A unique, cross-school collaborative pilot project, funded by Rutgers Center for Agricultural Food Ecosystems (RUCAFE) in the New Jersey Institute for Food Nutrition and Health, provides high school youth from diaspora communities the opportunity to co-create original science-based video stories with Rutgers researchers. The project, titled FAME (Food, Agriculture and Marine Ecosystems) is based on an innovative informal STEM learning model connecting Rutgers’ researchers with the community through collaborative science storytelling.
The project’s Principal Investigator, Ousseina Alidou, is an SAS professor of African Languages and Literature, director of the Rutgers Center for Women’s Global Leadership and an RUCAFE member where she works closely with plant biologist Jim Simon. Originally from Niger, Alidou says diaspora youth from agrarian and fishing societies often know a great deal about plants, farming and food production. “FAME is intended to inspire pride in diaspora youth’s cultural foodways and motivate them to build upon their complex indigenous knowledge.”
Alidou collaborated with Xenia Morin and Dena Seidel, RUCAFE members who have a history using science storytelling as a means to connect non-science students to science learning, and Marissa Staffen, who leads Rutgers urban 4-H programs. Together they imagined the FAME model in which diaspora youth, through the Rutgers 4-H Stem Ambassadors program, would create science stories with Jim Simon and his graduate students who work with African indigenous vegetables and other traditional plants. “Our Rutgers plant biology team has led international agriculture projects in several African and Central American countries. To now be able to share our science with New Jersey youth by way of creative storytelling partnerships is a dream come true.” says Simon.
Eight high school students who have participated in a greater Newark area 4-H program began making science stories in Fall 2021 that combine videotaped interviews of scientists with first person narration from their unique biocultural perspectives. Morin says the bi-directionality of FAME’s co-created science storytelling is a key to learning. “Our FAME model puts scientists and students in meaningful conversations and these interactions inform the students’ stories.”
Marissa Staffen recruited the participating high school students and has been assessing their involvement in the pilot project. “A big takeaway is the youth’s increased comfort with scientists and science storytelling. It takes a lot of time to make science videos but the youth remain motivated to communicate science from a point of view relevant to them.” Staffen says.
Troi Slade, a high school senior from Newark, said she joined the FAME pilot project because of its connection to culture. “As a Black American who has been impacted by the African Diaspora, I want to learn how scientists use their technology to help people in other countries as well as here and to bring those two cultures together.” Slade said.
FAME’s cultural anthropologist and science outreach specialist, Dena Seidel, is overseeing the youth’s science storytelling video productions including the trusting partnerships with the scientists. Brendan Jenkins provides technical support as a camera operator and editing mentor. The first drafts of the youths’ science stories can be found on the RUCAFE website with final videos to be uploaded by June 1st, 2022. This FAME compilation video combines the testimonies and experiences of four of the eight youth who participated in the FAME pilot project.
FAME’s model is replicable and Oscar Schofield and Janice McDonnnell plan to invite diaspora youth to co-create science stories with Rutgers marine and aquaculture scientists. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the project.
This article was originally published by the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom on March 8, 2022.