Using storytelling and a justice oriented STEM after-school club as critical tools for cultivating African American youths’ STEM identities

August 1st, 2022 - July 31st, 2027 | PROJECT

This Innovations in Development project explores radical healing as an approach to create after-school STEM programming that welcomes, values and supports African American youth to form positive STEM identities. Radical healing is a strength-based, asset centered approach that incorporates culture, identity, civic action, and collective healing to build the capacity of young people to apply academic knowledge for the good of their communities. The project uses a newly developed graphic novel as a model of what it looks like to engage in the radical healing process and use STEM technology for social justice. This graphic novel, When Spiderwebs Unite, tells the true story of an African American community who used STEM technology to advocate for clean air and water for their community. Youth are supported to consider their own experiences and emotions in their sociopolitical contexts, realize they are not alone, and collaborate with their community members to take critical action towards social change through STEM. The STEM Club activities include mentoring by African American undergraduate students, story writing, conducting justice-oriented environmental sciences investigations, and applying the results of their investigations to propose and implement community action plans. These activities aim to build youth’s capacity to resist oppression and leverage the power of STEM technology for their benefit and that of their communities.

Clemson University, in partnership with the Urban League of the Upstate, engages 100 predominantly African American middle school students and 32 African American undergraduate students in healing justice work, across two youth-serving, community-based organizations at three sites. These young people assume a leadership role in developing this project’s graphic novel and curriculum for a yearlong, after-school STEM Club, both constructed upon the essential components of radical healing. This project uses a qual→quant parallel research design to investigate how the development and use of a graphic novel could be used as a healing justice tool, and how various components of radical healing (critical consciousness, cultural authenticity, self knowledge, radical hope, emotional and social support, and strength and resilience) affect African American youths’ STEM identity development. Researchers scrutinize interviews, field observations, and project documents to address their investigation and utilize statistical analyses of survey data to inform and triangulate the qualitative data findings. Thus, qualitative and quantitative data are used to challenge dominant narratives regarding African American youth’s STEM achievements and trajectories. The project advances discovery and understanding of radical healing as an approach to explicitly value African Americans’ cultures, identities, histories, and voices within informal STEM programming.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2214740

Team Members

Renee Lyons, Principal Investigator, Clemson University
Rhondda Thomas, Co-Principal Investigator
Corliss Outley, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2214740
Funding Amount: $1,916,958.00


Access and Inclusion: Black | African American Communities | Ethnic | Racial
Audience: Middle School Children (11-13) | Undergraduate | Graduate Students
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | General STEM | Technology
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Comics | Books | Newspapers | Higher Education Programs | Informal | Formal Connections | Media and Technology | Public Programs