Becoming an Adult Leader

1. Understand Teen Science Cafés

To fully achieve a sense of a teen science café and what the teens, the teen leaders, presenters, and you can get out of participation, read the research behind the model and the corresponding impacts on teens when scientists engage with them. Also, check out the Core Design Principles framework which governs the teen science cafés, and think through how they apply in your unique situation.

Intersectional youth and adults in a Zoom meeting.

2. Understand the Adult Leader Role

The adult leader is the linchpin of the teen science café program. The role of the adult leader is to act, not as a director, but as a mentor and “guide-on-the side,” allowing the teen leaders to step up to their roles, be proactive, develop best policies and procedures, and to make mistakes and learn from them. Read these brief articles on the Importance of the Adult Leader and the focus on Positive Youth Development.

3. Locate a Venue

A wide variety of venues can make for suitable places to hold your cafés. The important things are that it be a space be easy to get to, that is conducive to good conversation among the teens and the presenter, and that it has good acoustics. Venues current include including libraries, museums, aquaria, zoos, public gardens, nature centers, universities, after-school providers, STEM education organizations, and others.

4. Recruit Teens and Conduct a Teen Leader Meeting

See this list of marketing outlets to recruit teens to the Teen Leader role. When you’ve recruited teens, use the first meeting of teens to share the concept of a teen science café. You might start with an ice breaker to get the teens interacting. After thanking them for coming, just ask them in turn what is their motivation to participate; expect to get some interesting answers. Next, give them an overview of the nature of a teen science café, how a typical event goes—with each key element—and note the popularity of the model because of the blend of socializing over food and drink and getting to have a conversation with a STEM expert on an interesting topic at a personal level. Then, tell them this will be their program, they will have responsibility for all aspects of it, with you the adult leader standing by to assist and suggest. It will be up to them to invent the details of how they will run their program. Lastly, note that their program will join many other teen café programs around the country. Check out this tool for getting started.

A group of intersectional teens and a white male adult sitting on steps.

5. Search for and Vet Presenters

Having great presenters will keep teens coming back to your program and bringing their friends. Begin by just asking around. Who has experienced a presentation on a science topic by someone who is engaging, relaxed, maybe funny, and can make what might be an esoteric topic come alive? Approach contacts in local science and engineering organizations and ask for recommendations on colleagues who are doing interesting research and have given good talks on the subject. The public relations office for those types of organizations can often recommend STEM experts who are effective in interviews or public presentations. The public affairs office of a college or university can also often point you to faculty who have a reputation for quality public outreach.

Think broadly about the range of professions represented in your community that have roots in science—health care workers, emergency management specialists, surveyors, water quality managers, foresters, aviators…the possibilities are endless.  The blog posts 10 Tips for Finding Great Teen Café Presenters and Seeking Presenters: Where To Look? will give you ideas for thinking outside the box in finding great presenters.

6. Recruit your First Presenter

This is for many adult leaders the most intimidating step, asking a stranger to do something for you and your program. It is critical to state all of the things you will be asking the STEM expert to do. These include writing a short bio and essay about the presentation; doing a dry run of the presentation; and working with you and the Teen Leaders to develop a hands-on activity. 

Have the STEM expert ask questions from the beginning, to get a sense of what the audience knows and signal to the teens that they can ask questions. Emphasize that interactivity is one of the most important ingredients of a teen café, and that what teens value most is interacting with a real STEM expert.

One of the key elements if for the scientist to share their personal story of how they found their path into STEM from high school to their first professional job. These stories can be humorous and enlightening for teens.  Your presenter should aim to paint for the teens a picture of a real person having an interesting life doing science. Telling that personal story is a hook for pulling the teens into the science story. Most presenters will find that they enjoy telling their stories. Convey to your presenter that it is important to get across to teens that a scientist is a real, complex, multidimensional human, like them, with his or her own unique set of motivations, delights, abilities, and baggage. Also, help presenters develop hands-on activities or other means to increase interactivity. Teens engage best if they are able to do something               

It is important for presenters to do a dry run with a small group of teen leaders before presenting to a full house. It ensures the presenter prepares sufficiently early enough to give a high quality presentation. This checklist will help your presenter understand the best way to engage a teen audience.

7. Work on Building a Marketing and Recruiting Network

Establish contacts in local organizations with a science mission. You may draw café presenters from a variety of organizations: academic departments, national labs, government agencies, technology businesses. Find an individual in each such organization that can get excited about your program and be willing to help you locate good presenters within it. In time, your network will expand to include all the scientists you are able to recruit as presenters and they in turn will help you find other good presenters.

Seek out contacts in other organizations. Local businesses may be persuaded to provide support or an especially good venue for your cafés. Media outlets such as local newspapers and radio and TV stations may be willing to announce your café sessions. News organizations may also have suggestions on local STEM experts who provide particularly good interviews and presentations.

Connect with other local out-of-school programs such as teen centers, robotics and environmental clubs, and other STEM-related groups. Café topics may tie to the interests of these groups and provide a win-win opportunity for partnerships. Communicate regularly with the leaders of these other programs about the café events and provide opportunities in the café to support their mission where possible.

It is important to have supportive parents, so engage with them whenever the opportunity arises. They may drop their teens off at a café meeting or they may call you up to find out if the program is suitable for their children. Include parents in distribution lists that you use to announce upcoming café sessions; they are likely to then remind their kids to attend a café and/or transport them there.