WE ENGAGE via Data & Stories to Improve Community Health & Foster STEM Education

  • Abstract

    A report following the 2016 Environmental Health Summit recommended engaging citizens in creating their own knowledge and solutions, thus ensuring that their concerns are adequately addressed and promoting sustainability of community projects. Indeed, citizen science has the potential to initiate a cascade of events with a positive ripple effect that includes a more diverse future STEM and biomedical workforce. This SEPA proposal involves the establishment of WE ENGAGE – an informal, citizen science-based, environmental health experiential learning program designed in partnership with and for under resourced communities struggling with health and environmental health challenges. Its purpose is to actively engage and build the citizen science capacity of citizens living in a single cluster of three contiguous under resourced, minority Cincinnati neighborhoods where generational challenges continue to plague residents despite the presence of established academic-community partnerships. Our hypothesis is that community-informed, experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom that are structured, multi-generational, and story-based will encourage a) the active asking, discussion about, and answering of relevant complex health and environmental questions so that individuals and communities can plan action steps to make better health choices and pursue healthier environments, and b) greater interest and confidence in pursuing formal biomedical/STEM education and STEM careers. Our program has three specific aims: 1) We will co-create tailored story- based (graphic novel style) STEM education materials with a community advisory board and offer informal STEM education and research training to our target communities; 2) we will facilitate the application of scientific inquiry skills to improve health via community-led health fairs that use an innovative electronic health passport platform to collect data and through facilitated community discussions of health fair data to generate motivating stories to share; and 3) we will facilitate the application of scientific inquiry skills to foster community pride and activism in promoting healthier/safer built environments via walking environmental assessments. As in aim 2, facilitated discussions will be held to spur future community based participatory research studies and interventions. Critical to our success is the concept of storytelling. Storytelling is a foundation of the human experience. A key purpose of storytelling is not just understanding the world, but positively transforming it. It is a common language. Bringing together STEM concepts in the form of a story increases their appeal and meaning. Later, the very process of community data collection gives individuals a voice. In a data story, hundreds to millions of voices can be distilled into a single narrative that can help community members probe important underlying associations and get to the root causes of complicated health issues relevant to their communities. Through place based, understandable, motivating data stories, the community’s collective voice is clearer—leading to relevant and viable actions that can be decided and taken together. From preventing chronic disease, to nurturing healthier environments, to encouraging STEM education — stories have unlimited potential.

    Public Health Relevance Statement:
    Narrative WE ENGAGE is an informal citizen science-based, experiential learning program designed in partnership with and for middle schoolers to adults living in under resourced minority communities. Using the power of data collection and storytelling, its purpose is to actively engage citizens in STEM/research education and training to encourage a more diverse future workforce and to sustainably build local capacity to ask and answer complex health and environmental questions relevant to their communities. Further, by engaging citizens and giving them a more equitable stake in the research process, they are better able to discover their own solutions.