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Science As Told by Teens: Reflecting on the Pilot of NOVA Science Studio

With a goal to empower youth to tell stories about the world in new ways, NOVA Science Studio was able to give students exposure to a wide range of careers in STEM, journalism, and media production.

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Students Razan Mohammed and Ayan Jama pose for the camera at the NOVA Science Studio event in June. (Photo by: Meredith Nierman)

“I want to become a doctor when I grow up,” stated Razan Mohammed, a rising high school sophomore from the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. “I don’t know what kind of doctor. My little brother was almost diagnosed with autism and I wanted to talk about the brain, so I was interested in that [for my project]. I might become an autism doctor in the future.” Like Razan, many of the students in the inaugural cohort of the NOVA Science Studio chose to explore topics that reflected their personal lives and curiosity about issues in their communities. The pilot of the new program, which concluded in June 2019 and was funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, featured an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on science communication, digital media literacy, and video production. With a goal to empower youth to tell stories about the world in new ways, the NOVA Science Studio was able to give students exposure to a wide range of careers in STEM, journalism, and media production.

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The NOVA Science Studio marks NOVA’s first foray into youth programming and our first attempt to create educational resources to teach science communication to teens. To do this, NOVA Science Studio tapped in-house talent working across several teams at NOVA including the editorial, broadcast, and digital teams to work with students and support them as they explored best practices for science storytelling over the course of 6 months. With students varying in age and skill set, it was no easy feat to address the needs of nearly thirty students across three pilot sites in Greater Boston, but according to NOVA Digital Producer Emily Zendt, “It was amazing to witness the tenacity these young talents brought to the big questions they tackled. It gives me so much hope for the future of the field to watch them tell these important stories.”

These stories were so important because they explored topics at the intersection of science and social issues. For example, several students investigated whether or not exposure to trauma as a child predisposes people to crime, as well as the impact of medical racism on Black mothers’ mortality rates. Another topic that interested many students was artificial intelligence and its growing presence in everyday life. High school seniors Kendrick Echeverri and DuWayne Gary, the latter of whom will start a degree in mechanical engineering this fall, focused on AI and the future of the workforce. They wanted to educate themselves and their peers about the reality of the job prospects that await them in the next few years as the use of AI in the workforce increases. Inspired by the young climate change activist Greta Thunberg, eighth graders Shianne Henry and Derian Peña interviewed professors from Harvard for their project about the role that teens can play in mitigating climate change.

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A family affair! Members of the Herrera family which boasted two students in the program look on at a photo slideshow in the WGBH Atrium (Photo by: Meredith Nierman)

On June 20th, the pilot of the NOVA Science Studio culminated with a showcase event celebrating the hard work of all the participants. In attendance were members from across the WGBH Educational Foundation including NOVA Co-Executive Producers Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt, VP Of National Programming John Bredar, and most importantly the families and friends of the students. Guests were treated to a gallery walk featuring the research articles penned by students in the cohort, a sight which made NOVA Digital Editor Katherine J. Wu especially proud as she reflected on workshopping topics with students stating “All of them were able to refine their musings about the world around them into researchable questions—many of which blended science and social justice. Seeing that transformation over just a few short months was pretty incredible, and it was wonderful to see the students come away with something tangible and scientific that they’d produced all on their own,” said Wu. “And it was fun.”

After screening a highlight reel of the student produced videos, a small panel of students and the adults who worked at the NOVA Science Studio sites shared their experiences and insights from the pilot, noting that the synthesis of science and media set the program apart from others. “Having the opportunity to work with and learn from professional practitioners of science journalism was extremely valuable,” remarked Andrew Chi Keong Yim, Program Assistant at 826 Boston, one of the three pilot sites. “The times when NOVA/WGBH staff were able to come in to sessions, or when students were able to go to WGBH for a workshop, were the most effective."

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Director of Education and Outreach at NOVA Ralph Bouquet hosts a panel discussion about the program. (Photo by: Meredith Nierman)

The curriculum created for NOVA Science Studio will be available this fall on PBS LearningMedia and stay tuned for more program updates.

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