Last month, NYSCI’s Martin Weiss, Geralyn Abinader, and Laycca Umer attended the National Institute of Health Science Education Conference. This meeting brings together National Institute of Health – Science Education Partnership Award (NIH-SEPA) recipients from all over the country as well as other leaders, stakeholders, and professionals in the various fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and health. During the meeting, attendees collectively learn, collaborate and reflect on the diverse array of projects addressing issues such as communicating health science concepts to middle school students through the use of digital technologies, impacts of the human genome project, the latest innovations in cancer research and treatments, and the role of cultural institutions as community brokers in bringing together the public to help them learn about these complex issues and phenomena.

During the conference, the NYSCI team led a poster session, a breakout session/workshop with Julia McQuillan from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln titled “WHAM! BANG! SLAM! Reading and Making Comics: Innovative Pathways to STEM Content, and a roundtable discussion focused on “Can An Interactive Comic Help Develop STEM Skills?” The conference activities the NYSCI team led were in relation to Transmissions, an NIH-SEPA supported project for the development of an interactive comic book about disease transmission for middle school students. In the comic, readers explore evolutionary biology, collect evidence and counter-evidence, conduct science inquiry and investigations, and solve the mystery of identifying the 1999 West Nile Virus outbreak in New York City.

At the roundtable discussion and poster session, we focused on the process of developing the comic book in terms of the balance between the science content, the production/design and the design-based research used to inform the development. At the breakout session/workshop, we discussed why we chose comics, the different kinds of comics out there and what young people say about them, what research has shown about comics, science capital and science literacy, and things that should be considered when trying to create your own comic or similar digital learning resources. Attendees also engaged in a hands-on activity creating their own comic based on a story about animal evolution.

The conference was a great place to learn and share experiences with other NIH-SEPA awardees. We’re excited to continue participating in such important work. Look out for the Transmissions comic book, to be released in this fall.