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IUPUI professor links research and real-world issues with a series of children’s books

Nov. 30, 2016

 While most college professors write their own textbooks, not many can say they also pen children’s books.

Jomo Mutegi, associate professor of science education in the School of Education at IUPUI and an advocate for social justice, recently released his latest of seven self-published children’s books, which hope to introduce African-American kids to science.

Ronnie's Great Idea

"Ronnie's Great Idea" is Mutegi's seventh self-published book. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOMO MUTEGI

Mutegi’s latest work, "Ronnie’s Great Idea" is biographical fiction, detailing the story of a boy who made his childhood fantasy his life’s work. The story is based on the life of Ronald L. Mallett, a successful African-American physicist at the University of Connecticut whose research focuses on time travel.

"Dr. Mallet has contributed phenomenal work to his field," Mutegi said. "He faced many challenges in his life that a lot of people can relate to. I just knew I had to get his story out there." 

"Ronnie’s Great Idea" and Mutegi’s other works, all science-related, serve a common purpose: to further the curriculum development he proposes through his research. 

An important part of education happens outside the traditional school environment, Mutegi said. However, he said that parents and communities need to be equipped with the right tools to continue that classroom teaching at home, and he hopes his books help bridge that gap, particularly in African-American communities.

Mutegi’s children’s books are a direct extension of his research at IUPUI, which focuses on the underrepresentation of African-Americans in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. In his work, Mutegi looks at the level of students’ science knowledge and how that affects their career decisions. He also explores the effects of race bias on a child’s decision to participate in a STEM field. 

In addition, Mutegi uses his research to find ways to improve social conditions within African-American communities. For example, in a neighborhood without much access to produce, teaching basic gardening skills can help to improve the whole community, he said. His books help to make these ideas come alive and demonstrate new possibilities for educators and parents.

Jomo Mutegi

Jomo Mutegi is an associate professor of science education at the School of Education at IUPUI. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUI

The idea that culture plays a fundamental role in academics is clearly in subjects such as history or art but less obvious in science and mathematics. However, the opportunity to work in a school of education where this perspective is valued is precisely what drew Mutegi to the position at IUPUI in 2008.

"I felt that the leadership that hired me really accepted and valued the need for this type of research, and that’s something that has continued with the current leadership," he said. "IUPUI is one of few institutions that prioritize this research, and that’s a rich environment to work in." 

While Mutegi’s research and teaching specialties have roots in elementary education, he is excited to start a new project that will allow him to branch out to the high school demographic. This semester, Mutegi hired three local high school students to comprise the Black Kids Read writing team. The students, from Pike High School and Washington Township High School, are interested in science writing, and will be co-authors on Mutegi’s next children’s book.

"Thus far the young ladies have each written a science-related article on a topic of their choice," Mutegi said. "These articles were aimed at giving them practice in writing for elementary-aged learners. In addition to producing science content for elementary learners, the young ladies learned quite a bit themselves. They have learned more about science, about composition, about framing a narrative and about graphic design. We are all excited for what the Black Kids Read will produce in the coming months." 

Jomo Mutegi's research aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a vibrant community of scholars.

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