahern has collaborated on grants with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Penn State Institute for Energy and the Environment, the William Penn Foundation and the Penn State Sustainability Institute.

Ahern's area of expertise, and primary contribution to grant-funded research, includes evaluation, measurement, analysis and interpretation of science communications campaigns. His work has been published in Social Science Quarterly, Public Understanding of Science, Science Communication, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly and Health Communication.

Ahern has close to 20 years of industry experience to complement his teaching and research. Most recently he was marketing manager for an international custom publishing company, where he also oversaw development and implementation of all new media products. After beginning his career as a financial writer in New York, he worked in various communications capacities on Wall Street for over a decade. For several years thereafter, Ahern and his wife (Colleen Connolly-Ahern) ran their own marketing communications company serving clients in financial services and advertising.

Ahern teaches introduction to advertising, research methods and media planning, as well as graduate seminars on strategic communications measurement and the science of science communication.

Expertise

  • Environmental Communications
  • Global Warming
  • Strategic Communications
  • Health Communications
  • Green Advertising/Marketing