Team Moves Forward to Finals in NSF VITAL Challenge

Nov. 28, 2023
comic book


Hennig headshot

Ameé Hennig, MA
Media Content Manager, Wyant College of Optical Sciences, UArizona
Comic: Writer

Huff headshot

Allison Huff, DHEd
Assistant Professor, College of Medicine, UArizona
Comic: Grant Writer, Editor

Hood Headshot

Vincent Hood, MA
Yavapai-Apache Nation
Comic: Illustrator


Trivikram Gummaraj Shivakumar Sridevi, MS student in Data Science at the iSchool
Comic: Web Developer

whitney aragaki

Whitney Aragaki, Educator
Comic: VITAL Challenge Education Mentor

The National Science Foundation has announced that 18 teams will be moving forward into the final round of the $6 million Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning (VITAL) Prize Challenge. Read the NSF Press Release. Among those selected for the finals is the team composed of Ameé Hennig, Wyant College Media Content Manager, Prof. Allison Huff, Assistant Prof. at UArizona College of Medicine, and Vincent Hood, Illustrator and member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation. The team is working to create, "An Indigenous-Inclusive digital STEM comic book aligned with education standards to improve Native American (NA) student engagement and success in STEM." 

Since entering the competition, the team has grown to include a UArizona student website developer and an education mentor, selected by the VITAL Challenge. Trivikram Gummaraj Shivakumar Sridevi is currently an MS student in Data Science at the iSchool and doing fantastic work building out an interactive and engaging website to house the comic. Whitney Aragaki is an educator, parent, and learner from Hilo, HI. Whitney is the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year Finalist and brings her education and life experience to support the team's goals.

The project initially began when the teammates were part of the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), based out of Wyant College of Optical Sciences. As part of the CIAN ERC's educational initiatives, the team developed the first early edition of the digital comic book dedicated to STEM education with an optics focus. At that time, Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), the university's commercialization arm, worked with the team to post the innovation on the university's website to begin marketing it to connect with potential licensees. Moving forward, the team will continue to work with TLA to develop strategies for copyrighting and disseminating the comic and the technology associated with it. 

The competition began with 300 submissions and is now down to only 18 remaining teams in three focused tracks. The UArizona-based team will compete directly with five other final teams in the Mathematical Literacy to Promote a Future STEM Workforce track including, 7 Generation Games, Erudyte, Kasi Math, Trubel&co, and Tyto Online. Read more about the teams.

In the final round, each team will receive an additional $50,000 to pursue the completion of a Minimum Viable Prototype (MVP) and launch to potential future investors. The team is now competing for one of three final prizes, including 1st place ($250K), 2nd place ($150K) and 3rd place ($100K). In each track, three prizes will be awarded. 

"The VITAL Prize Challenge finalists show the tremendous promise of educational technologies driving progress and inclusive practices in learning across many disciplines and fields," said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. "We are looking forward to seeing the culmination of their hard work and the impacts their projects will have across the education marketplace."

This $6 million prize challenge is made possible through a partnership between NSF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the Walton Family Foundation. To learn more about the VITAL Prize Challenge, please visit