In Memoriam: Sharon Dunwoody, 1947-2022

Sharon Dunwoody posed in a chair.

Sharon Dunwoody, Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a leader in science communication research, died February 4, 2022, after undergoing treatment for cancer in recent months.

Sharon was the first woman Director of the School, serving from 1998-2003, and later served as UW-Madison’s Associate Dean for Graduate Education. She joined our faculty in 1981 and went on to become nationally and internationally renowned for her research and her mentorship of other scholars. She studied the construction of media messages and how people use those messages to guide their thinking and behavior. Sharon’s scholarship helped generations of journalists, students and scientists become better translators of complex ideas to audiences all over the world.

“Sharon’s wit, calm and penetrating insights will be sorely missed,” said SJMC Director Hernando Rojas. “She leaves a big mark on the field and in our School.”

Sharon’s reach in the field was nothing short of incredible. She was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR) and the Society for Risk Analysis. She served twice as head of the AAAS section on General Interest in Science and Technology. She is former president of both MAPOR and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). She was named a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA) in 2017.

“Sharon was so kind, so soft-spoken, so generous in her manner that it was sometimes easy for people to forget that she was an internationally known star in the field of science communication, a researcher whose studies of communicating uncertainty and scientific ethics were among the best in the world,” said Deborah Blum, a longtime SJMC colleague who now serves as director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. “She was a wonderful mentor and a wonderful friend, and she will be deeply missed.”

Sharon was the second woman to win the Paul J. Deutschmann Award from AEJMC. She was a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in Brazil, a visiting journalism fellow at Deakin University in Australia and the Donnier Guest Professor at Stockholm University. She was a Distinguished Alumni Fellow at her beloved BA and PhD granting alma mater, Indiana University.

“The world has way less sunlight without Sharon and her inevitable smile. Her research, teaching, and administrative achievements meant she was a role model to so many of us,” said Michigan State University Professor and longtime SJMC colleague Esther Thorson, “Being female never hindered Sharon, and her guts made her women colleagues, certainly me, braver too. With a person as outstanding as Sharon, it’s tough to name her best attributes. I have to say, however, that her integrity, which was there in absolutely every aspect of her work and her life, and her loving kindness and optimism top my personal list. I benefited from these attributes continuously over the 41 years we were friends, colleagues, and fellow birders.”

In 1986, Sharon helped found UW-Madison’s Science Journalist in Residence program, bringing notable reporters to campus to interact with the university’s leading researchers and engaging with the public on critical scientific questions of the day. Though she retired in 2013, Sharon continued to lead that program and stay active in the School and interested in the lives of her colleagues, students and alumni.

Sharon Dunwoody teaching in the classroomBeyond her path-breaking scholarship and public outreach, Sharon was an incredible colleague, mentor, teacher and friend. Legions of students she guided, both as undergraduate and graduate students, have gone on to impactful careers in science communication and research.

“I count Sharon among my most important academic mentors,” said Ohio State University Professor William “Chip” Eveland, a 1997 doctoral graduate and 2020 Harold L. Nelson Award winner. “She was a fantastic writer and an astounding editor, teaching me how to more effectively communicate in both academic and more public-facing writing. I always try to impart her lessons to my own students although I’m sure I don’t do it nearly as well as she did. Sharon was a kind and gentle soul, and mentoring aside, I cherished our many conversations over the years.”

Sharon’s impact was so profound that in 2019, the School created the Sharon Dunwoody Early Career Award to honor outstanding PhD graduates of the school for their accomplishments in research and teaching.

“Sharon was singular in her approach to mentorship,” said Kathleen Bartzen Culver, the School’s James E. Burgess Chair in Journalism Ethics. “She never told you what you should do. She helped you see what was possible and how you might chart your course to achieve what you wanted. Sharon made her mark through big ideas and aspirational visions, but also through quiet moments of calm reassurance.”

Jason Shepard, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, was one of the inaugural winners of the award. “Sharon was such a kind, inspiring leader from her days as director when I was an undergraduate and throughout my years in graduate study,” Shepard said. “Being recognized with an alumni award in her name is one of my proudest professional achievements.”

Sharon Dunwoody with a dinosaur eggSharon leaves an indelible imprint in the SJMC. Known for her kind and confident style, she had an abiding love of hummus and a knack for finding homes for a never-ending array of plants. Her colleagues remember how she welcomed them as junior faculty and seemed to always have the incisive point you had not yet considered in your latest research project or new course prep.

“I will always remember how wonderfully warm and welcoming Sharon was when I came here,” said Associate Professor Lucas Graves. “She was always popping in to offer to take me to lunch or to point me to a bit of research she thought I might appreciate. She somehow combined a fantastic wit with real gravitas and seriousness of purpose. I had no idea at first what a huge scholarly shadow she cast, but you knew instinctively that she was someone to listen to — wise and honest in the most reassuring way.”

Colleagues across the School share that admiration and will deeply miss Sharon’s presence.

“What a bright force Sharon was,” said Professor Sue Robinson. “When I arrived here without a single friend, she took me under her wing professionally and socially. She invited me to her fish fry nights and made me feel as if I had a support system. She always seemed so vibrant and happy.”

Kind, patient, wise, thoughtful and generous, Sharon Dunwoody was an embodiment and reflection of the best of us. She leaves an enormous footprint in the field and in our school and an even larger hole in our hearts.

81 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Sharon Dunwoody, 1947-2022”

  1. Sharon was the Director when I was being recruited to the SJMC. She worked so hard to bring me here and made me feel welcome and valued. Prior to that, I was able to observe the reverence that her grad students had for her through the eyes of my former student William Eveland, who always spoke of her in asbolutely glowing terms.

    I will always remember Sharon as a calm voice of reason through the turbulent times. In this sense, she was so much like my doctoral advisor Phil Tichenor that I have always felt like they could have been brother and sister. When she retired, I had hoped that Sharon’s voice would be part of the SJMC for years to come, but now that I think about it, it certainly will.

  2. Sharon was a giant in her field, but also kind and encouraging of undergraduates, including our daughter Kate who graduated in 1999. May Sharon’s memory always be a blessing.

  3. Sharon was a valued affiliate f the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Her contributions to the Institute and its faculty, staff and students were many and made with wit and humor. She will be remembered fondly and with appreciation.
    Tom Yuill
    Professor and Director Emeritus
    Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

  4. Sharon was always very welcoming to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from our earliest days on the 5th Floor of Vilas Hall. She became a big booster — financially and through her great encouragement — of the work we do. She gave me a lovely plant that I treasured until the flood of 2019, when a move to another office during sub-zero weather spelled its demise. I will remember Sharon as wise, generous and positive — a person who radiated kindness and energy into the world.

  5. Sharon will always be remembered with great affection by those of us who had the privilege of working with her in the Graduate School, where she was an associate dean for many years. She was the consummate team player. We all benefited from her quiet wisdom, great sense of humor, and gentle soul.

  6. Such a devastating loss. Sharon did so much for each one of her students, all of her colleagues, our department and college, and the broader university and field. She defined whole areas of communication and broke barriers as a UW leader. But more than her accomplishments was her abiding dedication to her community coupled with warmth and patience toward everyone she encountered. She was a model academic who inspired me and shaped the norms of our department. She was kind and easygoing, yet also so thoughtful and deliberative. Deepest condolences to Steve and all those who counted her as a friend. She will be deeply missed.

  7. Sharon was eveything already said here, and more. She will be missed by so many. In the past year or so, she was among a small group of MAPOR ol’ timers who were, like her, MAPOR Fellows. We used to have dinner together at the conference each fall, then held monthly Zoom sessions in fellowship, once a month or so, during the Pandemic. She was always so engaging, and generous in her comments. She leaves an empty seat at the “table.” Farewell, Susan.

  8. Sharon was one of the most generous and supportive people I ever worked with, in addition to being one of the least egotistical. Her down-to-earth, accessible personality disguised an acute intelligence laced with surprising, unexpected insights that always helped and benefitted their recipients. She maintained a continuing interest in the ups and downs of my own career and was always there to help, even though there she stood to gain nothing by it. I will miss her very much and only regret all the conversations and talks we never had a chance to have..

  9. This bio seems to use the word kind a dozen times and I’m still not sure that’s enough.

    Thank you, Sharon, for all you taught us in class to be professionals, and by example to be good humans. I will miss you.

  10. I remember being the shy new kid at my first environmental conference. Sharon reached out and made me feel like I was in the right place and a part of the community. Her brilliance and kindness will be missed.

  11. Sharon was such a giving and humble colleague. And while a giant in her field, she would never let on to that fact, and would always encourage and lift up anyone lucky enough to work with her. I personally benefitted from Sharon’s incredible teaching through the Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellows Program. Such a devoted and inspiring friend, colleague and leader. Sharon Dunwoody will be deeply missed by so many on campus and well beyond.

  12. I’m too sad for words. Everything I have achieved as a scholar started with her. Having a female mentor and someone so honest and real to help me start my career – I can’t explain how profoundly she impacted me. Let us all commit to being the mentor to others that Sharon was to so many of us.

  13. Sharon’s blend of incisive intelligence, warmth, and kindness helped welcome me to the discipline; she was one of those people whose presence led me to realize that I’d found my intellectual home in Communication. We are better as a field because of her–better not just intellectually, but in our quality as a community.

  14. I was director of what is now the iSchool when Sharon directed the J School. She helped me navigate the shoals of departmental leadership as well as a number of searches for cluster hires. And she became my friend as well as colleague, meeting monthly post-retirement for coffee until COVID reduced those gatherings, but remaining book club colleagues until the end. I miss her sorely.

  15. Sharon and I were members of a systemwide task force in the mid-1980s that worked on guidelines for a substantial faculty and staff “catch up” pay increases. We were appointed by then Provost Bernie Cohen, Sharon representing the faculty, I the academic staff. It was a tough assignment as we needed to establish the Madison had a different peer group, and different catch-up needs from other institutions in the UW System. Now that is an established understanding, but then very contentious at the time. I was in charge of organizing the data to support our position and felt it made such a strong case, which was true. Sharon was crucial in her calm and conciliatory way of dealing with the representatives of the other campuses. We were successful in the end, and I have always admired Sharon’s abilities in this tense situation, and it has turned out to be very important to UW-Madison as time went on.

  16. Such a treasure within the UW J-School (and far beyond); a compassionate and gracious educator, researcher, colleague and friend. Sharon influenced so many to pursue quality work with both empathy and rigor. A loss beyond measure.

  17. Sharon was a mentor and friend for nearly 30 years. She convinced me to come to UW to explore risk and science communication with her together. Always supportive, always a confidant, I will miss her tremendously.

  18. My heart is heavy today. Sharon was such a wonderful person to work with. Her wide ranging contributions to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts are one example of her successful efforts to make our state and world a better place. She leaves a lasting impression on our field through her scholarship, and on our hearts through her warm and welcoming presence in our lives. We will miss her.

  19. She was a mentor, colleague and friend beginning with my venture into graduate school more than 30 years ago. I always felt like she believed in my capacity to make a difference, which is such a gift to give someone. She made an immeasurable difference herself, in her field, in the lives and careers of her students and colleagues, through the organizations she served with her leadership and expertise, and her grace, kindness and brilliance. What an amazing human being.

  20. Sharon was a great lover of wetlands. We at Wisconsin Wetlands Association are saddened by her passing, but will remember the shining light that came with her and her communications about the wonder and beauty of wetlands.

  21. Sharon was a remarkable colleague. We shared a common commitment to effectively connect science with society. On Campus and elsewhere she championed respectful connectivity with individuals and with groups. Sharon was an exemplar of living the Wisconsin Idea.

  22. One word, above all, encapsulates Sharon’s being: generosity. For over 25 years, I’ve witnessed her kindness toward family, friends and colleagues. She cared deeply for students, serving often in our L&S Student Academic Affairs Faculty Appeals. There, as in many other settings, she provided motivation and guidance to help them to adjust to challenging times. We will all miss her dearly.

  23. Sharon opened my eyes to what was possible in science communication while I studied in her program. Her kindness, wit, passion, and rigor were incredibly inspiring. Her persistence in connecting students with job and funding opportunities is something I’ll never forget – she truly cared about the success of everyone around her so generously and freely. Sending condolences and support to her family, close friends, and colleagues…

  24. Sharon arrived about the time I was leaving Madison. My heart is saddened to know her wise, kind and gracious demeanor is lost to us but strong in our memories.

  25. I’m so sorry to hear this news. I took Sharon’s science writing class in grad school, and she was one of my MS committee members. Her intelligence, kindness, sense of humor, and enthusiasm for science and teaching made her an ideal professor and all-around wonderful person. It would be impossible to calculate the positive impact that she had on science communication in general and on individual lives and careers in particular.

  26. I am beyond sad, but will concentrate on the positive. I met Sharon in 1978 when I was a postdoc at OSU and the broad gentle smile she had then is something she never lost. She was always positive, supportive, and saw the good in everything. She didn’t hide her ambivalence about leaving OSU for Wisconsin back then and her work always had a broader ambivalence — involving the complexity of concepts. Her contributions to science journalism, and her tremendous work on the Tichenor model with Bob Griffin are great testaments. She stayed with us at a miniconference in the 1980s, and was gracious and kind; she was always positive and loved MAPOR, she offered an evaluation of our School as an outside consultant, and I remember having the most fun having drinks with her and Leo Jeffres. She was always there at MAPOR with Steve and added so much personally and intellectually. What a loss. She did so much for the field, students, and our appreciation of what we do. That’s the legacy of positivity that I will always remember.

  27. I am so very saddened to learn of our loss of Sharon. She deserved to enjoy a much longer life and those that cared for her deserved to have her in their lives for much longer. I knew Sharon via our joint attendance at the annual MAPOR conference for more than 40 years. I always enjoyed chatting with her and greatly respected her well-considered views. If you never met Sharon, then you were the poorer for it.

  28. This is a huge loss for family, friends, and colleagues, and for Sharon herself.. She was a wonderful person and scholar–so bright, positive, sensitive and witty. Her insights were always right on target, and she accomplished so much without being pretentious or pedantic. She stands out among all of Indiana’s former doctoral students as one of the very best in every way. I will miss her wisdom and laughter and smile at our annual MAPOR meetings more than I can put into words.

  29. It’s really a surprising sad news to me. My email record shows that Sharon sent me her final response on October 26, last year. When I tried to reach her again last December, there was no response. Since then, I have wondered what happened to her. Now, this sad news!

    My “vague” memory is that I met Sharon for the first time, at the AEJMC annual conference held in Portland, Oregon, 1988. There was kind of a session of founding the field of Science Journalism & Communication. In order to attend it, I made a long trip from Seoul, Korea. Every one welcomed me, certainly the only overseas participant, so much for such an effort.

    I have met her at international conferences from time to time and exchanged papers. Of course, we have exchanged emails more often. She was always not only kind and tender but also “helpful!”, although our theoretical views were quite different. I miss her as many do!

    Hak-Soo Kim
    Distinguished Professor of DGIST & Professor Emeritus of Sogang University, South Korea. Fellow, International Communication Association & Korean Academy of Science & Technology.

  30. I was fortunate to meet Sharon as a Ph.D. student and was then lucky enough to continue to see her once or twice a year at various meetings. She was just as thoughtful and kind to me as a new graduate student as she was a colleague. There’s no question that she’ll be remembered as a founding figure in science, risk, and environmental communication scholarship but I trust we’ll also continue to honor her character as a colleague. I see her as a model member of the scientific community and look forward to remembering her with all of you.

  31. To say I lucked out when Sharon agreed to be my PhD advisor would be an understatement. I am an immensely better researcher, instructor, and graduate advisor because of her.

  32. Sharon and I joined the School of Journalism at Ohio State at the same time–the summer of 1977. Sharon had just finished her doctorate at Indiana. I was moving from the faculty at Syracuse University. We have been dear personal and professional friends ever since.

    I have many wonderful memories of and stories to tell about Sharon, but this one is my favorite, and I’ve told it many times. It is a true story, and it says so very much about Sharon.

    I was walking down the hallway to Sharon’s office at OSU for a chat as a young man was leaving her office. He was smiling and he kept thanking Sharon for her help.

    I said to Sharon that must have been a very good conversation and I asked her what she had told the student

    She said she had told the young man she thought he was in the wrong field and that he should change his major.

    That was Sharon. She had the ability to be direct with people, to be honest, and to be helpful regardless of the message. She cared about people, and she communicated that so very well.

    I don’t want to think about Sharon in the past. My memories of her are very much alive, and I plan to keep them that way.

  33. I met Sharon when I was director of education at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and she continued to be a mentor and friend after I left that organization for a position on campus. She was a brilliant communicator, dedicated advocate for the environment, and one of those educators who touched the lives of many. I loved trading gardening stories with her, and connecting on the many ways to foster care for people, land, and communities. She is gone far too soon. My heart is heavy for all whose lives were touched by Sharon’s light.

    Jen Kobylecky
    Manager of Education Engagement
    PBS Wisconsin

  34. How sad for Sharon to be taken at such a young age. Sharon had just arrived in Madison when I quit daily journalism after seven years and began the Ph.D. program. I felt like a fish out of water; no one seemed to be interested in the topics that I was passionate about. Sharon helped me develop a critical view of journalism and understand how empirical research about journalism could create valuable knowledge. She counseled me about how to give good oral presentations at conferences. Her long-time partner Steve played on the city-league softball team I organized for j-school grad students, faculty, and friends. Although she didn’t play, Sharon was a regular not only at the games but at the bar afterward. She was a kind, thoughtful person whose influence was, and remains, profound.

    1. A kind comment, David. Nice to hear from you after all these years, albeit in a sad moment.
      Rick Perloff

  35. Everything written above in the article and the comments embodies the woman I knew for 65 years. Yes, Sharon and I met in fourth grade at the age of ten. I will say that looking back now it is easy to see the foundations of the woman she would become.
    Such beautiful tributes indeed describe things that I didn’t know about Sharon, but always felt were true of her. Words, which Sharon crafted so well, cannot express the joy of knowing her and the pain of losing her now.

  36. Sharon and I met in grad school at Indiana, as part of a unique cohort of women starting their research careers together. Despite our many differences in both character and research orientation, I remember that group as a foundation of mutual support that shared an appreciation for the importance of diverse life experience in the pursuit of knowledge. Lofty as that may sound, it is at the heart of how I think about Sharon herself. Yes, she was open, kind, and absolutely committed to the work she set out to do.

    We did not meet often, but when we did it was easy to reconnect – and not just to reminisce. In the spring of 2008, Sharon and her partner Steve came to Sweden for an extended visit. I had become Professor of Media Studies at Stockholm University, and Sharon was invited here as Albert Bonnier Jr. Guest Professor at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to renew our friendship, a bond which quickly included our partners. In addition to holding the research seminars and lectures expected of a visiting professor, Sharon taught science writing – a first for a Swedish journalism program – and sought out science editors of local and national media outlets, some of whom knew of her work and were eager to meet her.

    Throughout her successful and widely influential career, Sharon remained a person whose genuine warmth and wit created connections with people and with the world around her, wherever she went. Oh, how she will be missed!

    1. Hi Karin. Oh I so recall that foundation of mutual support at Indiana…and our dear friend was at the center of it! It is so good to be reminded of that on the day of her formal memorial. I’ve lit a candle and cried good tears this afternoon. My heart aches for all of us who have lost her. Holly

  37. Sharon was the epitome of the Wisconsin Idea. I met Sharon when she and I appeared on a local panel together – she was the academic I was the in-field professional working on climate action. From that moment forward Sharon generously supported my nonprofit and public sector work in a variety of ways – connecting me to other academics, sharing research insights, lending her expertise to various nascent initiatives. Weeks before her passing Sharon was still working with many of us to strengthen climate communications. Definitely I will miss her brilliant insights but I’ll also miss her humor and her generous spirit.

  38. Sharon was an inspirational leader and scholar. She was always patient, warm, friendly, and generous of her time and talent for a colleague. I appreciated her Graduate School leadership and wise counsel on so many important issues.

  39. I will always remember, and dearly miss, Sharon’s smile and jovial spirit, her welcoming approach to ideas and perspectives, her clear and critical thinking ability, and most impressively her ability to help others think clear and critically. I was the beneficiary of all these in both professional and personal contexts. Truly, time in the presence of Sharon made one a better person on every level.

  40. Regal, yet kind. Operatic, but folksy. Most of all, brilliance — outshone only by deep integrity.

    That was Sharon Dunwoody.

    Her doctoral dissertation defense at Indiana University in 1978 was more celebration than debate. We knew her pathbreaking work on elite science communication showed academic “stardom” in the offing.

    Little more than three decades later, Sharon became the first woman to receive the coveted Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research. “Firsts” were not important to her and Sharon’s academic career was so stellar by then, gender likely never crossed the minds of any of us celebrating at the event.

    A young colleague at the IU Media School last week wrote to me that Sharon Dunwoody’s work on science journalism had greatly influenced her own research. What more could any social scientist like Sharon have wanted? To be an inspiration for an emerging first-rate scholar
    — and likely many more across the world — surely is the ultimate.

    Sterling character, success and friendship pervaded her entire life.

    For so many of us who knew and loved her, the sorrow at Sharon Dunwoody’s death is deep.

  41. I am still pondering how it is possible that Sharon is gone. Many people here have spoken of her warmth, brilliance, and generosity and I can only agree. But when I arrived here in 1991, juniors were still subject to a significant degree of hazing by senior faculty. Sharon explained the ropes to me in way that helped me acclimate, but also engaged in her share of pranks, all of which were funny, and never mean. My first year, still wearing a suit, she sidled up in the hall and said, sotto voce, “You know, you don’t have to dress like that around here.” Those who have known her will treasure the “Tommy Bartlett wave” and her Elizabethan royal wave. We will miss her so much.

  42. Genuinely heartbreaking news about one of the shining lights of our field — we should all aspire to be half the scholar she was.

  43. Sharon was my mentor for tenure and the first to ever observe my teaching. I will never forget her support and calm enthusiasm. Even though she never worked on wildlife to my knowledge, I cite her work regularly because it transcended climate change communication. Deep sadness at her passing

  44. As a young German scholar, I visited Sharon at the UW-Madison during my first trip to the United States in 1988. She has inspired and encouraged me since then, generously sharing ideas and advice. I had the privilege of cooperating with her across continents for more than 30 years. She was mentor, collaborator, co-author and friend – always supportive, constructive, reliable, and straight. I will miss her greatly.

  45. Sharon was a wonderful colleague to me when I was in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2013–15. It meant a great deal to have a senior colleague like her to model what an academic career could be like — one with impact, wisdom, humor, mentorship, and connection. I loved getting to know her, and I will miss her so much.

  46. When I joined the faculty in in 1990, Sharon was one of the first people to welcome me to the department. When she came to my assigned office to say hello, I was nervous and more than a little intimidated. After all, this was one of the field’s superstars. But Sharon was friendly, warm and genuine. Over the years, I continued to be impressed by her calm, reasoned approach to solving complex problems — whether it was in the research realm or department policy making. She was a role model of the ideal academic citizen.

  47. I had the great opportunity to work as the associate dean for arts and humanities with Sharon. Indeed, my colleague Donna Paulnock, AD for the biological sciences and I always saw Sharon as the lead singer of our girl group: Sharon and the Deanettes. Sharon had such a wonderful way of thinking through and about organizations to find solutions and resolutions. I learned so much from her about how systems work have thought of her so often of late as we struggle with the systemic and institutional nature of racism and other social challenges.

  48. I am devastated to hear of Sharon’s death. Her scholarship and brilliance inspired all of us. She was wonderful. She will be much missed. Ah, I am very sad.

  49. Sharon and I began teaching at the University of Wisconsin at the same time. Although we both came from Indiana University, we came out of different programs and I did not meet Sharon until we arrived in Madison. There I encountered a person with a ready smile, an infectious laugh, and someone who genuinely cared about other people. Sharon was a prolific researcher and as director of the SJMC, she led the faculty as it created a new curriculum for the School. Beyond all her professional accomplishments and well-deserved accolades that she received, however, lay something even more impressive. She was at her core a fundamentally honorable person and a very good colleague. –Stephen Vaughn, Professor Emeritus

  50. I was very lucky to have been at Indiana University when Sharon was also starting the graduate program, part of a cohort of amazing women graduate students in the program whose company I was so fortunate to have. While keeping in touch mostly through conferences, Sharon was the old friend whose wisdom, support, ready smile, generosity, and wit were never in short supply over the years. Old friendships never die, as they say. They will continue to be nurtured by good memories.
    __Edna Einsiedel, [Calgary, Canada]

    1. Thank you, Edna. Ours was, indeed, a cohort of amazing women. That Sharon is no longer with us is hard for me to absorb. I so miss her presences in the world! Holly

  51. This is really sad news for me and for all of us who knew and were impacted by Sharon.
    Sharon and I were both members of Bill Cronon’s Environmental Breakfast Seminar (one of the best experiences in my life). Everyone listened when she talked. She was so kind in her interactions with seminar members, but her comments were always smart and clear and concise. Sharon had such a wonderful smile. My wife and I often ran into her and Steve at the Farmers’ Market, and just seeing her and having a short chat, would brighten day. I knew she had a strong academic record, but reading the above Memorial and following comments was stunning and quite remarkable. I was particularly touched by the many loving comments of former students and colleagues. She had an enormous impact, and also she was so kind. I will miss her and her smile.

    Dan Anderson, Emeritus Professor of Risk Management

  52. Wonderful to read everyone’s stories: thank you for sharing your memories about Sharon’s laugh, her integrity, her kindness, and her trickster side. I treasure her company so much that sometimes I think I remember every conversation we had. My hubris inspired me to corner Sharon after she gave a lecture at Cornel (where I was a master’s student) so I could learn about the doctoral program at Wisconsin. I shoved her in my car and sped to a cafe where I plied her with coffee and questions. Before becoming one of her minions at Vilas Hall, I met her again when I presented my first-ever conference paper: scared out of my wits of being intellectually flogged because Sharon was the reviewer. She offered concrete suggestions—gently—and soothed my bloated ego. Every encounter with her has been a gift. And I think I can hear her laughing in heaven.

  53. I told Sharon this year how grateful I was for her professional mentoring. She was on my thesis committee when I was in graduate school. Her guidance encouraged me to pursue difficult questions as a science journalist, including writing about environmental justice. She also mentored me during an independent study in which I pitched stories to media outlets. I will miss our conversations and emails.

  54. Sharon and I were undergraduates together at I.U. She has always been a wonderful person and an awesome friend, student, mentor, and human being. The world has lost an outstanding individual.

  55. I am sad beyond words that Sharon has left us, and far too young. Such a warm, witty, kind, brilliant woman, and a model academic. I so enjoyed learning from her each year at AEJMC (first as grad student and then professor), and she was a wise and gracious mentor at various stages of my career. At a pre-conference safari in South Africa, I discovered that Sharon too loved birding, and I got to meet her partner Steve. I’m glad I have memorized her smile and her quick laughter.

  56. Sharon earned tenure at this premiere research school when few women graced the halls of the J-School or other halls at the UW. Her scholarship quickly won respect, and so she became a role model for women in the academy. I remember when she earned the “Under 40” award for research at AEJMC and I stumbled into her reception. Her grace and modesty impressed me as scholar after scholar shook her hand. Sharon was always a person of integrity with her passion for new knowledge, and she carried her academic laurels lightly. If we are lucky, her marvelous laugh will ring out in our memory and the halls of the J-School. Thank you, Sharon.

  57. I’ve sat with this news for days trying to think of anything to add to the well-deserved tributes pouring in about Sharon. She was simply a wonderful and brilliant human being. I am in the field of journalism because of her. She was the faculty member who responded 24-year-old self when I was applying for grad student as an idealistic young person who didn’t even have a clip to my name (or, indeed, even know what a clip was!). I had only been to Madison once in my life, but this warm, reassuring voice over email assured me that I’d feel at home.

    Sharon was an amazing teacher and I was lucky to have her for a number of classes. She made me a better writer and journalist and I always felt honored I got to work with her. At the end of my time in grad school Sharon gave my name to the then assistant director at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and I’ve been working there ever since. She’s why I’m in this field and, literally, why I’m still here in Madison getting to do what I love.

    We take people like Sharon for granted. They seem too remarkable to ever not be here. I know her legacy is so well established that it will outlive most of us and that is some comfort, but I’m still so, so sad that she’s gone.

  58. What an important insight–that we take people like Sharon for granted! In her honor, I will try not to do so. Teri

  59. Sharon was my advisor when I was a MA pro-tracker a decade ago. I learned so much from her as a student in several classes and from reading her publications. She was a force to be reckoned with but always modest, truly friendly and generous with her time. I much appreciated and enjoyed the friendship we shared in the years since. She was an avid jogger who once told me casually it was much easier to run on icy sidewalks than to walk. At our last lunch meeting in Madison a couple years ago, an icy rain had left the sidewalks and streets dangerously slick. I was struggling to keep up with her fast walking pace as we crossed the street near the Capitol after our lunch when I lost my footing on the ice and went splat. She quickly helped me up and then continued walking and talking just as if nothing had happened. I can’t believe she is no longer with us.

  60. I am truly saddened to hear the news of Sharon’s death. I’m not sure when I first met Sharon, but I believe it was in the late 1970s when she was on the faculty at Ohio State University and both of us served on the AEJMC Committee on Research. We shared an interest in science communication and appeared together on panels and at conferences for many years. I was pleased when she joined the faculty at Wisconsin, where I earned my Ph.D. In 1968. As chair, she was an excellent steward of this outstanding program. Her influence as a researcher and educator will last long beyond her too-short lifetime.

    Jim Grunig, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland

  61. So sad to hear of Sharon’s passing. I took Sharon’s Science Writing Class at Ohio State while in graduate school and she was on my committee for approving my Master of Arts degree in Journalism. I consider her an important mentor that set me in the right direction towards my career in international agricultural journalism at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

  62. I met Sharon at the AAAS meeting at the Shamrock Hilton in Texas in 1979. Although I’d been at OSU only a year and Sharon was teaching her Mass Media Science Writing course at OSU, we’d yet to meet. That happened in Carol Rodgers’ press room on the first day of the meeting. The next quarter, back on campus, she asked me to speak to her class, which I did. The course was offered every other quarter and Sharon asked if I’d team-teach it with her. Honored, though totally scared, I accepted. It was great fun and tremendously fulfilling and she was outstanding! On the last day of the quarter, she told me she was leaving for a new job at Wisconsin, and “willed” the course to me. I ended up teaching it for 20 years, trying to preserve the excellence she had demonstrated. Whatever success I enjoyed in the profession is traceable to the kindness and mentoring she gave me! She went on to do great things at UW, including heading the journalism program there. We saw each other every year at the AAAS and NASW meetings and seeing her there was always like reconnecting with a long-lost sibling, a literally joyous occasion! I will miss her dearly!

    We are now of that age, those of us who lived through those times, where we see friends and loved ones pass more often now. And given the struggles some of us have faced with critically ailing spouses and family, the fear of loss is staggering. The important people in our lives are the foundation that keeps us supported and safe. When we lose one, we’re less stable and secure.

    Wherever you are now Sharon, know that you made a difference!

    1. Beautifully and honestly said, Earle. Yes, we are of that age when we lose many dear to us. But this loss is somehow more devastating than most — at least to me. For me, it’s that a light, which radiated such generosity and cheer, has gone dark. I am remembering her support and laughter, especially, on this afternoon of her memorial celebration. And missing her mightily! I so appreciate your recollections and insights.

  63. A wonderful person who always had time for others – I’ve always wondered how she found time to accomplish so many other things in life! She provided strong leadership for the Environmental Communications grad program and transitioned it into the Science Communication program back in the day.A great role model for many.

  64. I first met Sharon on visits to Madison and at MAPOR in the early 1980s, and was struck by her innovative work analyzing the behaviors of science journalists, and applying models of uncertainty to public understanding of science. She had built a field of study from the ground up. I got to know her better when I joined the now-Life Sciences Communication faculty at UW a few years later, and her comradeship, generosity of spirit, scholarly dedication, and good humor were too valued to convey. Maybe above all I appreciated Sharon’s integrity and solid judgment, traits that led her to top administrative positions in SJMC, the UW Graduate School, and elsewhere. Her blending of excellence in teaching, research, and leadership was remarkable.

    Garrett O’Keefe

  65. I miss Sharon, especially the conversations we had about science and the media. Now that she’s gone, I only regret all the discussions we never managed to have. That silence grows louder in me every day.

    –Tony Van Witsen

  66. I met Sharon when she reached out to me after reading several articles on science and health I wrote for The Daily Cardinal. She was teaching Science & Technology Journalism at the time (mid-1980s) and encouraged me to make this my focus. I did so and thoroughly enjoyed it, becoming one of the few to earn a BS (not BA) in Journalism at the time. We continued to keep in touch, and I was so happy to hear she would be Director of the J-School. Professor Dunwoody touched and influenced so many students — an amazing legacy.

  67. I am saddened to see this news, as in addition to sharing her wisdom in her courses, Sharon gave me the gift of a kind act at a difficult time in my life — and it kept me in the course and program to achieve my aim of an academic career, too.

    I admired her immensely for that and more, and in my teaching, I had many occasions to remember her example, of the importance of a kind act on a single day in a student’s life that can make a lifelong difference.

    — Gen McBride

  68. As others have pointed out Sharon was a unique combination of directness, wisdom, grace, and good humor. For many reasons, the field and many, many individuals (myself included) are indebted to her.

  69. I’m so sorry to hear of Sharon’s passing. She was was one of my first instructors when I entered the Journalism program in the early 1980s. She was such a great teacher and funny, too. We had an assignment to visit a city council meeting and write up a story about it. She was at the meeting and the assignment seemed pretty straightforward. Months later as we were wrapping up the semester and sitting in front of our IBM selectrics, she handed out some Candy Cane Awards to students. I was surprised to hear my name and when she said why I was being lauded, it all became clear: “For pretending to be a journalist when you weren’t.” The thing is, when we were at the city council meeting, several of us sat in these nice high back leather chairs in the gallery. We didn’t know they were for the press and not us. Clearly, Sharon knew and wanted to make a point. I love that story and that memory since I think it really captures the spirit of who she was — a great teacher, mentor, a consummate professional and someone with a fantastic sense of humor. Thank you, Sharon! You will be missed.

  70. What I remember most about Sharon is the absolute singular presence she maintained when she would ask someone how they were doing – she was completely in the moment and meant every word when she made the inquiry. And she expected a genuine reply – she cared so deeply about others – a huge loss – she achieved a great deal, but gave back so much more to all of us

  71. Sharon gave me everything I needed to succeed as an environmental journalist and as a ComSHER scholar. All that I am and will ever be I attribute to being one of Sharon’s advisees. Meeting up at AEJMC every year, I also watched her envelop some of my doctoral classmates in her magic “So nice to meet you. What are your interests. Sounds like you are doing great!” It’s one thing to hear encouragement from a professor (they are paid to do so) but to hear encouragement from someone of her caliber who truly is showing an interest because she is being a mentor to young scholars … that is magical. Thank you, Sharon, for all you are and all you do. The world is a little less brighter now … but I promise to spread your magic as best I can.

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