Paneled and Painless: Improving Student Interest, Confidence, and Understanding through Comics

Engineering and other forms of STEM education should be accessible for all who wish to learn more about topics in those fields. However, heavy jargon, lack of captivating visual aids, expensive resources, and outdated language make STEM education tedious, unappealing, even incomprehensible. Abstract concepts, such as fugacity, are only partially understood, if at all, due to lack of personal or real-world connection. To increase accessibility and make information engaging, we have produced a series of STEM-based comics, communicating difficult concepts in a visual story-telling style to introduce, solidify, and reaffirm knowledge that coincides with current STEM literature. Complicated ideas, like the refrigeration cycle, are displayed in a colorful, exciting narrative to keep readers engaged, along with visuals to break down the components into understandable pieces. Topics began in chemical engineering concepts and have since expanded to subjects such as genetics and effective education tools.

Writing the comics is completed in alignment with professors' lectures, with script edits and illustrations being performed by a student artist. Work is periodically sent back and forth to ensure the artist portrays accurate information in the visual aspect of the comic. The work is then either published to a journal, a website, or distributed to colleges and schools to be used as a curriculum supplement to whatever subject the comic accompanies. Future projects may include experiments alongside the comics or an entire textbook written like a graphic novel.

These comics have been shown to increase understanding of the particular subject matter. The humor in the comic helps readers to keep things to memory, as humor has been linked to storing information in long-term memory. Future work will include producing these comics in a variety of subjects and departments, presenting up-and-coming research in a form that can be understood by as wide an audience as possible.