STEM Storytelling - One Comic Book at a Time

Naseed Gifted '01

Like many young people his age, Naseed Gifted ’01 was infatuated with comic books; however, they rarely portrayed heroes that resembled him. His desire to infuse more diversity in the world of comic books sparked the creation of P.B. Soldier, a science fiction graphic novel series that has as its hero an African-American man named Nat Cummings, a skilled computer hacker who uses his abilities to help pay for college tuition until his activities are discovered and he becomes listed as an international terror threat. Cummings becomes a double-agent who attempts to bring down a system from the inside without letting those he cares about fall into harm’s way.  

A two-time Glyph Comic Awards and Urban Action Showcase nominee, Gifted heads the independent comic book publisher PBS Media, which in August 2016 launched a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to raise $8,500 for the production of the next comic book in its series that helps teach the STEM disciplines to young people. The goal of the campaign was to raise money for the production of Episode 3.0, the sixth installment of a 13-book arc. Funds will go toward the actual production of the book, including printing and distribution, and payment to line artist and colorist Abel Garcia. In addition, some of the proceeds will be donated to the Central High School Pre-Engineering Academy in Newark—a program that Gifted has taught and led for the past 13 years. 

From Engineer to Teacher

At NJIT, Gifted’s main focus was obtaining a degree in electrical engineering—a passion since the 10th grade after being exposed to robotics through the U.S. First Competition. The experience afforded several opportunities: His team won the Chairman’s Award and had the opportunity to meet then-President Bill Clinton at the White House. He appeared on 20/20 and the USA Network’s “In a Minute” commercial and the team was featured in the Star-Ledger. He also worked alongside a group of engineers from Bell Labs in Whippany. All of this piqued his interest and—most importantly—several of the engineers looked like him.

“This furthered my passion to pursue engineering as a career path and provided me with the confidence that I can do it,” Gifted said. “The entrepreneur and writer in me initiated at NJIT. I started my first business, PBS Unlimited, with several other NJIT students, and wrote poetry as well as performed at poetry slams. These experiences helped later provide the tools to build another company, PBS Media, and become a writer of the comic book series P.B. Soldier.”

Gifted’s involvement in the community and membership in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) aided in his transition from engineer to teacher. The training he received at NJIT not only allowed him the ability to change careers, but gave him what he calls the “growth mindset.”

“As a member of NSBE, we always facilitated workshops to expose students to the STEM fields and took high school students on field trips to engineering conventions and mentoring,” Gifted said. “So one day I asked myself, how can I expose more students to the opportunities afforded to me by pursuing a career path in STEM and positively impact the community? Hence, becoming a teacher was born. As engineers, our guiding principle is problem-solving and I continually apply the engineering process to all aspects of life. That’s what has allowed me the ability to navigate the waters of change. Also during my time at NJIT, the networking opportunities and friends I acquired have proven to have a long-lasting impact on my future endeavors.”

Life Lesson

Gifted cites his senior project—the presentation, preparation and  research to create something that (at the time) was new and innovative—as his most memorable moment as an NJIT student.

“To take an idea and make it real was a driving force that motivated me to push forward,” he recalled. “This is also the first time I truly learned the concept of ‘Fail Forward’—to give something your all and find out that sometimes your all was not good enough. So you need to persevere in pushing forward in order to make progress. This was a life lesson that I will never forget.”

What is his lasting impression of NJIT?

“NJIT is a place where ideas can become reality through hard work, consistency and dedication,” he said. “You have all of the equipment to make anything that you dream of come to life.”

Gifted also is the founder of New Jersey’s Black Comic Book Festival “Khem Comic Fest” and travels across the country as a panelist for “Full Spectrum: Why Color in Comics Matters and Using Comics to Teach STEM.” He is the director/writer of the P.B. Soldier “The Awakening” short film and the P.B. Soldier animated short.

P.B. Soldier titles are available at the P.B. Soldier website, Amazon, iTunes and Peep Game Comix.  

Other published works include the short stories "Occupy RenaissanceCity" and "Terrorist Act of 2011."

Christina Crovetto