Keeping an Eye on the Future: Lessons Learned from Using a Video Contest to Engage Teens

Shiraz Batroukh, MPH1, Ashley King, MPH1, Kim Hassell, MPH2, Jaime Dawson, MPH2, Maria Zacharias, BA3 and Devina Fan, MPH3, (1)CommunicateHealth, Rockville, MD, (2)CommunicateHealth, Inc., Rockville, MD, (3)National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Background: While the rates of interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers have increased over the last decade, disparities continue to persist within the field. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), Black/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, women, and people with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in scientific fields (NSF, 2021).

On behalf of the National Eye Institute (NEI), CommunicateHealth (CH) supported the development of Eye on the Future (EOTF) — a campaign that seeks to inspire teens (especially those from underrepresented populations) to pursue careers in science, including eye health and biomedical research. As part of the campaign, NEI launched the annual EOTF teen video contest in 2022 to encourage teens to showcase what science means in their world using short videos.

Program background: To inform the campaign, we conducted formative research with high school students and college students pursuing science to understand their beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about science and science-related careers. Below are notable research findings:

  • Teens may have limited perceptions of science and scientists: Participants struggled to articulate what a scientist “looked like,” often naming stereotypical references (i.e., lab coat) and common representations in the media (i.e., white males).
  • Teens need more opportunities to get involved in science: High school participants named a variety of barriers to pursuing science, like limited opportunities to engage more deeply with science at their school.
For this year’s contest, we created 3 video categories (science in your world, science in the field or lab, and science in your future) designed to expand teens’ perceptions of science. These categories were created to appeal not only teens already interested in science, but those not yet interested in science — directly connecting to our goal of inspiring the next generation of scientists. We reinforced our commitment to inclusion by actively weaving diversity into promotional materials and creating an inclusive environment for teens to showcase their passion.

Evaluation Methods and Results: Over the last few months, CH has supported NEI’s promotion of the EOTF teen video contest through digital outreach strategies. For example, we promoted the contest by:

  • Posting on social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok) and developing 4 short promotional videos
  • Engaging multidisciplinary organizations, teen-focused programs, and school administrators
  • Partnering with a social media influencer
While the 2023 contest is still underway, the campaign page has over 7,000 views and 65 video submissions.

Conclusions: Contest winners receive a cash prize and a paid trip to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a day of science, networking, and fun—which will further reinforce NEI’s commitment to inspire teens to explore careers in science and share their visions for the future. Additionally, we're providing more opportunities for teens to engage with scientists in the field.

Implications for research and/or practice: Hosting a video contest is a unique method to engage teens, especially given their presence on social media platforms. NEI developed a fun, creative activity that engaged teen audiences and advocated for diversity and inclusion in the science field. This creative model could be adopted by other organizations.