Winter 2021 Newsletter

Worlds of Connections 

Volume IV, Issue 1
20 December 2021

Letter from Dr. McQuillan

Hello Worlds of Connections community,

It is already the middle of the fourth year of the Worlds of Connections (WoC) SEPA. This fall we returned to an in-person after-school club with three new NE STEM 4U mentors, who led youth in many network science activities, including the four that were published in the new book Hands-on with NE STEM 4U. Our work founding a “franchise” of NE STEM 4U at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is part of the story in a forthcoming publication about the dissemination of high-quality clubs in more towns.

We continue to seek ways to help youth see the relevance of systems thinking and network science for understanding the complexities of contemporary health challenges. We are exploring complex systems and network science dimensions of other NE STEM 4U activities and creating new activities, focusing on a small set of fundamental concepts that seem most useful for youth. Led by WoC team member Ash Smith, we are also concentrating on the development of an emerging media arts deliverable that engages youth with network science and systems thinking through storytelling.

Read more about our ongoing activities—including NE STEM 4U, our new SEPA Administrative Supplement Worlds of Connections: Vaccine Hesitancy, and a recap of our annual Lincoln Public Schools Science Connector—in the newsletter below.

Thank you for your support.

Best regards,

Julia McQuillan
Worlds of Connections Primary Investigator
Professor of Sociology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Project Accomplishments

NE STEM 4U Activities & Deliverable Development

Four network science activities, “Ecology,” “Genealogy,” “Fish Supply,” and “Play Dough Liaisons,” were published in the book Hands-on with NE STEM 4U: For Budding STEMers in Grades 4–8 in August. The book of informal STEM activities is available for free download on the NE STEM 4U: Omaha website.

Our team continues to create, pilot, evaluate, and refine network science activities for middle-school-aged youth in both virtual and in-person informal settings. During the Fall 2021 semester, we facilitated all four newly published network science activities at one NE STEM 4U after-school club in Lincoln and collected feedback on the activities from undergraduate student mentors (club leaders), UNL students Kayla Gaertig, Elizabeth Jardee, and Brecken Obermueller. The published activities were used in NE STEM 4U after-school clubs in Omaha as well. Looking to the future of WoC informal network science activity development, we will integrate relevant concepts that help youth understand their own positions in social networks, such as the majority illusion (see also: The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds by Nicky Case), and how network science can be a tool to address health problems (e.g., for informing prevention and mitigation of drug use disorders).

Worlds of Connections: Vaccine Hesitancy

In August, the WoC SEPA team started work on an NIH Administrative Supplement, Worlds of Connections: Vaccine Hesitancy, led by Dr. Judy Diamond with Meghan Leadabrand serving as coordinating manager. The goal of the Vaccine Hesitancy supplement is to combine art, social psychology, network science, learning research, and virology to create both a print publication and public art exhibit(s) to reduce public COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Our team is seeking submissions of original artwork that promotes COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, which will be reviewed by an expert committee, who will then select approximately 30 works for publication. [EDIT ON 23 FEB 2022: Works submitted after February 1, 2022 are not guaranteed reviewal by our committee.] The committee includes experts in molecular virology, veterinary epidemiology, public health, social science, and art.


WoC team members participated in several presentations this semester, including a film screening, conference presentation, and the Fall 2021 Nebraska Lecture. On October 8, WoC co-hosted a hybrid screening of the documentary Coming Clean with our partners the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts and the Rural Drug Addiction Research Center. Coming Clean investigates the systems underpinning the opioid crisis and shows how community support from social networks is essential to overcoming the crisis. The screening took place at the Ross Media Arts Center and via Zoom and included a Q&A session with filmmaker Ondi Timoner, who reminded us all that  “the opposite of addiction is connection.” On November 3, PI Dr. Julia McQuillan presented the Nebraska Lecture “Disruptive Questions and Productive Tensions: What Can Social Scientists Bring to Teams Seeking Equity?” in which she discussed a systems-thinking, human-focused approach to addressing Grand Challenges and addressed questions in conversation with UNL Chancellor Dr. Ronnie Green. Lastly, on November 16, WoC Emerging Media Arts faculty Ash Smith presented “Narratives in the Network” during the Popularizing STEM: Science and Technology in 21st-Century Popular Culture virtual conference.


We co-hosted the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) Science Connector on August 11 with Science Curriculum Specialist Betsy Barent and Digital Learning Coordinator Lindsey Roy. This annual event is a professional learning day for LPS science teachers, which took place this year in a hybrid format on UNL campus with plenary speakers presenting via Zoom. Over 160 LPS science teachers gathered in the UNL City Union Ballroom, where they participated in discussions about using data in the classroom to promote equity led by keynote speakers Dora Kastel and Aneesha Badrinarayan. Then, at various labs and locations across City and East Campus, the teachers collaborated with UNL faculty in workshops on using authentic data in the classroom. WoC Internal Evaluator Dr. Amy Spiegel prepared an evaluation report on the event which provided us with useful feedback, both about the structure of activities and the program content, to inform the planning of Science Connectors to come.

2021 Science Connector Workshop Leaders by UNL Department
Biological Sciences | Scott GardnerEileen HebetsKate LyonsEric WeaverKarrie Weber
Chemistry |  Catherine Eichhorn
Computing | Brittany Duncan
Earth & Atmospheric Sciences | David HarwoodAdam Houston
Entomology | Joe Louis
Mechanical & Materials Engineering | Michael Sealy
Physics & Astronomy | Robert Streubel
Plant Pathology | Hernan Garcia Ruiz

Upcoming Happenings

We continue to work on informal network science activities for youth, an emerging media arts deliverable asset, and collaborative research and evaluation. In Spring 2022, we will have one in-person NE STEM 4U club in Lincoln (Park Middle School) and numerous clubs in Omaha.

Upcoming Dates

18–29 April 2022 | Worlds of Connections: Vaccine Hesitancy Poster Exhibit
Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln, NE
Free, public poster exhibit. Artists include comic artist and writer Bob Hall and Ho-Chunk artist Henry Payer.
Visit the Nebraska State Capitol website  for building hours.

31 May–3 June 2021 | NIH SciEd 2022
Washington, DC­
In-person annual SEPA meeting.

NE STEM 4U: Lincoln Fall 2021 Club Photos

By |2023-02-16T20:36:53+00:00February 23rd, 2022|