A Teen Leader Training Session

Posted by the Café Scientifique New Mexico Site Coordinator Team* 

The Café Scientifique New Mexico node of the Network consists of four sites of highly diverse character in the towns of Española, Albuquerque, Los Alamos, and Taos. A workshop in August brought Teen Leaders from all sites together for a lively training session in advance of the start of the Café season. The primary purpose of the session was to begin training of the Teen Leaders so that they gain a broad perspective and understanding of their responsibilities. Post workshop, the Site Coordinators in each town will reinforce this training in their monthly meetings with their Teen Leadership Teams. We sought to instill a sense of what it means to be a leader and a sense of ownership of and a passion for their Café program. The meeting was also meant to allow Teen Leaders from across the node of get to know each other. This was a very fun meeting in an extremely full day.

Teens make plans for their marketing and social media campaign.

The workshop began with a session aimed at getting the Teen Leaders talking, interacting, and reflecting on the key elements of what makes for an ideal Café, what it means to be a leader, and what is the nature of a team. The teens occupied four mixed-site tables with poster paper and markers and wrote answers to: Write and adjective expressing what a Café ideally should feel like, Write an adjective expressing what a Café should not feel like, Write a word or phrase on what being a leader means to you, and Write a word or phrase on how you know whether a group is working as a team. A Site Coordinator facilitated each table’s discussion, each teen reported their group’s answer to at least one question, and there followed a lively discussion. The session culminated in the writing of a vision statement…

Café Scientifique is a welcoming and engaging community that comes together to enjoy science. We strive to provide interesting and intriguing hands-on activities and discussions with area scientists. This program is led by teens in order to introduce our peers from all walks of life to different scientific topics, broaden their horizons, and help them realize how fun science can be.

There followed a session devoted to a detailed walkthrough of a hypothetical Café, focused on the many practical matters that need to be fully attended to by the Teen Leaders in order for it to be a success. The intent of the session was for each Teen Leader to walk away from the session with an understanding of 1) what has to happen before, during, and after a Café, 2) what the critical elements are that take a Café from OK to great, and 3) what specific steps each Teen Leader can take to ensure greatness. Categories of a Café session were broken down according to Room set-up, Welcome Table, Food Table, Set-up for the presenter, Introduction of the presenter, Facilitation of the presentation, Facilitation of the hands-on, Closing Ceremony, Clean-up, Encouraging respectfulness and discipline, and Reflection of whether or not the Café was a success.

In the interest of making this a fun day, as well as a learning day, several team-building and communication activities were planned. During one of the activities, three teams were each given a baby blanket, which represented a small boat. They were told that they were in the middle of a body of water, so their feet could not step off the boat. The instructions for driving the boat, however, were sadly on the bottom side, so their goal was to turn the boat over without capsizing or knocking anyone overboard. Needless to say, the teens were creative in solving their problem and lots of giggles ensued.

Ice breakers go a long way in getting teens to become comfortable working with one another and give them new ideas on how to make café programs welcoming for others.

Another activity involved pairs of teens who had baggies containing 10-15 identical Lego blocks. They were seated back-to-back with their partners and person A built a structure while person B just relaxed. Then, person A instructed person B to build an identical structure, but person A could not speak. After a few minutes, they were allowed to compare structures. Most were not even close to identical and many were far from finished. Then, the partners switched and person B built a structure while person A relaxed. This time around, when it came to instructions, person A could ask questions for clarification, tell person B when they were ready for the next step, etc. Upon comparison, most of the structures were identical or very similar. We followed this activity with a conversation about the importance of communication for effective leadership.

We had a rich session on “Public Speaking” as it applies to facilitating the Café, including an effective Café opening with introduction of the presenter and the closing ceremony. Teresa provided a handout on Public Speaking Skills for Café Scientifique Teen Leadership. A rich discussion was held on what makes for a delightful spoken presentation by a Teen Leader and what makes for a mediocre one. She emphasized that developing and sharpening skills in public speaking benefits anyone.

Three energetic teen leaders from Taos—Damille Devenyi, Haley Rach, and Forest Rach—led a lively session on the rich variety of approaches available for marketing a Café event. These three Teen Leaders have been training to become “street journalists” for different STEM-related projects in the Taos area. Haley led a discussion of applications of social media—Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr—and Forest and Damille provided instruction on the practice of writing “the perfect press release.” They used their experience and expertise with different programs to create and present slides and then converse with their peers about marketing, advertising, and public relations. The session was effective in getting across the idea that it is part of a Teen Leader’s job to “sell” their Café program within their community and the many marketing tools available to do so innovatively.

An interesting thing happened mid-way through the leadership meeting. When we started, the tables were arranged in a random fashion throughout the room. This resulted in incredibly rich engagement at the tables, with lots of laughter and brainstorming, and one could feel the excitement in the room about the work that was going on. Later, we rearranged the room in conference style for another activity, with everyone facing forward. This small change seemed to take all the energy out of the room; the teens sat passively, responded to questions only when called upon, and generally struggled to engage.

Recognizing this complete change in dynamics, we called it out to the teens. And even though they could see the drop in energy, they could not regenerate their former animated state until we moved the tables back into a haphazard Café arrangement. This was an awesome lesson to all about how a simple thing such as arrangement of seating can give to or take away from the excitement of a program.


*Kate Cleveland (Los Alamos), Teresa Madrid (Albuquerque), Louis Jeantete (Taos), and Savannah Trujillo (Española).

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