MESM Focus: Communication

Faculty Advisor: Lisa Leombruni

We train storytellers, strategic thinkers, and compelling communicators to solve environmental problems through creativity, media, and inspired outreach.

Visit the full Bren Communication website


  • Help solve environmental problems through strategic communication
  • Train future environmental professionals to communicate about their work
  • Partner with clients to design strategic environmental communication campaigns
  • Develop story-based communication strategies informed by in-depth audience research
  • Research ways to enhance informal science learning & audience engagement
  • Assess effectiveness of messages, programs, and campaigns through impact and evaluation studies

Academic Focus:

Smart, strategic communication is critical to any scientific endeavor, and the Bren Strategic Environmental Communication & Media (Communication) focus provides the tools students need to educate, engage, persuade, and motivate behavior change across a diversity of audiences. The Communication focus trains students to think strategically and communicate effectively about the environment through a blend of theory and practice. They learn to create compelling narratives, reach their intended audiences, and assess message impact. Students also acquire indispensable verbal and written communication skills and learn media tools, such as video production, social media, and writing. Read more about the Communication Focus.

Client Work:

At the core of strategic communication at Bren is applied communication work. We develop products for clients who need help with outreach, messaging, or campaign design. We generate new branding ideas, research audience values, create social media campaigns, and generate short films—among many other possibilities.

Client projects typically take the form of the final Capstone course for students in the focus, though many are also ongoing research projects with fellowship opportunities for students during the academic year and summer.

Past / Current Clients:

  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
  • Honda Marine Science Foundation
  • Southern California Edison
  • University of California Office of the President
  • Santa Barbara Channel Keeper
  • Salty Girl Seafood
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • The TomKat Foundation
  • Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

If you are interested in being a client, please contact Lisa Leombruni,

Example Client Projects:

  • Short documentary on native California Oyster restoration
  • Carbon neutrality engagement strategy for university students
  • Competitive assessment and branding strategy for a research institute
  • Campaign strategy and outreach materials to reach underserved communities in LA about energy efficiency and green transportation
  • Short film on citizen science to improve monitoring in the rocky intertidal zone
  • Design and test museum interactives to teach about energy and water use
  • Develop and test curricula for high school students about complex environmental issues
  • Create a strategy to engage stakeholders on a vessel speed reduction program

Ongoing Research:

We have several ongoing applied communication research projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the NOVA Science Unit (WGBH Educational Foundation), and other donors. These projects explore everything from informal science learning on social media, to carbon neutrality strategic communications, to message evaluation and impact studies.

The Team:

Lisa Leombruni, PhD- Lisa brings experience in broadcast science media, communication research, and environmental policy to the Bren School. Previously, Lisa worked for NOVA/WGBH Boston, where she co-developed proposals for new television programs, oversaw media evaluation and impact studies, and conducted editorial research. She has consulted for a variety of clients, including the United Nations, Oxfam America, and Climate Nexus.

Richard Hutton- Richard is Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Communication and Education, and has served as Executive Director of UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center. Previously, Richard ran Vulcan Productions, where he co-produced numerous documentaries and mini-series for organizations such as PBS. Richard was Senior Vice President of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering and has been published widely, including in the New York Times Magazine.

Michael Hanrahan- Michael is Video Producer at the Earth Media Lab and brings more than two decades of experience in environmental media storytelling to UCSB. In collaboration with UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center, Michael co-founded Blue Horizons, a summer environmental filmmaking program. He has spent 20 years in natural history film and media production for clients such as Discovery Channel, The Nature Conservancy, and NOAA.

Celia Alario- Celia is a grassroots media strategist and founder of PR for People and the Planet. She creates social action campaigns, political documentaries, and books, and has placed hundreds of stories about social justice issues in prominent national and international media outlets. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

Heather Hodges, PhD- ​Heather is a postdoctoral scholar at the Bren School, interested in how public and politics influence policy design and implementation. Using theories from communication and social psychology to analyze the public's relationship to policy through information streams, she uses these findings to explain this relationship via their interactions with agencies and managers.

Communication Focus Courses (8 units required to complete focus)

1ESM 440 Strategic Environmental Communication (4 units)
ESM 449 Environmental Communication Practicum (4 units)

1Enrollment in ESM 440 requires an application and approval by the instructor.

Communication Electives (2 additional courses, minimum 4 units, required to complete focus)

Communication Electives in the Bren School

*ESM 249 Environmental Persuasion (2 units)
ESM 269 Survey Design and Environmental Public Opinion (2 units)
ESM 283 Environmental Negotiation (4 units)
ESM 430 Workshops in Environmental Science & Management (Social Media) (1 unit)
ESM 437 Writing Skills for Environmental Professionals (2 units)
ESM 438 Presentation Skills for Environmental Professionals (4 units)
ESM 439 Environmental Data Visualization (2 units)
ESM 441 Environmental Media Production (2 units)
ESM 442 Communication for Civic Engagement & Grassroots Organizing (2 units)

Communication Electives in other UCSB departments

FAMST 118 Sponsored Campus Production (GreenScreen) (4 units)