Wilton High alumna invited to international conference

Olivia Schum, a 2005 Wilton High School graduate, embarks on a 5,000-mile trip to Istanbul, Turkey, on Friday, June 13.

Ms. Schum, a 26-year-old assistant director at Saint John’s University, has been invited to participate in the three-day-long 2014 Academic Council of the United Nations Systems (ACUNS) meeting at Kadir Has University.

“My thesis adviser asked me if I wanted to submit a proposal to be on the panel for the conference, and so I did that in December and I found out in January that I was accepted to the conference,” said Ms. Schum.

“I was very excited and then I got a little bit nervous.”

Ms. Schum said many prestigious individuals are expected to be at the event, including “a lot of professors and directors of programs.”

The annual conference provides scholars and practitioners the opportunity to address a number of questions “concerning the health and vitality of contemporary global governance,” according to the ACUNS website.

“I am very excited, but at the same time, I just can’t wait to present and be up on the stage,” said Ms. Schum.

“The more and more I think about it, the more nervous I get.”

Ms. Schum said she and three other panelists will discuss “global problems, how we’re going to apply local solutions and how we’re going to do that internationally,” during the first day of the conference on June 19.

“I’ll be presenting my thesis I did for my master’s, which is on climate change communication. It specifically focuses on how it’s been portrayed via the mass media,” said Ms. Schum, who earned her master’s degree in international communication from Saint John’s University in Queens, N.Y.

“I’ve been working and inspecting how mass media have been framing climate change as an ongoing scientific debate, and how this frame has basically precluded it from being taken as a serious national issue.”

At the conference she will discuss how climate change can be effectively communicated.

“Climate change currently ranks second-to-last in national issues of importance to Americans,” said Ms. Schum.

“That’s because there hasn’t really been any clear and concise communication about what is happening and that there are viable solutions that are not going to be detrimental to the economy.”


In researching her thesis, Ms. Schum said she looked at other vital issues — specifically the Marriage Equality Movement of the early 2000s.

“They had an issue that had a huge opposition from the conservative right. I looked at how the conservative right framed that issue —how they made it into a debate,” said Ms. Schum.

“What the marriage equality proponents did was frame the issue to be more personalized and more local.”

Ms. Schum said she noticed how the marriage equality proponents “used social media to share stories about everyday Americans who were gay, who were excluded from rights because they weren’t married.”

“They made it more personalized and by doing that, they were able to counter the conservative right’s framing of it because of mass media,” she said.

Climate change

Ms. Schum said the same kind of personalized framing should be used to raise awareness of climate change.

“Climate change is happening and we’ve got so many people who have gone through it and have been affected by it,” she said.

“We should take those stories and make them the framing of climate change. Get it away from ongoing scientific debate so that we really force the government to really take action.”

Ms. Schum said she started out working toward her master’s in history at Saint John’s, but switched to international communications after realizing she “wanted something different.”

“I thought it was fascinating to study what I consume every day,” she said.

“I had never really considered analyzing media in relation to international relations, like how the media really does control what we know about international relations.”

To that end, Ms. Schum said not only has she been researching climate change communication on an American mass media level, but she has also been looking at international reaction.

“It’s so interesting to see just how different reactions are to climate change and how we all play off each other,” she said.

Ms. Schum said since the United States hasn’t been in the forefront of the climate change issue, “it really hasn’t gotten the international attention it should have."

“Europe is light-years ahead of us in terms of communication on climate change — especially England, which is very in tune with what’s happening," she said. "We need to come up with viable solutions, but because we [Americans] have been lagging behind, we really haven’t had the full international attention on the climate change issue.”


The 2014 ACUNS meeting, June 19-22, will be Ms. Schum’s first international conference.

“I think it’s going to be such a great opportunity and really going to be something that I can look back on and be really proud of,” she said.

Ms. Schum said she will also be taking a group of friends with her to Turkey.

“Since we’re flying out this Friday, we’ll have a week before the conference to really enjoy Istanbul. We already have all of our plans and itinerary set,” she said.

“I’ve been to Spain, I’ve been to France, but I’ve never considered going to Turkey before. I’m so excited.”