Sibrina Collins: The Benefits of Storytelling in STEM

The Benefits of Storytelling in STEM

Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool

[Alaina Rumrill] Dr. Sibrina Collins offers a unique way to enhance student engagement in STEM classrooms: storytelling. Storytelling is defined as the vivid description of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life lessons through stories or narratives that provoke powerful emotions or insights [1]. While textbooks and traditional lectures may stimulate the intellect, storytelling offers an easy route to the hearts of students. Dr. Collins has found that initiating lectures with topics that relate to students significantly influences attentiveness.

She specifically focuses on making connections to chemistry through popular music, films, and technology. One method she employs is asking students about their favorite musical artists, using an iPod as a relatable example. With the attention of all students secured, Dr. Collins then delves into the mechanics of an iPod and guides them through a worksheet on balanced redox reactions [2].  The success of this approach was evident when her idea was published as a short paper.

Continuing to captivate students, Dr. Collins undertook a project that compared the film “Black Panther” to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.” With a group of 100 high school seniors, students eagerly identified parallels between the two. [2]. A large discussion included the treatment of characters Frankenstein’s creature and Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger within their respective communities, both having been abandoned and compelled to retaliate [2]. The remarkable enthusiasm and feedback from the students prompted Dr. Collins and her collaborators to publish a paper.

Upon deeper exploration of the film “Black Panther,” the prominent use and mention of the fictional element vibranium sparked Dr. Collins’ curiosity about its hypothetical placement on the periodic table [2]. This curiosity evolved into the inspiration to write a paper on the subject. Seeking to involve students in this mystery, she collaborated with a colleague. The question of vibranium’s placement was incoorporated as an extra credit challenge on exams [2]. The outcome revealed a remarkable level of student engagement and enthusiasm, turning into an effective and enjoyable critical thinking opportunity. The approach not only made learning about the periodic table more enjoyable, but also enhanced students’ understanding as they creatively placed the fictional vibranium element [2].

Dr. Collins continues her inspiring work, particularly with the Marvel film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”. The film showcases women of color thriving in STEM roles, providing vital representation for students. Dr. Collins underscores the significance of the film in fostering a national conversation about the invaluable contributions of women and people of color in STEM fields [2]. Witnessing a woman of color leading research and development for an entire country proves particularly inspiring for young individuals [2]. In the realm of chemistry education, storytelling emerges as a potent force for promoting equity and effective pedagogy [2]. Beyond filling the void in empathy and humanities within the curriculum, stories actively enhance communication, participation, and listening skills [3].

While traditional textbooks delve into the history of chemistry, the often spotlighting a select few figures. There’s a recognized need for greater diversity in educational content. To truly engage students, it’s essential to provide narratives that reflect the diversity within the scientific community. By spotlighting unique individuals and incorporating additional stories into the curriculum, students can better envision their own potential success [2]. Representation emerges as a powerful tool in fostering a more inclusive and diverse scientific community. Dr. Collins, by exploring narratives in films like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” exemplifies how inspiration from diverse sources can fuel students’ pursuit of excellence in the field of chemistry, contributing to a richer and more varied scientific landscape.

From Student to Scientist

While pursuing her Associate’s degree as a non-science major, Dr. Sibrina Collins sparked an interest in chemistry after taking her first course in the subject. Her success in this undergraduate course instilled in her the confidence to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry [2]. She pursued graduate school at Ohio State University with an initial intent to earn her doctorate in synthetic organic chemistry but became quickly fascinated by the colorful metal complexes that inorganic chemistry had to offer [2]. After obtaining her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Ohio State University, Collins undertook a conventional postdoctoral fellowship at Louisiana State University, focusing her research on heart disease. Collin’s postgraduate research predominantly focused on diabetes and the development of anti-cancer agents.

Following the completion of her education, Dr. Sibrina Collins dedicated a year to working with the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In contributing to an editorial and writing role focused on science journalism, she developed her love for writing [2]. Her present professional journey unfolds at Lawrence Technological University. With over 6 years dedicated to the Marburger STEM Center, she now holds the position of Executive Director of STEM Education and Associate Professor of Practice in Chemistry. Her mission is to make STEM education more engaging for undergraduate students [2].

Dr. Sibrina Collins: Advice for Students

In the dynamic realm of academia, Dr. Sibrina Collins stands as an influential figure for aspiring students. She champions dreaming big and exploring the vast world of opportunities where STEM integrates. Dr. Collins emphasizes the importance of gaining diverse perspectives that different institutions have to offer. She recognizes that such exposure is crucial for understanding science and obtaining a broader view of the world [2]. Her central message to students revolves around the notion that an education in science is not confined to a singular career path. A science degree opens the door to a myriad of opportunities, allowing individuals to make an impact across various fields and endeavors [2].

Acquiring skills beyond STEM only widens the spectrum of opportunities and enhances the potential for integration with one’s scientific pursuits. Secondly, she urges students to think about the kind of impact they aspire to make on each their neighborhood, community, and the world [2]. Dr. Sibrina Collins’ messages propel students to set ambitious goals, shaping the creation of a more positive future for STEM.

Learn More

If you’d like to hear more about Dr. Sibrina Collins’ journey and the benefits of storytelling in STEM education, visit us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many other streaming services to listen to our ChemTalk Podcast with Dr. Sibrina Collins, Executive Director of STEM Education and Associate Professor of Practice in Chemistry at Lawrence Technological University.

Find the ChemTalk podcast here.

Works Cited

[1] Serrat, Oliver. “Storytelling – Asian Development Bank.” Storytelling, October 2008.

[2] Collins, Sibrina. Personal Interview. Conducted by Olivia Lambertson. 14 June 2023.

[3] “Storytelling – Benefits and Tips.” TeachingEnglish. Accessed January 20, 2024.