CALS New Hires-January 2023

Rodrigo Soares, Plant and Soil Science Postdoctoral Associate

Rodrigo SoaresRodrigo Soares, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate in the UVM Plant and Soil Science Department. He earned his PhD in strategic communication and a masters in mass communication from the University of Central Florida (UCF).

Soares brings 15 years of experience as a leading practitioner in the communication field, and seven years of applied research in risk and crisis communication. His work has analyzed disease outbreaks and pandemics such as the Zika virus in Brazil and COVID19, through a message design perspective. He also tested the adequacy of crisis communication theories in explaining the failures of institutions facing repeated crises, expanding the understanding of post-crisis learning. His research provides both theoretical advancements and practical applications to the field of risk and crisis communication.

Ben Willis, Across the Fence Multimedia Journalist

Ben WillisBen Willis has joined UVM Extension as a multimedia journalist with Across the Fence (ATF). He brings an exceptionally strong background in video production and education. Willis began his career in filmmaking, documenting disappearing folk art traditions in the American Southwest. He went on to become an assistant director working on feature films in New York City, as well as working for two award winning documentary production companies, producing films such as Best Worst Movie and The American Scream.

Willis is also a passionate educator, and believes strongly in using visual storytelling to enhance education. In 2016, The National Association of Secretaries of State presented him with an award for promoting good citizenship, using dynamic models of civic education through video storytelling. During 2021, he was honored by the Connecticut Office of The Arts for teaching and community building during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most recently he co-founded the Troutbeck Symposium, a yearly event which challenges high school students to make short films and other visual art projects about under-told pieces of BIPOC history from their communities.

In addition, during the past decade he owned and operated his own video production company, and also spent several years teaching filmmaking full time at a Connecticut high school. During his time in Vermont, Willis produced and managed the Vermontcast Digital Media company, which produced news documentaries and other content across a wide range of social media platforms.

Willis’ responsibilities with ATF will center primarily on video storytelling from the field. He will also play an important role with the ATF team as a video editor. With his background in social media (he taught classes on branding and running your own YouTube Channel), he will support ATF’s social media outreach as well.

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