Polishing the Crown Jewel

With a revamped communications strategy, the Aurora Sporealis is better than ever after 92 years of publication. We have worked to improve the Aurora by expanding the content and using the publication to premiere more full-length stories about research, Extension, student learning, and alumni activities.

By Jim Bradeen

Aurora Sporealis Through the Years

This past summer I had the privilege of presenting at the American Phytopathological Society Annual meeting. I was asked to talk about “communicating plant pathology within academic institutions.” This is a topic we think about a lot in the department and it was a thrill for me to share what we are up to.

In the past few years we have undergone strategic communication planning by defining our audiences (potential students, college and University leaders, alumni, friends and donors) and honing our message. We’ve thought a lot about communications platforms too, and today we have very active social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram). We also publish a monthly electronic newsletter and a quarterly letter from the department head. In addition to all of these, we of course publish the Aurora Sporealis, our annual news magazine. I am especially proud of the Aurora. Did you know that it was first published in 1924? That’s 92 years of celebrating our department, alumni and global impacts! (If you are interested in checking out earlier editions of the Aurora, you can find them online in the University of Minnesota Libraries Digital Conservancy.) Citing the Aurora, fellow department heads at peer institutions have asked me how to start a successful news magazine. I tell them in all honesty that the Aurora is simply part of our culture--part of who we are, and for the vast majority of us, it has always been there.

Today the Aurora Sporealis remains the crown jewel in a comprehensive communications plan designed to attract new students to the field of plant pathology; inform our alumni and friends of the work of students, staff, and faculty; attract financial support; build a network of informed advocates; and influence decision-making at the college and University levels. As our communications strategy has evolved, we have worked to improve the Aurora Sporealis too, expanding content and using the publication to premiere more full-length stories about research, Extension, student learning, and alumni activities. While we still print and mail the Aurora to those who want it, online delivery is more economical for the department and allows an expanded reader experience. This year’s online version includes value-added features such as embedded video content and web links. Our monthly electronic newsletter is the perfect companion to the Aurora. In 2017 our newsletter will feature perspectives from students, staff and faculty; timely updates on departmental happenings; and more content about the science of plant pathology. At no time in our history have we generated or shared more plant pathology content through the Aurora Sporealis and other components of our communications strategy.

The Aurora Sporealis belongs to all of us and our goal is to provide the content our readers want to read in a manner that works best. I genuinely appreciate the feedback I’ve received over the years about the Aurora. As you read this edition, if you have suggestions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone (612-625-9736), email (jbradeen@umn.edu), or mail (Department of Plant Pathology, 495 Borlaug Hall / 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108).

I am grateful to Dylan VanBoxtel, who edited this edition of the Aurora Sporealis, and to all of my colleagues and friends who have generated content. On behalf of all of us in the Department of Plant Pathology, happy reading!

Polishing the crown jewel

Jim Bradeen
Department Head