(800) 669-5556


Memes, graphic novellas, Instagram, oh my! — Northwestern students help CUB rethink its educational tools 

Who knew that memes, social media and graphic novellas could be used to break down and simplify utility concepts like capacity markets and legislation like the Clean Energy Jobs Act?

Thanks to a partnership with PhD and Masters students in the “Introduction to Design in Learning Sciences” course at Northwestern University, CUB now has new and improved messaging and educational tools. 

The course was taught by Matt Easterday, an associate professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. Matt Harvey, CUB’s Program Coordinator, worked closely with the students and advised them on their projects. 

“It was informative, interesting, and a lot of fun working with the students,” Matt said. “CUB learned a lot, and our social media platforms are better off. We hope the students will continue to have an interest in working with nonprofits like CUB. Who knows, maybe there’s a future consumer advocate or two among the students.”

Below are summaries of each of the projects.

Instagram: Shai Moore and Sarah Lee

After consulting with CUB’s Deputy Director Sarah Moskowitz, Shai and Sarah focused their project on CUB’s social media accounts, particularly improving the Instagram page. 

The two ran several tests to determine the ideal content for CUB’s Instagram posts. Their tests found that positive posts with clean, affordable energy messaging were most successful with the consumer group’s typical Instagram audience (people aged 25-34). 

The Instagram post designed by Shai and Sarah. It reads: “Dirty power could cost you $864m more in 2020. Here’s how you can support cleaner, affordable energy: tinyurl.com/support_ceja”

To test their findings, they created a sample post, which has served as a model for CUB Instagram content since the culmination of their project. Shai and Sarah also provided tangible next steps for CUB’s communications team, offering ways to increase the account’s engagement and CUB’s reach.

Graphic Novella: Kimberly Chapman and Vanessa Stewart

To read the novella, click on Mark!

If you poll the CUB staff about how to explain a complex subject like the capacity market, a comic book is not the first thing that comes to mind. But Kim and Vanessa set out to help CUB better educate consumers about that very topic– what is a capacity market, how consumers pay dearly for it (whether they know it or not), and how the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) seeks to fix a big problem with capacity market rules. To do this, the two created a graphic novella, starring a wide-eyed, square-headed robot named “Capacity Market,” or “Mark” for short.

Mark explains that the capacity market is how the power grid arranges to have adequate, long-term electricity available for times when demand suddenly spikes, such as a hot summer afternoon. The price consumers pay for this long-term power supply is embedded in the supply charge on their electric bills.

He adds that capacity markets are rigged to favor out-of-state fossil fuel generators and that people are often overcharged. But CEJA can help — it will bring control of the capacity market back to Illinois.

The idea behind the project is that the novella’s easy-to-understand visuals and narrative elements could help CUB reduce misunderstanding of capacity markets. 

Memes: Forrest Bruce, Katarzyna Pomian Bogdanov, and Dustin Tran

Like Shai and Sarah, this trio aimed to improve CUB’s messaging on social media platforms–and that’s how SpongeBob Squarepants became a CUB spokesman. They set out to specifically engage younger audiences, and what better way to do that than with memes.

A meme is usually a humorous image, video, or text that is copied with slight variations and spread rapidly by Internet users. Applying information about the Clean Energy Jobs Act or expensive utility bills to popular memes (right) and sharing on CUB’s Twitter account is a way of connecting with a previously-untapped group of potential CUB supporters.

In addition to the memes, Forrest, Kasia and Dustin also worked on a stop-motion video that explains the capacity market while also encouraging viewers to reach out to their representatives. Although the video is silent now, the team provided CUB with a voice over script to record and add to the video.