Health Education through Arts-based Learning (HEAL): A Partnership to Investigate Interdisciplinary Science Programs in Rural Communities

  • Abstract

    Biomedical science and science professions can seem unattainable to many low-income and minority children living in rural-agricultural regions across the United States. There is a need for educational programs and rural capacity building initiatives that will help these children see themselves and their rural communities as a genuine part of the biomedical enterprise. To address this need, this project will establish the Health-sciences Education through Arts-based Learning (HEAL) partnership; an interdisciplinary collaboration of Washington State University biomedical science and Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) education researchers, rural education partner organizations, practitioner partners, and community stakeholders from low-income, ethnically diverse communities in rural-agricultural Central Washington. The long-term goal of this project is to bolster the recruitment of students from these underrepresented communities into the biomedical research pipeline. To pursue this goal, the project’s overall objective is to foster early interest in, understanding of, and appreciation for STEMM and biomedical science career possibilities among low-income and ethnically diverse rural children in grades 3-5. Situated at the cutting edge of research on systems-level thinking and arts-integrated STEMM learning, HEAL will develop a comprehensive educational program and cohort of well-prepared community educators to foster creative, visual learning about complex zoonotic diseases systems, such as West Nile Virus and enteric bacteria, and the impact of these diseases on rural-agricultural communities. The project will pursue two specific aims: 1) Design an equitable, effective, and comprehensive arts-based health science education program about disease systems in rural-agricultural regions; 2) Build educator capacity in rural-agricultural regions through professional development in arts-based health science education. Under the first aim, HEAL will develop and implement four curriculum modules, public youth-exhibition community events, and portable arts-integrated biomedical science activity kits to be used in rural libraries, community centers, clinics, and schools. Under the second aim, HEAL will build comprehensive, sustained professional development programs, including intensive year-long courses, three-day regional workshops, and online training materials for national-level distribution, for elementary-level educators and other adults serving the target communities. HEAL’s approach is innovative because it uses systems-level thinking as a tool for advancing equity in biomedical fields, equips underrepresented children with visual and spatial artistic tools to learn and communicate biomedical science across language divides, and challenges the status quo of rural education capacity building by developing expertise from within underserved communities. This project is significant because it will advance biomedical science education for underserved and increasingly diverse rural-agricultural communities across the US, ultimately strengthening and diversifying the biomedical workforce.

    PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE:
    The HEAL project is relevant to public health because it is expected to increase the number and diversity of students from rural Washington entering biomedical careers by fostering early engagement and understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) in underrepresented populations. In addition, the project’s capacity building and public engagement initiatives are expected to bolster health literacy in both Hispanic and non-Hispanic students living in rural-agricultural communities. Thus, the proposed project advances the mission of NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences by providing educational activities that bolster the development of the nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research workforce.