Telling the Story of Health Science Projects

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and Knology partner to share students' health science learning through videojournalism

by Knology
Feb 6, 2024

Since the 1990s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has run the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), which focuses on developing a more diverse STEM and Health workforce by engaging school-age audiences in a wide range of projects. The program also supports the health and science literacy of the populace through early (especially K-12) educational opportunities.

Over the years, Knology has played a role in several SEPA-funded projects, including a PBS NewsHour program centered around videojournalism on health topics. Now, a new project with the NewsHour will bring this videojournalism program to young people participating in other SEPA-funded programs, who will reinforce their own knowledge and build science communication skills through storytelling.

What can you expect to see in these video stories? We reviewed the publicly available abstracts of projects funded through SEPA to provide an overview of who participates and what they're doing.

Target Audiences

Of the 107 SEPA grants currently funded, around half – 46 projects – focus solely on high school students. Another 12 include both middle and high school students, and 6 work with all grade levels, meaning a total of 64 projects involve high school-age participants. While there are fewer SEPA programs working with younger students, all grade bands are represented:

Grade level Count
High school 46
Middle and high school 12
Middle school 14
Elementary and middle school 7
Elementary school 7
Early childhood 2
All grades 6
Informal science learning center visitors / general public 6
Other / Not clear from project description 7

In line with the goals of the SEPA program, almost all projects target audiences which have been underrepresented in STEM and health fields. As a result, participating schools and community organizations are frequently located in rural (28 projects) and/or economically disadvantaged (26 projects) communities. In total, currently funded SEPA projects are located in 40 U.S. states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Project Settings

SEPA funds both formal and informal science education. Around half the funded projects (51) appear to be primarily associated with schools. These are more often delivered by teachers or other non-researchers (e.g., near-peer mentors) than members of the organization leading the project. We categorized 16 projects as having content delivered by the lead organization, such as projects where researchers visited schools or students visited a lab as part of a research class or field trip. In 31 projects, educational content was primarily offered by someone other than the lead organization, including schools themselves. (4 projects did not provide enough information to determine this.)

While these programs take place during the school day or as part of a class, it is important to note that they are not necessarily restricted to the school building. Many include place-based or community-based research, trips to labs, and/or summer camps for a subset of participating students, bringing students out of the classroom to interact with real-world science.

Out-of-school projects showed the opposite pattern – out of 43 projects, we categorized 28 as delivered by the lead organization, who might be leading an after-school or summer program or providing another informal science learning experience like a museum exhibit. (Summer programs which were not associated with school-year programming were classified as out-of-school.) Meanwhile, 14 were categorized as delivered by other parties, such as mentors or community organizations trained by the lead organization. One could not be classified based on the information provided in the abstract.

How are outcomes measured?

All SEPA projects have the overarching goal of preparing students to pursue STEM and health careers, but that goal can be approached in many ways. Of course, equipping students with content knowledge is an important step, and many projects focus on introducing students to topics not covered in typical school curricula, like genomics, bioinformatics, and environmental health. Since standardized assessments on these topics typically do not exist, project leaders may develop their own tests for student learning, or students may demonstrate learning through other means, such as completing a project and presenting their work. Content knowledge is the most common outcome mentioned explicitly in SEPA project descriptions.

Interest in STEM/health careers is easy to ask about directly and also a common outcome mentioned. For high school students, intention to attend college and interest in a STEM/health major are sometimes specified, since these are prerequisites for many STEM/health professions.

Attitudes and motivations are also essential for student retention in STEM majors and fields. Specifically, a number of projects mentioned STEM self-efficacy (believing oneself to be capable of achieving goals, even when faced with obstacles) and STEM identity (being able to imagine oneself as a scientist or identify as "a science kind of person"). Others mention attitudes towards STEM without specifying which attitudes; these may include self-efficacy and identity but also beliefs about how enjoyable or useful learning about or engaging in STEM is.

What's Next?

Student Reporting Labs will support students in documenting their learning and sharing it with others through videojournalism. Videos will focus on both students' content learning and profiles about STEM careers and career pathways.

We'll be assessing whether participating in both videojournalism and another SEPA-funded project supports some of the project-specific outcomes. In order to select projects for testing this hypothesis, we'll be collecting more information on each project (such as which outcomes will be measured quantitatively and using what measures), and we will share an overview with more detail on the landscape of SEPA projects.

Funding Statement

This material is based on work supported by the National Institutes of Health under Grant #R25GM150172. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NIH.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Intramural Training & Education, National Institutes of Health

Join the Conversation
What did you think of this? How did you use it? Is there something else we should be thinking of?
Support research that has a real world impact.