Mason Alumnus Helps Coordinate Inaugural Scholarly Communication Conference

International science communication stakeholders visit Fairfax Campus for the first in a ten-year series of events.

by Laura Powers

Mason Alumnus Helps Coordinate Inaugural Scholarly Communication Conference

George Mason University alumnus Eric Olson, BA Communication '09, earned a graduate certificate in science communication from Mason in 2013. Only a few years later, he finds himself at the ground level of an initiative that may change the way major stakeholders in the sciences share, access, and communicate information worldwide. 

This past April, George Mason University hosted the first meeting of the Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) – a ten-year project aimed at bringing scientists, publishers, librarians, and many other stakeholders together for face-to-face and digital discussions about open access to research. The focus of this conference was, and will continue to be, on ensuring advances are being properly communicated to the public. As Katherine Rowan, director of Mason’s Science Communication program said, “Science Communication is the science underlying how best to share peer-reviewed research with experts and those who seek the benefits of research.” 

Backed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and organized (this first year) by the National Science Communication Institute, the conference included 15 stakeholder groups from 12 countries and many other organizations who all contributed to questions as fundamental as What is publishing? What is open? And, Who decides? 

“While it might seem silly to ask some of the smartest people in the field such broad questions, the idea is that they all, for a few moments, have to forget their assumptions about the answer and come together to see where their ideas overlap,” said Olson. “They can then speak to the rest of the assembly and report on what they decided as a group—a group of very different minds, with different ideas about these questions.” 

A few years ago, Olson connected with the executive director at the National Science Communication Institute (and now OSI’s program director), Glenn Hampson and provided research support for one of Hampson’s projects—the Open Science Initiative—that promoted online discussion about scientific data access, health literacy and more. Librarians, scholarly communicators, journalists, and researchers contributed to the initiative and shared their concerns about these issues. This work, over a span of six to seven months, turned into a white paper titled “Mapping the Future of Scholarly Publishing,” that laid out the participants’ concerns and the solutions they proposed. One of the solutions was the Open Scholarship Initiative. 

Over the next year, the results of the conversations from the conference will be compiled and shared online to foster both transparency and accessibility to the public. Information will be updated as members of the group continue their conversations and move initiatives forward prior to meeting again next year. This information may be found at

“The ten-year, annual meetings are important because of the face-to-face interaction,” Olson said. “This wouldn’t be as effective if you didn’t have individuals at the same table. The outcomes and developments are also very important. These are not things we could lock away and then publish in a place where someone couldn’t access the information if they wanted to. It’s important to make it available.” 

Olson was instrumental in bringing the first OSI conference to Mason. He reached out to Mason’s Department of Communication, and reported that department chair Anne Nicotera and Katherine Rowan immediately got the ball rolling, helping to solidify the location and coordinating with other university parties including Mason’s libraries and facilities. Mason is at the forefront of science communication with its graduate program in science communication and its publishing and scholarly communication offices headed by librarians John Warren and Claudia Holland. 

Olson earned his bachelor’s degree in communication at Mason and went on to earn his master’s degree in communication from Virginia Tech. Wanting to find his niche in the industry, he enrolled in Mason’s graduate science communication certificate program and has been actively involved in the field ever since. He currently works as the outreach coordinator for the PressForward Project, a free and open-source software project designed for curating and sharing content from the web, which is run by Mason’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. 

“Mason goes back a long time for me as an undergraduate and further back in my family, so the university always comes around for me and has been there when I needed it.” Olson said. “It’s great to be a part of this conference and to contribute in any way that I can. I hope that maybe ten years from now, I’m one of the voices continuing to contribute in a major way.”

Special thanks for the coordination of this event goes out to the University’s Office of the President and the Office of the Provost, and to the leadership, faculty and staff of the Department of Communication, PressForward Institute, University Libraries and its Mason Publishing Group, University Catering, and University Information, and to the students of Comm 331, Alpha Phi Sorority, and the Mason Ambassadors program. In particular, thank you to Anne Nicotera (Chair of the Mason Department of Communication), Eric Olson (Outreach Coordinator for PressForward), Lisa Sevilla (Undergraduate Program Coordinator for the Department of Communication) and Claudia Holland (Mason’s Scholarly Communication and Copyright Officer) for their year-long effort to create and organize the infrastructure needed to support this project.